When ageism really hits you

I turned 66 last month, which in the UK, where I live,  means I have reached State Pension Age (herewith SPA). You do not have to claim State Pension if you do not need it, as you may be financially well off, but  SPA is a watershed, meaning that you get a series of discounts as an Old Age Pensioner (OAP) regardless of your income. OAP sounds pretty horrible as a way to refer to people over 66,  but there you are, that is the current terminology. At least in the USA, you are called a Senior. But I would let it pass if it were only a matter of terminology. 

I have suddenly found myself having to deal with a whole new set of problems. Got into a wrangle with my local council because they do not want to give me the council tax discount I am entitled to as an OAP;  they lost my paperwork twice (duh), so much so that I am contemplating making a formal complaint. Not to mention my Freedom Pass, which allows me to travel for free on public transport and which has not yet been issued, again due to me apparently not ticking the right box - you made a mistake, dear, told me the TfL customer service assistant who answered my call - how I hate the condescension of the 'dear'. She thought I should have asked someone to help me fill the form in.   Never mind I have a couple of postgraduate degrees.  I have apparently reached the age when I can no longer fill out forms. Ok, these are temporary glitches - one hopes. But wait, there is more.

I have been modelling since my forties and felt empowered by the knowledge I could represent middle aged women in a positive way. I was deluded. Modelling work opportunities have decreased to zero, I have come to the conclusion that my agency keeps me on its books out of charity; I am not bringing them enough money, so they need to focus on others, obviously younger than me. When I asked why there was so little work, it was explained, tiredly,  that my age and look were not interesting enough, I am not in the forties/fifties band, which is what goes for 'successful ageing' modelling and am not decrepit enough to appear in ads as an old dear, maybe very eccentric, maybe cantankerous and full of infirmities.  These are the tropes of advertising. Forget about fashion and beauty; how could someone in my age group even think of being stylish? In fact, it would seem the women in my age group have the unfathomable gift of turning classy accessories into skip material, if we are to go by the Life in the Balance 2019 campaign, where the model is styled to look like a bag lady, even though each item of her wardrobe is very expensive. 

Some years ago, when I was not even sixty, I posed for an editorial. There had been some miscommunication with the agency, and when I got there for the shoot, the art director thought my  grey/white hair was a big no-no, so I was made to wear a wig and given a dreadful baggy coat, which I knew was expensive but was at least two sizes bigger than what I would normally wear. The director thought that since he already had a male grey-haired model, if the female model also had grey hair, the vibe would have been wrong. I never used those images in my portfolio; they just did not fit. But in fairness, I have to say they did not send me home, and they paid me anyway (in those days, editorials were paid; now you are expected to do them for free, but that's another story). It was not good for my self-esteem but I decided it was just a photoshoot I could forget about.

        From Man about town 

This is not a rant, though it may sound like it. We are going through a difficult moment, economically. SPA will be raised to 68, according to our Secretary of State, I am lucky I got there at age 66 - I worked for years and deserve to take some time off. Of course, the British will not riot like the French, who were most unhappy that their pension age was raised to 62 and "went about burning things".  That was a misrepresentation of the British press, as my French daughter-in-law tells me. The French rioted because the decision had not been democratically reached. But yes, the French are known for vehemently protesting when ticked off. After all, we had a French Revolution, which was a massive event with a lot of guillotining, perhaps in excess, but we never had a British or English Revolution on that scale and closer to our times, we had the Paris May 1968...there is much we can learn from our French neighbours, who do not suffer fools gladly.

Whatever the age set for SPA, we need to start rethinking our attitudes to age, especially if people are expected to go on working until they are 68 or (not unlikely) 70.  If you are good enough to be productive till that age, then you deserve respect, not condescension. Scrap that. You deserve respect at all ages. But you cannot treat the older population as a nuisance and expect them to work their asses off. That is ageism.  


  1. The same thing happens on the other side of the camera... photographers who make commercial images for magazines and corporate clients tend to fall off the merry-go-round in their 50's. The next generation is coming up behind. The 'young' know all the ins and outs of the modern technology and are keen as mustard. And often impressive too.
    My tactic as a photographer has been to carve out a niche, photography for the cultural history sector.... I'm sure that Alex might grow something that involves that fabulous white mane.

    With much fondness



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