I was so excited this weekend to read yet another article about an older female celebrity breaking the taboo of ageism and showing us clearly that – finally – things are beginning to change. Interviewed by Francesca Babb for Stella Magazine in the Sunday Telegraph, actress Laura Dern (of the highly acclaimed series Big Little Lies that I absolutely loved) celebrates her age and the fact that: “It’s not just that actresses over 50 are getting work – it’s that we’re playing complicated, dynamic and incredibly diverse characters.”
And she’s by no means the first. Recently there have been more and more prominent women over the age of fifty, working in all forms of media, standing up against the societal notion of ageing and celebrating their age as a huge positive – particularly in an industry that has previously been notorious for ageism.
Anyone who follows Studio10 will know that this is an issue that is so important to me, and I return to it time and time again. Certainly, looking at the cosmetics and beauty industry, I can see that things are beginning to change. We are identifying and retaining the experience of a senior workforce. We are recognising a mature audience. We are seeing older models in beauty ad campaigns. Words like anti-ageing and age-defying are no longer acceptable and PROAGE is littered throughout our narrative. We are doing our best to stamp out a universal – and sometimes our own traditional conditioning, if we are truly honest – perception of what ageing should look like and mean.
But it’s still not enough. In an age when diversity in all areas of society should sit at the core of success – there is still an element of ageism that is holding women back. And we have to look at what is perpetuating this.
Katie Couric is a pre-eminent American journalist and author who hosts the weekly Podcast Next Question and recently I listened to a brilliantly insightful episode that addresses exactly this issue. Titled Is Ageism Getting Old?, she gathered together a small number of prominent media-related influencers and bloggers to discuss whether or not ageism is one of the last acceptable ‘isms’ in society and why it is something that we still have to contend with.
These are inspiring women. They succinctly and intelligently answer the questions surrounding ageism and definitely provoke thought for me.
Lyn Slater is a 65 year old model and prominent fashion blogger known as The Accidental Icon. She has over 700,000 followers on Instagram, with her biggest following sitting in the age 25–35 bracket. Whilst acknowledging that we are living in a youth obsessed culture, and with the media messages that we are flooded with on a daily basis only serving to underpin this, she believes that it is younger people today who are paving the way forward and embracing diversity and inclusion. Her view is that we need to engage all ages into disrupting the story of ageing.
Ashton Applewhite is a writer, anti-ageism activist and author of This Chair Rocks – A Manifesto Against Ageism. Whilst she does appreciate that things are beginning to change, Ashton believes that ageism is promoted through industry and the companies who weigh the older and more expensive workers against the younger workers, who are cheaper and can be exploited because they don’t yet have families to support. She also talks about the language still used surrounding age with an example we’re all familiar with – ‘you look great for your age’. She says: “It’s really hard not to feel complimented but, when you accept that compliment, it’s ageist in the most fundamental way because it’s reinforcing the idea that younger is better. Why is someone bringing up age at all?” I love this example – she’s so right!
Model and anti-ageing activist JoAni Johnson came to prominence with her modelling success at the beginning of her sixties, walking for some of the top designers and recently hired by Rhianna to appear in a campaign for her new Fenty fashion line. She also believes that things are beginning to change. In an industry often fixated on youth, she says: “I think that opportunities have become more available to women of a certain age … they are some of the top consumers so they do make a difference and the responses that the media is getting from those people of a certain age who are saying ‘finally I see myself’is also having an impact.”
Finally, there is advertising consultant Cindy Gallop, described by Katie as one of the most outspoken and influential women in the world of advertising. Also founder and CEO of If We Ran the World, she believes that the advertising industry is extraordinarily ageist. She says:
“If you had older people in the industry operating at every point along the way we would see much better advertising and phenomenally aspirational pictures of ourselves because the enormous irony is … we are the ones living the aspirational lifestyle. We have our own sense of values, we have our own personal tastes, we dress the way we want, we live the way we want, if we’re lucky we have money that means we can travel, we have more freedom. These are all things that younger people aspire to but we do not see our lifestyle represented as aspirational in that way in advertising or anywhere in popular culture.”
Most of us will experience some form of ageism as we reach mid-life and beyond, and you are going to have your own views about this – but – if you have the time to listen to only one Podcast this week – let it be this one. As I always say and will continue to say until there’s no longer any reason left to say it – let’s stand united, let’s challenge the outdated perceptions of ageing that leave us feeling invisible and undervalued and stamp out ageism for once and for all. It’s time to be seen and be heard.