Seniors are pushing back against ageism on TikTok


Older people are increasingly using TikTok, the favourite app of youth. — AFP Relaxnews

TikTok has a reputation for being the playground of young people – and for good reason. However, an increasing number of seniors are giving the Chinese social network a go, often encouraged by their children and grandchildren. And the trend is offering old age a new image.

Technophobic, frail, cantankerous, senile... Age-related stereotypes are hard to eradicate. They can be particularly detrimental to women, for whom the fact of aging and seeing their body change remains a source of concern. But a surprising boost could come via TikTok and could help them see things differently, according to a study recently published in the journal The Gerontologist.

Professor Reuben Ng and Nicole Indran found that older people are increasingly using TikTok, the preferred app of the younger generations. They analysed 1,382 videos posted by users of the social network aged 60 or older, with between 100,000 and 5.3 million followers. The seniors in the video all talk freely about their age in order to show that old age is not a handicap.

The researchers found that 71% of the videos included in their study deconstructed ageist biases. Erika Rischko has made this her specialty. This German octogenarian describes herself as a “fitness junkie” and shares clips of her workouts on her TikTok account. She does squats, push-ups and crunches to the encouragement of her hundreds of thousands of followers.

Other senior influencers bet on elegance to encourage the users of the social network to stop putting youth on a pedestal. They are commonly called “glamma”, a word derived from the combination of “glamour” (“glamourous”) and “grandma” (“grandma”).

Dolores Paolino, also known as @dolly_broadway, is one of the proud representatives of this movement. The American octogenarian often features sequin dresses or combishorts in her videos, to the delight of her 2.4 million followers. The proof that there is no age limit for style.

The (surprising) benefits of old age

Nearly one in five of the videos analysed in the study mock age-related vulnerabilities, and one in ten denounce ageism among both young and some older people. Some senior content creators also strive to show the (unsuspected) benefits of old age.

Joe Allington, an 88-year-old English retiree, shared one with his 5.4 million subscribers: being able to drink during the week, without worrying about going to work the next day. “Something to look forward to, I suppose,” he explains humorously.

Joe Allington started using TikTok during the first lockdown on the advice of his daughter and granddaughters. Many seniors followed his example to maintain the link between generations and counter feelings of isolation.

Lilian Droniak did it for a more personal reason: to address the taboo subject of death. She became known for a short video in which she lists what she wants for her future funeral. “Here are the rules to follow: you can cry, but don’t cry too much, don’t make a fool of yourself.” Also “Bertha is not invited, don’t let her in” and finally, “you better get drunk afterwards. Take a shot for me,” she requests. Result: 6.1 million “likes”.

Whatever their motivations, these older TikTokers are helping to change the way people think about old age, as Reuben Ng told the Guardian. “These TikTok elders have become successful content creators in a powerful counter-cultural phenomenon in which older persons actually contest the stereotypes of old age by embracing or even celebrating their aged status.” – AFP Relaxnews

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