AGEISM IS A BULLY…STAND UP TO IT!!!
(This is a transcript of the above TEDx Talk. Skip to bottom of the page for Speaker Bio)
Birthdays never bothered me…I figured, you either get old or you die young. Then, a couple years ago, I had the existential realization that dying young was no longer an option for me! I had crossed the threshold from: “Gone too soon” to “She lived a good life.” How did that happen? Ok, yeah, I’m a Baby Boomer. But we created the Youth Move-ment. We were supposed to be able to take that youth with us wherever we moved! Because we’re the Generation of Drugs, Sex & Rock n’ Roll. Only now the drug is Lipitor, 20 mg daily; the rock? Well, a lot of us haven’t saved enough for retirement, so the rock is somewhere between here and a hard place. The sex? Not bad. Thanks to energizing pharmaceuticals and perfectly serviceable battery-powered appliances!!
The point is…we may not be young any more, but we adapt! Because on the inside, we’re still the same bra-burning, we-shall- overcoming, make-love-not-warring badasses we always were. And according to a 2017 Federal Reserve survey on consumer finance, Baby Boomers control 70% of the disposable income in this country and women over 50 own more than 75% of the wealth.
So why is “18 to 34” still the Holy Grail for advertisers and television executives? And why are there so many books and newspaper and magazine articles being written today by women over 50 who say they feel invisible? I don’t have an answer to that first question…my brain hurts every time I try to figure that one out. But I do believe I have a remedy for the second.
I was born on May 7, 1948, in Provident Hospital, right here on the South Side of Chicago. At that time -- to the majority population -- invisibility was my destiny. But not to my Daddy. My Daddy was born and raised in the Jim Crow South and never finished eighth grade, but he was determined that my sister and I graduate college… because there was no way in hell that his daughters were ever going to be invisible!
From my earliest recollections Daddy drilled into me: “Mariann, because you are a little colored girl, you’re going to have to work ten times as hard as those other folks…but don’t let anybody else’s NO stop your YES!” He said it without any bitterness or anger – just as a matter of fact – and that’s the way I took it. I knewit wasn’t right …and it wasn’t fair. But I couldn’t wait for the world to catch up to what was right and fair. I was a sensitive – but rambunctious child with a vivid imagination whose dream was… “to be an actress on TV!!” when she grew up. Even though, at that time, there weren’t that many people who looked like me on TV. So I knew if that was gonna happen…I had some work to do.
My parents allowed me to enroll in theater and dance classes for kids at Roosevelt University, and every Saturday, I’d take an hour train ride in from the suburbs to downtown Chicago by myself at nine year’s old for class. But it paid off! I got my first money gig the summer between 7th and 8th grade, singing Monday thru Friday for the 6:30, 8:00 & 9:00 Masses at Ascension Church in Harvey, IL…for the glorious wages of a dollar a Mass! Every morning, my mom would send me off with a homemade breakfast sandwich of fried egg and bologna or peanut butter & jelly and an apple or a pear from one of the trees in our backyard. We lived 3 miles from the church but the bus was 25 cents, so most days I’d walk, so I’d have more money for candy. The rest went to my college fund.
As a teenager at Thornton Township high school, I was on student council, wrote for the school newspaper, did plays, sang in the choir, was in two dance companies and the National Honor Society, which got me my scholarship to college, where, along with my other activities, I toured with the Southern Illinois University touring theater. After graduation, I moved to New York…got married, had a baby and had a real job. But I also continued with my studies in singing, dancing and acting. I joined an improv group, a sketch comedy group, a choral group…and did plays so far Off-Broadway I had to take two subways and a bus to get there…often with my toddler son in tow.
But, again, it paid off! And in June, 1981, I became one of the first African-American daytime soap opera heroines…as attorney DiDi Bannister on the ABC soap,Edge of Night. "Da-da-da...da-da-da-da...da...da-da!!" A little theme song shout-out to you Edge of Night fans!
I did it…I worked hard at it and I made my childhood dream come true! And for 30 years I made a great living acting on television.
Then, somewhere around my mid-50’s it all came to a halt when I started banging my head on the glass ceiling of ageism that befalls so many women in Holly-wood. Casting directors just stopped calling. But I still had to make a living, so I redirected my natural actor’s curiosity about human behavior and motivation into becom-ing a hypnotherapist. I spent a year in training, and most of my clients were women around my age who were suffering from mid-life depression. And I soon realized that they had alreadybeen hypnotized -- by society and the media -- into believing that women lose value and social currency as we get older. My job was to DE-hypnotize them and snap them out of that trance.
And then, a funny thing happened. The positive suggestions I gave my clients took root in my own subconscious mind, prompting me to recall my daddy’s early advice & compelling me to reclaim the acting career I so dearly loved; return to my launchpad of live performing &expand it into standup comedy and performance art with a new passion and purpose of changing the paradigm on women and aging, which is what brings me here today.
The theme of tonight’s event is Bold plus Brilliant – without apologies. Well, I’m here to reassure you that boldness doesn’t wither and brilliance doesn’t tarnish just because you get old! And I make no apologies for being old. It’s the natural consequence of living a long life. And as a cancer survivor, let me tell you, there’s nothing like a brush with mortality to make you hunger for more life…and to spur you on to get as much out of it as you can.
Now, along with racism, sexism and all the other “isms,” it’s gonna take time, effort and a change of consciousness to totally eradicate ageism. It isn’t right…it isn’t fair. But while you’re waiting for the world to catch up to what’s right and fair, it would behoove youto figure out how to navigate your way around it so it doesn’t sap your spirit and suck up your joy. Because like with all the “ism” words, the I-S-M stands for I Subscribe Mentally. But you can cancel your subscription!
