Life & Culture

Helen Mirren’s Zinger Exposes Ageist Compliments

A lot of people remarked on Helen Mirren’s plunging gown at the Golden Globes last week; a lot of people said she looked really great. She must have been hearing that all night — and she knew what people meant: “for your age.”

So when she stood in front of the microphone with actor Gerard Butler, 49, and he said, “You look absolutely lovely tonight, Helen” (looking her up and down), Mirren responded, “Thank you. So do you — for your age.”

It was an elegant correction of incipient and unintended ageism — more elegant even than Mirren’s gown. And it made us think: What are some pointed but polite corrections for other phrases that people use when they think they’re being nice — when they don’t realize that by implying, say, that older people usually don’t look lovely, they’re being ageist?

We came up with a few (and borrowed a couple). But we need your help in coming up with more.

Here are ours:

“Hi there, Pops!”

“Hi there, Sonny!”

“Your foot’s hurting? Well, you are 72…”

“My other foot must be younger!”

“You look so much younger” (than your age)

“This is what someone my age looks like.” (Thanks to our Twitter follower Jacqueline Gikow for this one.)

“You’re so young at heart!”

“You mean my heart hasn’t kept up with my body?”

“You’re still so youthful!”

“So are you!”

“You’re so cool!”

“You’re pretty cool for your age, too.”

Your turn:  How would you respond to the following?

“I’d never guess you were 65!”

“You’re so cute!”

“Oh, you’re not old!”

“You’re not a bit like my grandmother!

“Can I help you, young lady?”

How often have you heard — or offered — compliments like these. How do they make you feel? And how would you respond? 



14 responses to “Helen Mirren’s Zinger Exposes Ageist Compliments

  1. When told that I look so much younger then my age, I respond to the kid that I really wish to look just like him/her when I grow up. When told that I don’t look like his/her grandmother, I truly respond that I never had children, nor grand-children, that’s why! When I am given a seat (help) in the public transport after work, I say thank you very much and don’t think of the reason why – could be anything.

  2. Nora O’Donnell on the CBS Morning News said today that Bernie Sanders may be 74 but he is still a fresh face – seems very aegist. What does age have to do with being fresh or having fresh ideas??

    1. Actually, age can increase the potential for fresh ideas! I often speak about the unique genius of people over 50 and way beyond. We tend to be more reflective. We tend to stop worrying what others think — which is a huge barrier to fresh ideas! We tend to be concerned more with purpose than style; to the extent our time is free from earning a living and we’re willing to do anything creative, we can liberate much of that brilliance that came in our DNA but got quashed out of of long ago.

      Wisdom may get a lot of lip service, but it’s really unappreciated. I can’t imagine that wisdom equals hidebound. Wise people keep growing more insightful and creative all the time.

      Someday soon, people will look forward to aging as a time of fulfillment and constant new adventure. That’s how it is for so many people I am privileged to know. Thanks to Senior Planet for helping to connect us.

  3. To this little gem … “Can I help you, young lady?” … my response, which I am forced to use all too frequently, is,
    “Sir/Madame, I am certainly not young as you can well see, and the appellation of ‘lady’ has always been in serious doubt where I’m concerned!

  4. Plastic surgery is ageist & sexist? Not just women & not just older women are getting plastic surgery. One might think your statement is ageist & sexist for even hinting at that. It’s ok to want to look good at any age. She’s not trying to hide or deny her age.

  5. I think anytime someone tries to compliment you, they have taken notice you are alive and are present. Too often older people are just invisible to young people, they are not even seen or acknowledged. When they are actually included in a conversation and treated as an equal to the young it is rare. I think older men have an easier time being seen than older women. So every compliment that I receive, I accept as a genuine attempt to make a connection, no matter how ageist it may sound. The intention is most important.

  6. 1- “Really? I guess that’s why you’ll never win the lotto.”

    2- “Really? You should see my dog.”

    3- “Really? I guess I’m not dead either.”

    4- “Really? Poor dear; tell her to get a life.”

    5- “Really? No, I can diaper you myself; now be a good baby and turnover.”

    Fun Stuff:)

  7. People have said to me: “How could you be 73? You’re so vibrant!” (Or if they have not met me yet, “You sound do vibrant.” The next time it happens, I may say, “Well I’ve had many years of practice at being fully alive, and I hope for at least another 30 years of the same.”

    When people say it’s so cute that any of us are having a good life or still in love with a spouse after decades, I don’t know what to say. Right now I just make a face that tries to say “Really? On your planet love and life are cute?” Maybe it’s time to affirm that love and life take work, not to mention some ripe wisdom. And when life works at any age, it’s really juicy and sometimes sexy. I didn’t know how to live this well many years ago.

  8. “I’d never guess you were 65!”
    Thank you.

    “You’re so cute!”
    Thank you.

    “Oh, you’re not old!”
    Thank you.

    “You’re not a bit like my grandmother!
    Thank you.

    “Can I help you, young lady?”
    Thank you.

    I believe that everyone is too quick to take offense in this world. We seniors are more likely to help push back against ageism by setting an example of graciousness than by being snarky.

  9. Mirren has had a whack of plastic surgery, and she did it for the compliments. She looks as good as money can buy. Be honest. She’s as ageist and sexist as the people making the comments to her but also a hypocrite.

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