PHOTOGRAPHY BY ELLIE COKER
TORI MATHISON LYRICS
The lack of age diversity in fashion media is just as damaging as the lack of size diversity, but nobody talks about it.
In July of this year, I turned 22. I spent the night before tossing and turning, in tears at the thought of growing old. By shedding my teenage years and moving away from a certain dark youthful ambivalence, I’ve been conditioned to maybe cherish a little too much.
But as the closing track played on Doll domination by the Pussycat Dolls and I was taken back to a simpler time, reflecting on what scared me so much growing up.
Over the past decade we have seen substantial changes in size diversity in fashion and beauty media, and many of us question the way we have been taught to speak negatively about our weight.
And more recently, steps have been taken to encourage racial diversity with the same goal of inclusiveness. But as we move forward, albeit slowly, in promoting body positivity and eliminating systemic racism from the media landscape, the lack of age diversity is still very real and very damaging.
When we are exposed to media that exclusively portrays young, lithe, white women, we are conditioned to strive for exclusive beauty ideals that only validate a small sector of the population and alienate the rest of the consumer market.
These media biases often lead to eating disorders, identity issues, and low self-esteem, but unlike height diversity and racial diversity, ageism is rarely discussed.
So why don’t we see the same conversations about the representation of age?
Most media identify their target audience as anywhere between 18 and 55 years old. But with an aging population, it’s a huge oversight not to cater to the bulk of that audience. It also fails to recognize the value of tapping into a consumer market that is also likely to have a higher income.
And while it is necessary to create greater visibility for older people to see themselves represented in mainstream media, increased visibility also allows young people to develop healthier perceptions of aging.
If we don’t describe mature people as beautiful, fashionable, or relevant, we’re saying by omission that they aren’t. We know this from the conversations finally taking place about the need for racial diversity and size diversity in the media: this visibility helps to both normalize and celebrate marginalized people and bodies.
Ageism Is Pervasive in Youth Marketing
The skincare industry is particularly guilty of promoting anti-aging ideas in the way it markets skincare products. For anyone indulging in multi-step skincare routines, self-care is often closely tied to anti-aging. There are countless creams, lotions and serums that are marketed as a panacea to the “problem” of aging.
And unlike much older people who shamelessly brag about exclusive anti-aging products as if showing their age is the worst thing anyone can do, young people who don’t yet have fine lines and wrinkles are products products marketed.
Retinol, arguably the most popular skincare ingredient of 2020, does just that. It pedals the promises of better skin health and maintaining a plumped, soft, smooth and taut epidermis, but the hero side effect is anti-aging.
The beauty industry‘s celebration of youth is toxic, and the manipulation of product language fuels our aging insecurities. It is an unwinnable race that leads us down a path of painful self-examination.
Where to go from here?
Over the past two years, there has been a noticeable increase in mature models featured in campaigns and in modeling agency books.
Specialized agencies such as Silver fox management are dedicated to reserving older models only, and many brands, such as lone tag and Suk Workwear, began including mature models in fashion campaigns and editorials without suggesting that the clothes they wear are specific to their age.
Jon Duval, the owner of the Melbourne-based modeling agency Duval, believes that modeling agencies play a key role in the diversification of fashion and beauty media. As an authority on trends, they certainly wield significant influence.
“I think it really depends on the agencies. I firmly believe that. If you look at each agency, there is a particular style, and it all depends on what appeals to the agent. What is their perception of beauty. And I think the owners of the agencies that dominate the industry have a particular style and they employ like-minded people who also have a similar style…Clients don’t know what’s beautiful. We tell them. They are counting on us. And that’s why I say it’s up to the agents to decide, ”he explains.
In a recent update to the Duval website, in an effort to encourage and normalize diversity, all talent is now grouped together on one page, regardless of age, gender or race. It is these unorthodox actions within a traditionally strict and binary industry that will bring about the most tangible change.
While modeling agencies and media executives still wield tremendous power, as conscious consumers we must remember not to buy into the ageist narrative. It is completely acceptable to want to take care of our skin and treat it and ourselves well. But we need to be kind to ourselves and appreciate the beauty of being human, recognizing that growth and aging are part of this experience.