Perpetuated by the media, the beauty industry and more, we are taught from a very young age that if you have a gray hair you need to dye it. If you have a wrinkle, get botox. If you’re old, you’re probably stubborn and difficult. The message is: “the moment you start to age, and lose your youthful appearance, your life is irrelevant”.
This type of thinking is called ageism. Ageism is the stereotyping and discrimination of individuals on the basis of their age. No different than racism or sexism, this type of thinking sustains inequalities between groups.
How can design help to change the negative way Miami University students (ages 18-22) speak about and view “growing old”?
By viewing the aging process in a more positive way, Miami University college students will start to better understand the older people in their community, and in turn change their dialogue surrounding aging/reduce ageism in Oxford.
Initially: Miami University Students, ages 18-22
Future: College Students across the country, ages 18-22
To ensure my problem was, in fact, a problem, I conducted online/book research, digital surveys, spoke with faculty in the Gerontology Department, attended The Institute for Learning in Retirement classes and conducted in-person interviews with students (18-22) at Miami University, and adults (65+) in Oxford, OH.
After getting a strong grasp & understanding of ageism, particularly in the Oxford community, I sent out a survey to Miami University students asking them "What do you think about things like aging, gray hair, wrinkles and the idea of "growing old"?
The main point of data was:
60% of Miami students said they were "scared of it happening" and several said things like "I'm not looking forward to getting old".
Through additional research, I found that college towns are hotbeds for retirees- and Oxford is no exception. Our little college town is only 7.5 square miles, and the population is vastly made up of students- however over 10% of our community is made up of 65 and older individuals. As a result, Miami actually has a program called The Institute for Learning in Retirement. The ILR allows anyone over the age of 50 to register and attend diverse classes, events and activities.
I was lucky enough to speak with a number of people in-charge of the ILR, and was invited to sit in on a class called “Age Friendly Oxford”... and I attended it every Tuesday for a little over a month. The class had about 15 members in it and was focused on Oxford’s recent initiative to join AARP’s Livable Communities. Each member of the class wanted to learn and have a say in how Oxford could shift to become a better environment for everyone.
During my time in that class, one constant stood out to me. This was a room full of driven and excited people. People who cared about the community they lived in, people who were not afraid to disagree with one another, and people who were looking to continue their education. All of these 65 plus residents of Oxford had very different personalities, and their age did not evern factor into that. From that point, I knew I wanted to create a design solution that reflected the class- alive and passionate.
I formed a relationship with the members of this ILR class, and was able to photograph and interview many of them. I asked them questions on their backgrounds, Oxford, Miami Students, what they enjoyed about aging, and what they were looking forward to in their future. Each interview was different, and each person had their own take on every question.
I made it my goal during these interviews to photograph their personalities- and show how much these very different people, were all enjoying their life to the fullest, regardless of being "older".
As a result of these interviews, I’ve created five posters, each one highlighting a different 65 plus resident of Oxford that I spoke with. These posters proudly display their spoken “lines” and their laugh “lines”. The posters are bright and bold, eye catching in an effort to draw students in. On each of them, the hypothetical "Beautiful Lines Website" is advertised, to direct students to a more detailed description of the campaign.
Upon entering the site, you can find the Beautiful Lines mission statement, clearly laying out the goals and hopes for the project. Additionally, all full interviews conducted with the 65+ residents of Oxford can be found there- elaborating on why aging is not as negative as many think. As time goes on, more interviews would be compiled- acting almost as a database celebrating the aging community in Oxford.
Looking forward, The Beautiful Lines Project website also has a section called “Get Involved”. Here students/teacher/older individuals from other areas can reach out to the BLP and request the campaign to be brought to their college town. All they would have to do is submit their name, location and the reason why they want the Beautiful Lines Project to come to them.
By 2050, it’s estimated there will be 2 billion 65+ residents in the world, making up a substantial portion of our population. This is important to keep in mind because aging is inevitable- each passing day we are all growing older. The hope of my design solution is to show that life doesn’t end at the sight of your first gray hair, but in fact just starts another chapter. By changing the way we view aging, we can begin to reverse the ageist attitudes that have been ingrained in our culture for so long.