“Dress Like a 100-Year-Old Day”: A Call to Action

August 30, 2018
Jill Vitale-Aussem

As kids head back to school, we’re asking for your help.

It’s become a trend in schools around the US to celebrate the 100th day of school by holding a “Dress Like a 100-Year-Old Day.” Pinterest and some websites provide instructions for parents to help their kids look and act the part of an old person.

Some examples:

• WikiHow recommends avoiding any bold or bright colors and instead to dress in drab solid colors and use a “simple walking cane and hobble around with that.”

• A Livestrong article coaches parents to encourage their child to call other people “sonny” and “go a little overboard as a stereotypical old person to make it more fun.”

• ClassyMommy describes a child’s perfectly put together costume:
Kyle’s wrinkles were the coolest and honestly they made him look utterly EXHAUSTED! He really looked his age. We kept asking him if he was tired and Kenzie thought he was making dirty faces at her since the wrinkles kind of gave him a permanent scowl. Too funny!

This is beyond disturbing.  I was so angry when I read these posts and had to remind myself that these writers and the participating schools probably don’t have bad intentions.  Their actions are just another reflection of the persistent and pervasive negativity surrounding aging in our culture.

That’s where we come in.  We can’t let things like this continue.

 We have to speak out. 

Today’s kids are tomorrow’s leaders.  We have a great opportunity to inoculate them against the damaging effects of ageism.

Last year, when Kelly Papa, Corporate Director of Learning at Masonicare, learned that her child’s school was holding one of these “Dress Like a 100-Year-Old” days, she was horrified.

Kelly admits she had some hesitation in contacting the teacher but she realized she had to take action. She contacted the teacher and explained the concerns she had with this depiction of older people. Kelly was invited to come to the school and talk with the kids and set up a video conference so the kids could talk with Kelly’s 100-year-old aunt and learn about the gifts that come with aging. The teacher took the lesson one step further. She brought in two jars. In one jar, she placed 5 pennies, in the other 100 pennies. The kids then talked about how much more value the full jar, representing a 100-year-old, brings. The teacher went on to earn a board of education award for her efforts.

The actions we take, no matter how small, have a ripple effect on society. One of the most powerful things we can do is take a lesson from Kelly and boldly address ageism when and where we see it.

So, we’re asking for your help.

Consider commenting (kindly of course) on websites promoting these ageist stereotypes. If you hear of schools in your area that are planning a “Dress Like a 100-Year-Old Day” contact them and talk with them about options for 100th day celebrations that honor aging. You may want to be proactive and reach out to schools and inquire about their plans now.

So, are you in? Please share your commitment and ideas for age-honoring 100th day celebrations in the comments below.

9 Comments. Leave new

Laura Beck, The Eden Alternative
August 30, 2018 12:14 pm

It is amazing to me the level of unconsciousness that makes something like this possible. Ageism is so systemic now that many of us walk around completely oblivious to the damage being done. Ageism can no longer fly under the radar. It is time to voice our outrage and to take a stand that this kind of blatant stereotyping is unacceptable. Do we want our children conditioned to view their Elders as cartoon characters? Or do we want them to grow up in touch with the powerful gifts our Elders have to offer us? Why not dedicate a day to inviting community Elders to your schools to share what they’ve learned from a life long lived? Let’s turn this obscenity into an opportunity… yell, scream, protest if your child’s school is participating in one of these events!

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Kirsten Jacobs
August 30, 2018 12:42 pm

YES! This is so important! Thank you Jill (and Kelly) for raising this important issue. I’m in.

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After just attending the Pioneer Network Conference, where it was suggested to involve our youth to assist “Olders” and to understand the aging process, I am shocked that schools would endorse this and that Companies would promote it. Parents and Grandparents must be proud of these young’uns and the disrespect they are demonstrating.

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As a former ombudsman and author of two books on aging, I am sickened by this evidence of ageism in our culture. We all need to do whatever we can to oppose this kind of behavior toward old people and we need to remember that ageism leads to elder abuse, as surely as night follows day. Thank you for posting this. We need to know.

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Triciajean Jones
August 31, 2018 1:07 pm

I think these same things every time I watch the Disney channel with my daughter. Their portrayal of elders continues the cycle of ageist stereotypes. Thank you Jill for raising this point!

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Jill Vitale-Aussem
September 4, 2018 10:16 pm

You are so right! I can’t recall the exact details but there has been research done on how negatively children’s movies and tv shows portray older adults. We have so much work to do!

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Cathie Endsley
October 1, 2018 6:13 pm

Just remember that even a small pebble thrown out into the stream causes ripples. I believe we need to return to a time when elders were considered special and families were blessed to still have them around. Elders are not ones who just need to be tolerated or taken for granted because they are generous to a fault. We should remember that they, too, need love and respect just as much as the younger people in society. Hollywood would have you think that these things are for a certain age group, though, and so have done much to contribute to negative stereotypes that are associated with older people today. I work daily to turn it around to a more gentle and kind time in the world when we loved the older folks and could not wait to hear the stories they would tell. They deserve our respect and honor.

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Jill Vitale-Aussem
October 2, 2018 1:58 pm

Cathie, I meant to type “sharing YOUR insights” of course. 🙂

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Jill Vitale-Aussem
October 2, 2018 1:45 pm

Cathie, you’re so right about the ripple effects of what we do. Thank you for commenting and sharing our insights!

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