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On Ageism and a Bad Haircut

On Aging
On Aging
Apr 22 · 4 min read

I was walking down the main downtown drag when I decided to stop inside a barber shop. I was looking for a new hair cutter because my last haircut was a disaster. The barber I had used for about 3 years — who happens to be in his 70s — had a senior moment. He destroyed the balance of the small amount of hair I now sport, unevenly cutting both top and back sides of my now newly disrupted head. It wasn’t horribly bad, but bad enough for me to notice every time I looked at myself in a mirror.

I felt uncomfortable about what happened to me as well as what happened to him. He showed me, through his unintentional actions, that he may want to think about hanging up his scissors. In short, it really looked like his age was taking a toll on his abilities to cut hair. I could shrug it off as a bad day for him, but when it comes to cutting someone’s hair, I felt that bad days were not acceptable — there’s a joke in there somewhere about a bad hair day.

I was debating whether I should give him another chance, maybe go back and show him what he did and ask for a free re-cut. I should have been more aware of what he was doing to my head while I was still there, but I really did not notice how bad of a haircut it was until I got home and took a closer look in my bathroom mirror. Boy, it was messed up, man. So, as I already mentioned, I was now entertaining the possibility of getting a new, and younger, barber.

Did my thinking have a tinge of ageism, even though I’m 65? I could have looked for a different older adult-aged barber, but I felt that doing that would possibly create another bad-haircut day, just by a different barber. That certainly sounds kind of ageist. Perhaps the answer came when I walked into that barber shop downtown.

There were four Millennial-aged barbers busy with customers, along with another three or four Millennials waiting. As soon as I walked in, one of the barbers asked if I needed any help. “Yeah, hi, I’m just trying to find out how much a haircut is — not one right this moment, though — just would like to know what it costs.”

“21 dollars,” he quipped.

“Okay, great,” I said as I started to head back out.

One of the other barbers then said, “and we have a senior discount for $18.”

I smiled broadly and gave him a thumbs up. “Cool.” At that moment I probably also looked a little taken aback, because, in my mind, I had still not accepted the fact that I looked like a so-called “senior citizen.” In fact, I’m not a big fan of the term, in general. When the friendly barber said senior discount. I felt stereotyped. Do I really look that old? Of course, I do. But I’m still hesitant to accept it.

As I moved closer to the exit, a third barber then blurted out. “It’s a longevity discount.”

I laughed and said, “yeah, that or an older adult discount?”

At that point everyone in the barber shop was laughing, even the folks waiting. I felt like a comedian who had just garnered a good laugh, smiled broadly again and left.

“Thanks a lot, man. See ya later. I’ll be back.”

Overall, it was a lighthearted, feel-good moment with a group of much younger people who were being very nice and respectful.The memory of my older barber was now rapidly fading away.Was this a microcosmic moment in time that could be considered representative of how we deal with notions about ageism?

In “How the way people react to and treat us teaches us that we’re old,” I cited an academic paper about how people often believe inaccurate assumptions about what it means to be an older adult. The gist of the paper suggested that myths about older adults — such as most live in institutions, or that they are less productive or incapable of learning — perpetuate negative stereotypes that become ingrained in our thoughts and actions. We basically see and treat people as old first and everyday people second.

Society automatically gives us a “master status” that tends to wipe out any other status older adults may have developed in their lives. Such wrongful thinking about older adults creates a negative disaster when we should be celebrating the positive aspects of longer life spans in the twenty-first century.

The paper’s author, Deborah K. van den Hoonaard, from the Gerontology Department at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, Canada, claims to be perplexed by this kind of thinking and questions why old people are seen in such poor light, when, in fact, they “contribute much to our society in terms of experience, help to their families, volunteering, and even paying taxes.”

The barber who said “longevity discount” was aware of such perceptions. He saw in my facial expression that I may have been perplexed by being identified as a “senior citizen” and tried to make me feel more like someone who had reached an honorable milestone in life — longevity.

Thanks for stopping by,


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On Aging

Written by

On Aging

Posts from George Lorenzo, writer and curator of Old Anima.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +537K people. Follow to join our community.

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