And by way of my daddy, here’s my advice: If you don’t want to be invisible, then find a way to SHINE!!! But first, get clearabout what it is you want to be seen FOR. Then, work like hell to make it happen! Take a class …volunteer…raise your hand…take a stand for something that lights your fire. ‘Cause when you’re on fire, you are NOT invisible. When you take ACTION…people take notice!
At one time or other, for whatever reason, we are all going to be overlooked, ignored or discriminated against. But no one can make you feel inferior as long as you know you’re giving it your all…and you will never be invisible as long as you can look in the mirror and be proud of the person you see.
For us women, the cold, hard reality is that getting old comes with a loss of so many of the things we were admired for when we were young: perky tits, a tight ass, and a dewy complexion. But if we’re being honest…not only do those things have a limited shelf life, but they’re the genetic favors of a DNA lottery WE had nothing to do with -- like with gender, race, nationality, and the socio-economic class we were born into -- WE did nothing to earn.
The great thing about GETTING OLD is that it comes with a wealth of experienceand knowledge that we did earn! And we can use that wisdom and expertise to create the interesting andcaptivating people we can become in our 2nd, and even 3rd acts…if we’re willing to do the work …which may or may not include hitting the gym 3x a week to keep the boobs relatively perky and the ass reasonably tight. I know I try to get myass to the gym at least 4x a week and I am not ashamed! Oh, baby, I am The Zumba Queen! ‘Cause as long as I can, I will! But seriously...although I am serious about my Zumba class! But "seriously-seriously..."
The tough love truthis that if you don’t want to be INVISIBLE--whatever your age-- complacency is not an option… somethingI was fortunate to have my daddy instill in me as a rambunctious little colored girl with big dreams. And now I’m 71…and it’s still serving me well.
Because to me, getting older is just part of the journey…and not letting anybody else’s no stop my yes is still my North Star. And here’s the bonus… according to a Yale University study by Becca Levy & Martin Slade, those of us with a positive self-perception of aging, live, on average, 7 ½ years longer than those with a negative perception.
So, it would behoove those of you who aren’t “OLD” yet not to make fun of it or put it down ‘cause…while it’s gonna bounce off me,it’s gonna stick to you and when you’reold, it’s gonna bite ya in the butt!. And for those of you who are already “OF A CERTAIN AGE” and are feeling depressed about it, you might wanna get with the positive aging mindset while you’ve still got time! Because, other than dying young, GETTIN’ OLD is all we’ve got! It’s not a disease…it ain’t “cooties”…and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s our common denominator… it’s the great equalizer. So, it’s something we all have a vested interest in making more aspirational & appealing and giving more value to which, if we’re lucky, is an additional 7 ½ years…and I’m gettin’ my 7 ½ yrs!!!
And I invite all of you to join me. COME, GROW OLD WITH ME!Hopefully, you’re gonna get old anyway, so embraceit! And when you do, Let’s get this OLD FOLKS party started! …and refuse to let yourself be bullied into believing that just because you’re “old”you’ve gotta GET OFF THE STAGE and “go gently into that good night.” Because right now, there are actually more people on the planet over 65 than under the age of 5! So, maybe what we should be doingis trying to come up with more positive and creative ways for how we can all best SHARE the stage TOGETHER! And I think that’s an idea an idea worth spreading. Thank you!
ADVOCATE & SPEAKER BIO
As a media activist advocating for more diverse representation in film and television, Mariann Aalda has appeared on ABC's Nightline; Tony Brown's Journal on PBS, and was the subject of a three-page cover story for The Los Angeles Daily News Arts & Leisure section. Additionally, she has written essays on the subject for The Los Angeles Times and Soap Opera Digest.
As a children's advocate, she was cited by the Los Angeles State Legislature and named "Volunteer of the Year" by the Los Angeles Department of Children's Services for her work with at-risk youth with Friends of the Family and at MacLaren Children's Center.
As a positive aging activist, she was twice recognized by AARP as an Age Disruptor for adding more optimism and levity to the conversation and was featured in The Wall Street Journal in an article on women's reinvention at midlife.
Along with being an activist and performer, Mariann is an Honors Graduate of The Hypnosis Motivation Institute in Tarzana, CA, where she was certified and practiced as a clinical hypnotherapist.
Additionally, she holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, with concentrations in Theatre and Journalism.
She is a member of SAG-AFTRA, Actors Equity, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, AARP, Toastmasters International and a contributor to the ACLU.
In addition to being a TEDx speaker, she has given presentations for The Screen Actors Guild, The Chicago Department of Human Services and Busines Women International, among others.
In addition to her inspirational memoir, Because You Are a Little Colored Girl -- which is for girls and women of ALL colors, by the way -- she has several other books on self-improvement and building resilience in the works.
SAMPLE KEYNOTES *
LIVING WHILE AGING -- Aging starts from the moment we're born. A happy ending starts there, too. Choices we make when we're younger determine our happiness when we're older.
FIND YOUR SHINE! -- Personal growth. (See above.)
SNAP OUT OF IT! -- How to overcome the unconscious biases and limiting beliefs that are crippling us and preventing us from being our best selves and living our lives to the fullest.
BETTER PARENTING FOR A BRIGHTER FUTURE -- How to be the parent your child needs.
RACE-ing TO TOMORROW -- How to build better relationships and understanding with people who don't look like you.
* Topics can be tailored to the needs of the organization or the event..