Met one of the many charming & talented Arnold School of Public Health grad student women when exiting the Blatt PE Center last Thursday. In the usual hi good to see you what are you doing here exchange, I noted that I was training for the upcoming Columbia triathlon. Since disclaimers were clearly needed [I don't look the part], added that I took up the sport a few years ago, at age 57. Further down the conversational line, as we were parting, the young woman said "I think it's so wonderful that you're still doing new things at your age." At your age. My internal response was not a pleasant one. But I recognized the misguided sweetness and answered pleasantly, and we each wandered off home.
As an early Baby Boomer, I'm just reaching the stage at which appearance trumps potential. When I shopped for my current bike, salesmen automatically led me to the fat seat cruisers, not the racers. I'm just an old woman. But I've been able to spend most of my life being something else. For persons of color, the experience of being categorized based on appearance begins a lot earlier. That knot in the stomach translates into stress and stress related disorders. My hope: that as Baby Boomers age, more and more of them come to understand how it stings to be judged based on appearance and develop a broader empathy for others who encounter the same sting. Promoting health disparities research will be a lot easier when a broad base of scientists have a visceral feel for the nature of discrimination. -- JP