What does 50-something look like? Why we need more older women on our screens
Why are we still so confused about ageing? I’ve been writing That’s Not My Age for over 13-years and while there has been a huge amount of progress made in that time: older women are increasingly visible in parliament, in the media, in advertising campaigns and on our Instagram feeds but the double whammy of ageism and sexism, or gendered ageism as it is now known, still persists.
Before Christmas an online Vogue feature entitled ‘ 6 Influential 50-Somethings Share Their Beauty and Skincare Secrets’ featured one woman, Grece Ghanem, in her 50s and five in their 60s and 70s. JoAni Johnson is 69, Lyn Slater is 67, Mouchette Bell is 66, Maye Musk is 73, Jan de Villeneuve is 77. All these women are wonderful, inspirational role models and I love to see images of them – they’re just not 50-something. I’ve Googled all their ages, something the Vogue writer (or intern) obviously didn’t do, and while it’s great to see age diversity in Vogue, this kind of superficial clickbait is not helpful. The view of a woman in her 50s is being signified by someone much older, it’s lazy and it creates a weird ‘age gap’. Why aren’t we seeing more women in their 50s? And why is age being distorted in this way – can’t we just look the way we look?
The January 2022 Vogue cover girl Kristen McMenamy aged 56 was so airbrushed she looks younger now than when she started out over 30 years ago… All of this age misrepresentation isn’t productive, it’s fetishising age and bringing a whole new meaning to 70 is the new 50. What does 50 even look like? Vogue readers may never know…
Meanwhile on screen, there are a few more older women than before but we are still not allowed to look our age. Rather than being recognised for our experience, ability and talent, professional women over-50 are judged by their appearance. Those who work in the public eye are expected to age in a certain way.
In the run up to the Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That ( I can’t be the only want who thinks about Tommy Cooper every time I hear the show’s title…). Sarah Jessica Parker (56) was trolled online for having grey hair and wrinkles and not looking like she did 20 years ago. Hey, guess what…none of us look like we did 20 years ago. This is gendered ageism and it simply doesn’t happen to men. No one’s saying, ‘Ohmigod Keanu Reeves (57) doesn’t look the same in The Matrix Resurrections,’ or ‘ Blimey, Daniel Craig (53) looks a bit rough.’ They don’t. They look older, that’s what happens. We need more diversity, more wrinkles, more women in their 50s portrayed realistically on TV.
In an interview with American Vogue, SJP spoke out about her experience:
‘ It almost feels as if people don’t want us to be perfectly okay with where we are, as if they almost enjoy us being pained by who we are today, whether we choose to age naturally and not look perfect, or whether you do something if that makes you feel better. I know what I look like. I have no choice. What am I going to do about it? Stop ageing? Disappear?’
Nah. Better to continue your successful career and show the world how brilliant you are. And, I’d much rather see visible signs of ageing than Kirsten McMenamy airbrushed to look like a teenager.
For an honest approach to ageing check out Stylelikeu’s YouTube channel. The mother-daughter team, Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum, has recorded a series on ‘Defying Ageism and Rocking Your Grey Hair.’ Interviewees include Bethann Hardisson activist and model agency founder, the supermodel Paulina Porizkova who has spoken out about feeling invisible and Omisade Burney-Scott the founder of The Black Girl’s Guide to Surviving Menopause who says, ‘When someone tells me I look younger that’s not a compliment. When someone tells me I look vibrant, that’s a compliment. I want to be seen as a healthy, happy, joyous 54-year-old.’
And of course you can tune into That’s Not My Age where age and style are always on the agenda. Sometimes this is in a more subtle way, but as a 58-year-old woman publishing untouched photos of myself on the internet, I feel like I’m doing my bit to challenge gendered ageism. In a podcast interview with 1999 Beauty at the end of last year, I couldn’t believe I was still repeating the same old argument about men and women being treated differently as we age.
The fight for equality isn’t over, we cannot be complacent.
STYLE NOTES: In the top photo I’m wearing an olive green padded jacket from Toast (gifted, no longer available). The orange merino cashmere jumper is from my collaboration with Me+Em. The ecru jumpsuit is from the TNMA Edit. My own Community Clothing socks and New Balance trainers.