When I first started blogging as That’s Not My Age nine years ago, I was always banging on about the lack of older models, my Grey-dar permanently on high alert. But whereas in the past, the older model was restricted to a healthcare or life insurance gig (cue woman strolling jauntily down the beach in a lilac waterfall cardigan and stretch chinos), now nearly every week there’s another gorgeous silver-haired model in an advertisement for a fashion brand. While this age-appreciation is fantastic – it is wonderful to see women such as Daphne Selfe, 88, Maye Musk, 69, and Lauren Hutton, 73, looking vivacious and stunning, I still can’t help wondering: where have all the fiftysomething models gone?
Although the fashion industry has finally woken up to the power of the Silver Spend (in the UK, the 50+ customer accounts for 47% of consumer spending), advertisers appear to have resorted to a kind of “diversity checklist”. Model with grey hair: tick. That’s age sorted then. But the view of the older woman we’re being shown is signified by someone in her 60s, 70s, or beyond. It’s lazy; it creates an age gap and we still end up with extremes. Young and sexy or old and fetishised – take your pick.
“When it comes to advertising to older people, age myopia really kicks in,” says Kevin Lavery, a marketing and advertising specialist for the 50+ cohort and vice-chairman of the Mature Marketing Association (MMA). “Either that or the creative director reaches straight for the blue-rinsed grannies from central casting.” We’ve moved on from invisibility to stereotype, and this lack of diversity makes age feel like just another fashion fad.
“It does feel tokenistic,” confirms Rebecca Valentine, the founder of Grey Model Agency. “When my fiftysomething models go for castings, we often get reports back that they look too young.” We’re missing out on mid-lifers, which is a shame given that Valentine’s roster includes attention-grabbing women such as: Sara Stockbridge, 51, the former Vivienne Westwood model and i-D magazine cover star; Amanda Cazalet, 52, who famously kissed Madonna in the Justify My Love video and was Jean Paul Gaultier’s muse in the 1980s; and grey-haired, 51-year-old Beverly Clark, who is regularly told that she looks too young to represent her own age group.
“Part of the problem is that people who create the ads don’t look like the people who buy the products,” adds Lavery. “The average age of an ad agency account executive or creative is 28. It’s the same in marketing departments and, believe me, a 28-year-old can’t think like a 50-year-old. Unconscious age bias is a proved academic fact.”
Social media has enabled us to look beyond appearance and demographics to lifestyle, personality and psychographics. Like-minded people interact online via style blogs and Instagram, and information relating to their interests and attitudes is essential for marketing departments to consider. “Brands are scared,” continues Valentine, “because they’ve never had to pitch to people who were revolutionary and rebellious in the 1960s and 70s before.” Whether you’ve grown up with rock and roll, or still have that punk attitude, you’re never going to accept lazy stereotypes.
What’s needed is more variety, more diversity. Women over-50 come in lots of different shapes, sizes and ethnicities and we want to see images of women who reflect that and look like us. As the online comments I regularly receive on That’s Not My Age demonstrate: “I’m a slightly chubby woman in her very late 50s with short (periodically dyed) dark hair,” says actor Maureen Casey, “I don’t relate to whippet thin women in their 70s with long grey hair any more than I relate to skinny teenage models with long flowing hair. Unfortunately, I feel that the industry is simply creating a new character in its lexicon of acceptable women (the old, long haired thin one).”
“In three years’ time, the 50-plus market will make up more than half the adult population in this country – over 20 million,”says Lavery, “they’re bending the rules, defining the ’new old’ and they hold an estimated 80% of the country’s wealth.” As the last few years have shown, when there’s money involved, things will change. We have seen the resurgence of 1990s supermodels – 43-year-old Amber Valetta on the cover of British Vogue’s May issue, a wonderful array of lates 30s and 40-somethings walked on the catwalk for Dries Van Noten’s 100th show – as well as older models Jan de Villeneuve, 72, and Benedetta Barzini, 73, on the catwalk for Simone Rocha autumn/winter 2017 and Lauren Hutton for Bottega Veneta. Harper’s Bazaar’s latest diversity issue (July 2017) has a beautiful, inspirational fashion shoot featuring ‘women of all sizes, nationalities and ages’. Don’t get me wrong, this is the kind of fashion story I want to see – but there’s a two-year-old, a group of 20-something models and 38-year-old Jade Parfitt and then it jumps to de Villeneuve and Frances Dunscombe, 84 – so there’s that age gap again.
L’Oreal’s Voluminous Mascara ad (for the American market) earlier this year, featuring Diane Keaton, Debbie Harry, Julianne Moore and models Hari Nef and Soo Joo Park, covered age, ethnicity and gender in a cool way. A more diverse idea of beauty has to feel authentic and relatable – as the trans-model Hari Nef commented in an interview with Business of Fashion: “Just bringing people in and including them is not inclusive in a sustainable way.”
This takes commitment from fashion brands and advertisers, as well as continued pressure from consumers, outside agencies and influencers. “It could take six months it could take two years,” suggests Valentine. “We do need to see more diversity, more wrinkles, more curves, more black models. But so far, so quiet.”
You can follow Alyson on Twitter here.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010