Changing the Narrative is a leading national effort to end ageism through evidence-based strategies and innovative public-facing campaigns.
Q. Why did you join Changing the Narrative?
A. I was working in marketing communications for older adults and attended a 2018 training for professionals at Changing the Narrative, which really shifted my perspective. I learned that many of the stories we told about older people were stereotypes — older people are not a homogeneous group. I was drawn to join the organization soon after, first as a content creator and now as chief of staff and co-director.
There’s a lot going on at Changing the Narrative, not just anti-ageist birthday cards, but workshops to promote age-inclusive workplaces, intergenerational conversations, social media campaigns and more. In this culture, we’re doing a disservice to ourselves with many of the stories we tell about what it means to get older — and Changing the Narrative wants to change that.
Q. What is the anti-ageist birthday card project?
A. The idea was to engage people at birthdays, because it’s a time when we all think about aging. Cards are a very visual example of ageism. One example was a card with a picture of a walker and a line that said, “Here’s your next birthday present.” Why is that OK to say?
We launched our first set of birthday cards in 2020. Because we’re headquartered in Colorado, we called for local artists to create general age-positive cards. For the second round of cards in 2023, we engaged with existing designers at small greeting card companies from across the nation, asking for specific messaging that used age-positive language as well as images.
When picking out birthday cards, we want people to take a little pause and think about the message they’re sending. Some cards send a really negative message about getting older. Ask yourself: Is that how I think of my friends and colleagues? That they should feel bad about themselves — old and ugly?
It takes time, but these awareness campaigns can change peoples’ perspectives. The genesis for this idea actually came from one our volunteers, who was about to turn 70, and she had already talked to her friends about her work with us. For the first time ever, she got no negative cards about aging on her birthday.
Q. What is implicit bias and how can birthday cards change that?
A. We’ve all been surrounded with negative messages about older people and we now believe them about ourselves. We don’t realize we have this implicit bias — even about ourselves. Our negative beliefs about aging actually hurt our ability to age well. Receiving positive card messages can help us celebrate a milestone rather than fear it and start to chip away at the idea that aging has nothing to offer.
Q. What can we do to get involved?
A. It’s easy to say, “I’m going to grab the first thing I see in the card aisle.” People might take a second look and ask, “Is this a positive sentiment?” Every time we purchase something, we’re telling the industry, “there’s a market for this.” If we start picking up cards that are more age-positive, it can change what companies sell. People looking for age-positive cards can find them on our site, but wherever you buy them, we encourage you to think about the message you’re sending.
Q. Why is it important to foster a positive picture of aging?
A. Getting older can bring health problems, but it brings great things as well. Greater resilience, wisdom, experience and an ability to form connections all come with age.
A study by Yale University professor Dr. Becca Levy showed that people live an average of 7.5 years longer if they have positive feelings about getting older. Something seemingly small like a birthday card, or our larger initiatives to help end workplace discrimination, can work to create a more positive view of aging.
To learn more about what Changing the Narrative is doing to end ageism, visit their website.