Artists celebrate age with age-positive birthday cardsMar 22, 2021 03:48PM ● By Jan Weeks
Spin any card rack and you’ll see anyone over the age of 60 portrayed as doddering, flatulent, senile or cantankerous, especially when the card celebrates a birthday. Talk about midcentury stereotypes! Now that 70 is the new 40, it’s time to update the image of seniors.
Changing the Narrative is a national movement that seeks to show how older people contribute to both the community and the workforce with their knowledge and experience. According to Director Janine Vanderburg, Colorado was the first state to establish a reframing aging initiative. Based in Hotchkiss, Vanderburg often travels to bring Changing the Narrative’s message to audiences across the state.
At workshops on aging, she’s found that the experience of ageism—the discrimination of people on the basis of their age—is all too common among older adults. A recent survey showed that 82 percent of people age 50-80 experience ageism in their everyday lives. While birthday cards are just a small (and perhaps, silly) example, ageism is a serious problem. Many studies show that ageism has negative effects on seniors’ health and financial security.
Changing the Narrative decided to seek age-celebrating alternatives, sponsoring a contest for greeting cards that are age appropriate and uplifting instead of disparaging to older folks.
“Older adults are often curious, active and engaged, yet so many birthday card choices mock older adults or make aging seem like a period of decline, depression and dependence,” Vanderburg said. “The fact is, we are living longer and healthier lives that give us the chance to do more and become more. Older age has its own unique benefits to celebrate.”
Aging is a gift
Out of 60 entries, two of the 23 card winners hail from Colorado’s Western Slope.
Montrose resident Lu Anne Tyrrell, 64, doesn’t remember a time when she wasn’t creating art. As a child, she colored and drew daily. Now, her favorite medium varies among photography, watercolor and mixed media.
When Tyrrell saw Changing the Narrative’s request for entries to an anti-ageism birthday card contest, she saw a chance to use her art to change perceptions of what aging should look like. She submitted three images for consideration.
“I chose the daisies popping up as I found them filled with life, vibrant, inspiring and uplifting. As we know, daisies come back every year, beautiful as ever. So should we,” Tyrrell said.
While she has never experienced ageism personally, Tyrrell counts herself lucky. One thing she has observed is the backhanded compliment of someone (especially a woman) looking good…for their age.
“I’ve enjoyed being involved with Changing the Narrative because I believe in their mission statement, and I think it’s very important,”
Lu Anne Tyrrell’s winning birthday card features daisies, which she finds inspiring and uplifting.
When Tyrrell was notified that her image of daisies was one of the winners, she wrote this inscription for the card: “Your life continues to bloom in loving ways. May this day bring you birthday joy and love.”
Orchard City resident Cara Helmick, a licensed clinical social worker, was also a winner of the birthday card contest.
Her day job at Volunteers of America’s Senior CommUnity Care center in Eckert serves clients over the age of 55 who meet the standards for nursing home care but want to age in place.
Working with older people has made Helmick, who is in her 30s, more aware of ageism on both sides of 50.
“As a young woman working primarily with older adults, I am often asked how old I am, as if my age is the determining factor in my ability to do my work,” said Helmick.
Likewise, she is also critical of how society constantly pushes creams, lotions and potions on women to delay or stop the aging process.
“I believe aging is a gift and we should celebrate each year we live,” said Helmick. “As I get older, I find I am wiser, more in tune with myself and my body, have greater understanding and patience, and find more joy in simple things.”
Unlike Tyrrell, Helmick started creating art less than three years ago, when she was introduced to watercolor by two colleagues.
“I was mesmerized! I quickly picked up some basic techniques and taught myself by watching tutorials online and taking an hour-long introductory class with a local artist. I’m intrigued by how the color moves through the water on paper,” said Helmick.
Because she started her artistic endeavors with watercolor, that’s the medium she chose for the contest, painting a colorful hot air balloon with the inscription “Every year you continue to rise in greatness” on the inside.
Helmick, like Tyrrell, seeks artistic creativity to keep her mind active and fresh, and inspires others to do the same. Both artists are passionate about helping others, and keep service at the forefront of everything they do. In fact, it was Helmick’s clients’ stories of endurance and courage that inspired the card she created.
“I want the world to know how special they are, and that we should celebrate their accomplishments and their lives,” Helmick said. “Older people have many stories to tell and too often no one will listen. I hope this campaign will allow others to see aging as an achievement, not something to dread.”
Find both artists’ cards (along with the other winners) online at www.changingthenarrativeco.org/anti-ageist-birthday-card-gallery. Click “Buy Now” to purchase an anti-ageist birthday card for $6 each.