By Meghan Randolph, SAIL Blog Coordinator
Aloha from Honolulu! I’m here enjoying my first vacation in many years! The beach is stunning, the breezes are perfect, the flowers are fragrant, the mai tais are flowing…and I had an experience with ageism today.
Those of you who know me are probably going “What? You’re in your thirties!” (37 to be precise.) But today I learned firsthand just how much ageism hurts…and how important it is not to let people get away with it.
I had walked a full mile along the beach from my hotel, sand in my toes and marveling how the water could look so blue. The sun and breeze were perfectly balanced, and the stunning Diamond Head volcano towered in the distance. When I’d reached the end of the beach, I grabbed a muffin and a bottle of water and began to head back down the Waikiki shopping strip towards my hotel.
That’s when a woman stopped me from Truffoire, a new spa inside the Marriott. (The Waikiki strip has probably a hundred hotels). “Where are you from?” she asked pleasantly. “Madison, Wisconsin.” I said, deciding to humor her; salespeople need to make money too, and maybe they had something inexpensive that I could get, since I almost never buy things for myself. “Wow!” she replied. “Well here’s a sample of our new skin cream,” she continued, handing me a little bag. Her co-salesperson, a man, came up and said “oh, wait, did you give her the eye cream?” They then both began to touch my face, much to my chagrin. “See how puffy her eyes are?” the man said, at which point I probably should have walked away. “What’s your name?” he asked. Again, in hindsight, I probably should have just walked away, but that “Midwestern nice” in me decided to humor him. I was feeling pretty relaxed and mellow. Might as well just check it out. “Come in the store with me for a sec.”
When I got inside and took my sunglasses off, the man began pointing at my under eyes, then slapped a cream on my face and told me to hold a fan up to it. I felt it (collagen cream, as it turns out) tightening and didn’t so much enjoy the feeling. “See, you see how much better you feel? Don’t you want to feel like you’re 21 again?” (Um, no.) Then he asked me what my skincare routine was. I said I didn’t have one aside from just washing my face. He said “Why not? Give me your hand.” Thinking he was going to put some kind of product on it, and trying to plan my exit, I gave him my hand.”
He slapped it, and said “Very bad! Why don’t you have a skincare routine? What are you, lazy?” At that point, I said “Insulting me will not get me to buy anything.” And I left.
I had a lot of feelings after that. I felt I’d been targeted by two twenty-something salespeople to whom I probably looked ancient. I felt I had been criticized for how I looked; despite having a really good night’s sleep and enjoying the sun, I’ve battled several chronic illnesses so yes, I have bags under my eyes. I felt that as a woman, I was being made to feel that I needed a man’s validation. And overall I just didn’t understand why there was such an emphasis on needing to look younger than my age.
As this was all occurring, I remembered our amazing spring luncheon at SAIL last year, where our guest speaker, Betsy Abrahamson, talked about ageism and how it is prevalent, even in younger populations. I remembered how “anti-aging” products litter our department store displays, and how Besty reminded us how older members of society used to be the most respected because of their age and the lives they’d lived; in many societies, they still are.
I don’t have a problem with getting older. I like it. When I see those bags under my eyes, I remember it’s from the late nights I spent working on theatre projects that fuel my soul, or writing and researching for freelance jobs, or laughing until the morning hours with people I love. I get self-conscious about my body, but then I remember that my body has been with me on so many adventures, and it’s mine and no one else’s. I have treasured what I’ve learned about people and the world, and I look forward to the discoveries I have left.
That’s the heart of what we believe at SAIL, isn’t it? Aging is a practice to be embraced, planned for, and enjoyed. Every bit of life is a journey. The older you get, the more life you’ve lived. Sometimes you’ve enjoyed, and sometimes you’ve conquered, but you’ve lived. I’m grateful that SAIL has instilled that in me, even though I’m still young.
I let myself be annoyed for about 15 minutes, and then I let the Hawaiian breeze blow across my face and thought about vast expanse of the ocean around me, the people along the beach from every corner of the world, and the beautiful things I’ve seen and done so far in my life that I couldn’t have imagined at 21.
Ageism happens to all of us. We live in a society where it’s just never “good enough.” At SAIL, you’re not just good enough, you’re an inspiration. And you always will be.
(And don’t worry, their customer service department got an earful from me!)