FOGO (Fear Of Getting Old) is a thing

— by Alyson Walsh

Photo: Sarah Brick

We live in an ageist society so of course people are bound to experience Fear of Getting Old (FOGO). I hadn’t seen this acronym until a feature in the Observer towards the end of last year, but I’m well aware of the discrimination that exists. The lack of employment opportunities, the financial inequalities created by the rise in state pension age for women born in the 1950s (read about the WASPI campaign HERE), the high cost of renting, and more. Ageing does have its challenges, according to a report by the Centre for Ageing Better ‘more people are living with major illnesses and disabilities’ and ‘people aged 60-64 have the highest poverty rates among adults of any age.’ The fear is real.

Alongside the economic and social realities, we have to put up with the media and beauty industry’s tiresome championing of ‘ageless’ female celebrities, women who look like they haven’t aged at all. This isn’t progress, it’s just reinforcing ridiculous beauty standards. The overall message being, it’s fine to be 50, 60, 70, 80 just as long as you look as smooth-faced as Jennifer Aniston/ Jane Fonda / delete as applicable.

Recent reports on the rise of children – and I am talking teenagers and younger girls  – buying into anti-ageing products and skincare regimes (not to mention women in their twenties having Botox, fillers and cosmetic tweakments) is quite frankly depressing. According to CNN, the hashtag #antiageing has 7.4 billion views on TikTok.

There’s a Barbara Ellen feature ‘Why are our children obsessed with anti-ageing?’ HERE.


Andi Oliver on the L’Oréal Paris You magazine cover


At the end of last year I attended a L’Oréal panel discussion with Helen Mirren, Andi Oliver and the make-up artist Val Garland. The latest campaign had just launched and the mega-beauty brand centred it around the ‘ You look great for your age’ debate. The event was buzzy and I loved what Andi Oliver had to say, and her punk attitude, ‘ I’m 60 and I’ve been all those other ages, all those women are saved inside me. We conflate the word ‘ old’ with decay but the older I’ve got the more successful I’ve become. I feel more visible now and I’m happy to take up that space. I feel powerful now.’

Showbiz sparkle aside, I think (hope) the majority of people ditched the phrase ‘you look great for your age’ years ago, and so including the entire back-handed compliment in the advert feels like a false positive. In a Psychology Today feature, the author suggests that this is one of ‘the five ageist things people need to stop saying’, so even the shortened phrase with the offending words crossed out perpetuates the ageist stereotype, in order to sell product. Nice try, L’Oréal but maybe come up with another advertising slogan.


Photo: Sarah Brick


If we had more older women working in advertising it would help. Author and founder of the Uninvisibilty project, Jane Evans has over-30 years experience in advertising and in a recent interview stated,’ Only 6% of the ad industry are over-50. There is a belief that advertising is supposed to be young and sexy. It’s not. Advertising is supposed to be on the edge of popular culture. If it was, it would recognise the most valuable audience has been on that edge for a very long time. But the ‘young and sexy’ advertising industry has lost the majority of its highly experienced workforce who understand the power and opportunities of midlife women and know how to sell to them.’


Image courtesy of the Wellcome Collection


The Cult of Beauty Exhibition at the Wellcome Collection ( until 28 April 2024) focuses on beauty ideals across different eras and cultures. Taking into consideration how status, health, age, race and gender have influenced what we perceive as beautiful. From the smallish section on age, the etching above, attributed to J. Falck after B.Strozzi (date between 1600 and 1699), is accompanied by a caption explaining that ‘European visual culture has historically linked ageing in women with diminishing beauty by juxtaposing their maturing features with symbols of youthfulness and fertility.’ In this case the older woman looking in the mirror is surrounded by two younger women, blooming flowers and feathers.

The caption adds, ‘This tacit connection between reproductive value and attractiveness continues today.’ But ends with a better interpretation of the artwork, ‘ The intended message of this imagery was likely to mock the central figure as a ‘lustful old woman’, inappropriately concerned with her appearance. However,  we can alternatively read it as a self-assured woman taking pleasure in the beauty of her post-menopausal body.’


Maggi Hambling wearing Dunhill at Frieze London


The last few months has seen a sprinkling of older women grabbing headlines: 88-year-old Maggie Smith went viral in the Loewe campaign, 78-year-old Maggi Hambling rocked up to Frieze Art Fair wearing Dunhill  (I bet Maggi Hambling isn’t scared of anything), 77-year-old Harriet Walter discussed her extensive career and told Vogue, ‘ Fear is the root of all evil,’ and 79-year-old Diana Ross will be coming out this spring in the Saint Laurent campaign.

The more we see realistic images of successful, confident older women, the more chance we have of changing the FOGO narrative. As the journalist, maths teacher and co-founder of Now Teach, Lucy Kellaway stated in a Financial Times feature on age discrimination in the workplace, ‘ Our blindness to ageism is particularly puzzling as it is a prejudice against our future selves.’


There’s a feature on the Happy Truths of Getting Older (and taming the fear) HERE.



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First outfit photo:

My own APC coat (bought two years ago; similar HERE and HERE). The jeans are second-hand APC. The HeatTech T-shirt is from a previous partnership with Uniqlo. The fair isle tank top was a gift from Brora (now reduced in the sale). And the tailored jacket is a very old Margaret Howell.

Second outfit photo:

My OLD sweatshirt  is from the latest collaboration with Dandy Star. See the full That’s Not My Age Edit HERE. And the tweed jacket was a gift from Jigsaw (last year so availability is limited. Similar HERE).

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