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  • Bonnie Omer Johnson

What NOT to Say to People Older Than You


1.You look great for your age.

2. You don’t look 75…

3. You don’t act 67.

Look, act, for your age – words or a phrase with dubious meanings better left unsaid. Well-meaning younger-than-we people are the only utterers of the above phrases. We don’t look at an eight-year-old and say “You look great for your age!” so why would we say it to an eighty-year-old? And why is it always about looks? Nobody says you hear well for your age nor do we inquire of an acquaintance “how is your taste?” and we would not dream of reaching out to stroke another person’s neck or forearm to remark, “You feel smooth (or tight, or not so wrinkled) for your age.”

Have we become hyper-vigilant of older person’s physical changes as we confront our own wrinkly, aging bodies? Stop it! Twelve-year-old youths exhibit various stages of physical development, and so do seventy-year-old humans. How we look is how a person “our age” looks. Why should we think otherwise? Are we looking for hope we will look as good when we get to the same age or are we throwing aspersions based on a false assumption that all of us have a shelf life before we ripen and start to mold and need to be thrown out like lemons mossy?

Unspoken messages need clarification when someone offers what they consider a complimentary “wow – you look pretty good for your age.” I’d rather hear “you look pretty” or “you look good.” What I hears is “I thought you would look worse as old as you are.” What is meant as flattery becomes an awkward call for self-assessment which most of us handle with harshness. if one finds it necessary to comment, we’d like to hear – “You look so well, graceful, wise, balanced, content, awake, lively; seventy, eighty, ninety, or you must be a great age!”

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