What’s the image of baby boomers in today’s world?

Ooooooh, how we like what Mary Anne Hahn wrote for us. A writer and consultant in Syracuse, New York, who works with baby boomer business owners, Mary Anne found some images of “typical” boomers that she did not like at all!

My search for baby boomer clip art and photos to use in online ads and to accompany blog posts brought me, as these searches always do, to the clip art library of a very large, very well-known technology company.

Mary Anne Hahn

Mary Anne Hahn

As usually happens when I go there, I found a number of wonderful royalty-free pictures that perfectly suited the concepts I had in mind. The people in them sported the appropriate number of gray hairs, and intelligent, friendly, or thoughtful expressions. Unlike certain television commercials, couples in these photos appeared pretty well matched in age.

I would have been completely thrilled with this treasure trove of boomer images if it had not been for one thing: the captions. I just couldn’t believe the captions.

  • “Married couple past their prime” (Huh? They looked perfectly healthy to me.)
  • “Elderly couple with a cell phone” (I would have added at least 20 years to this pair before referring to them as “elderly.”)
  • “A grandmother looking away and wearing eyeglasses” (This picture was of a 50 or maybe 60-something woman who could have been anything from a senator to a college professor to the owner of a thriving business. Why relegate her to the role of grandmother?)
  • “Elegantly aging” (Having read the others, this one struck me as a backhanded compliment.)

The clip art drawings that came up on my “baby boomer” search distressed me even more — cartoons of people in wheelchairs and hospital beds, drawings of women knitting scarves and men fishing from little boats. While I certainly have nothing against knitting or fishing, would I have found similar images had I searched under “Generation Y?” My guess is an unequivocal no.

Senior Couple

Ageism, like other discriminatory stereotypes, is dangerous and hurtful. I wanted to confront the 25-year-old who had written those captions or decided which the cartoons were appropriate for the baby boomer section of the clip art library, and inform him or her in no uncertain terms that I am not confined to a rocking chair; as a matter of fact, the main things at which I rock these days are social media marketing and my car radio.

Then I caught myself. Look whose being ageist now? Is there such a thing as reverse ageism?

I guess the real lesson for me here was the importance of avoiding all stereotypes — a lesson I needed to be reminded of just as much as the caption writer and clip art categorist I’d felt affronted by. Also, that I have opportunities to break down generational stereotypes with every interaction I have with those in other generations. And maybe to remember to have more of a sense of humor about the whole thing.

Even so, I refuse to call myself or my peers “elderly.” Maybe in 20 years. And who knows? Maybe not even then!

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12 Comments

  1. Thanks for a great, timely essay. The editors who publish my own essays are always complaining about this — and about how difficult it is to find stock photos that portray who we really are. I LOVE the line about rocking social media.

  2. Hi Mary Anne,
    Elderly?
    Quoting Welsh poet Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night”
    Paraphrased in the 1996 film Independence Day: “We will not go quietly into the night.”
    Pretty much sums it up.

    1. Hi Denver:

      I also recommend the book “Do Not Go Quietly: A Guide to Living Consciously and Aging Wisely for People Who Weren’t Born Yesterday” by George Cappannelli and Sedena Cappannelli, the title of which paraphrases that same quote.

  3. Though not the elderly, we are most certainly becoming the elders of our country.
    Definition: one having authority by virtue of age and experience…
    I hope some of us now have the integrity and wisdom to live up to that appellation.

  4. Mary Anne, you look young, hip and cute! Thanks for your post! My 56th birthday is next month, but girlfriend, aint NOBODY gonna call either one of us “elderly” for a very long time!

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