S3-EP13: Ashton Applewhite on the Ugly Heart of Ageism

Jan 15, 2021


Debbie talks to activist and author Ashton Applewhite about ageism, why we need to combat it, and how the pandemic has exposed our prejudices.



This podcast is about making the most of the collective gap year that we’re all living through right now. It’s a topic that applies to anyone, of any age, but our focus is on those in midlife and older.

So today, to kick off 2021, Debbie Weil talks to the perfect guest, Ashton Applewhite. Ashton is an author, speaker and activist on the topic of ageism, which can be defined as discrimination on the basis of age (no matter how old or how young you are). She’s  been called a pro-aging radical and the “Malcolm Gladwell of ageism.” She and Debbie really get into it in this wide-ranging conversation with Ashton poking and prodding at some of Debbie’s assumptions.

The topic of ageism (or any -ism) brings up a lot of emotion. Fear is generally at the top of the list so they talk about the fear of getting old and what that means in America. They talk about the value of human lives and why older people are often seen as less valuable or even invisible. And they delve into how the pandemic has revealed the deep well of ageism, as well as racism and ableism, in our society.

They also talk about the irony of being ageist yourself, of unconsciously accepting the notion that old is ugly. (Debbie is 69 and Ashton is 68.) Ashton reminds us that studies like the U-Curve of Happiness show older people are happier. They end the conversation with Ashton offering one thing you can do to combat ageism: become aware of when you’re using the word “old” as a negative vs. “young” as a positive. Think about that while you’re listening to this provocative episode.



“At the ugly heart of ageism is the idea that to age is to lose value as a human being.” – Ashton Applewhite

From Debbie’s newsletter: “Those are fighting words, no matter what your age as you read them. They’re how aging activist and author Ashton Applewhite opens my recent interview with her on the topic of ageism, which means discrimination on the basis of age. This episode really resonated with me!

Like so many people, I’ve unconsciously adopted ageism myself. When I look in the mirror at age 69, I see wrinkles and sagging and it looks… ugly. And yes, that sometimes makes me feel washed up and less valuable. But why?

Ashton pokes and prods as we talk, challenging my assumptions and shedding light on what might be the last acceptable prejudice in our society.” – Debbie Weil








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Thanks to our media partners

Encore.org, our newest media partner, is an ideas and innovation hub tapping the talent of those 50+ as a force for good. Founder and CEO Marc Freedman is an award-winning social entrepreneur and author, most recently, of How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations. Looking for a great gap-year transition program? Check out Encore Fellowships, which match skilled, seasoned professionals with social-sector organizations in high-impact, paid assignments.


Modern Elder Academy is a program dedicated to navigating mid-life transitions. MEA, based in Baja California, Mexico, provides the place and the tools to start reframing your lifetime of experience. Grow whole, not old. Founder Chip Conley is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning hospitality entrepreneur and a rock star of the mid-life transition movement. His newest book is Wisdom @ Work: the Making of a Modern Elder.


Next For Me is an important new resource for the 50+ crowd focused on rewriting life. Taking a gap year or timeout may be the best way to figure out "what's next" when you're in this stage of life. Founder Jeff Tidwell explains, Next For Me "connects and inspires our generation to evolve our post-50 lives through new work, a new purpose, or a new social contribution."