Everybody ages, that’s a given. Yet the image of age is very rarely represented in the fashion world and is sometimes frowned upon. OK, you’re right, there are symbols of older beauty in popular culture, with people like Idris Elba and George Clooney winning the title of Sexiest Man Alive in their older years. But although they may have had a grey hair here and there, they hadn’t even reached 50 when the earned the title.
The absence of age in beauty standards
In the age of representing diversity, the fashion industry is performing poorly. Most brands that we see and consume have standard for their models. Their models are generally tall, thin and young and usually with very little ‘imperfections’. The median age for Europe is 42 and then 31 in America, yet most models are around the age of 17. That is a very small portion of the world being represented. So why are brands so hesitant to represent the older generations?
Well, the simple answer is that the world doesn’t seem to accept ageing. Especially Western cultures. Our perception of beauty is flawed because, to us, beauty is flawless. To be beautiful, we mustn’t have wrinkles, or age spots, or any other sign of ageing. The global anti-aging market was valued at $158.44 billion in 2017. That’s a lot of people who aren’t content with how they are ageing. It’s important to note that the global life expectancy is 72.4 years old. Considering that the anti-ageing market targets people over 40, most people aren’t content with their appearance for the last 30+ years of their life. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Recognising the power of representation
The media is responsible for pretty much everything we choose to do. It is a dominant part of our society and the things we see on a daily basis are shaping our values and beliefs. It is exploiting our deep-rooted self-consciousness and capitalising on it. To put it in simple terms, the media is making ageing a problem so they can profit on its solution.
Now, I’m hopeful that the world isn’t dominated by profit seeking companies without a conscience, which means we can use the media for good. If we can create a problem using the media, then it surely must be even easier to erase one. The easy way we can do this is by representing diversity as much as we can in as many places as we can.
The great news is that the media is already recognising that ageism is a problem in the fashion industry. Big names in the news world like The Guardian and the Business Insider, as well as huge fashion companies like Vogue have called out the inequality surrounding age in fashion. Which is great news for us, because it creates an opportunity.
Ceasing the opportunity
The fashion industry clearly needs to change up the models they are using and the world seems to be ready for that change. We are an ageing world and we’re only going to get older as we advance. So, instead of making wrinkles, age spots and grey hair a taboo subject, let’s celebrate them.
First of all, if you are buying into the anti-ageing industry, I challenge you to reject it. Fight through the social stigmas of imperfections and wear them with pride. Immerse yourself in the world of brands who see you for you and represent you without being ashamed.
If you are in the younger demographic, help reshape the narrative. We have the power to change the world we consume by speaking up about things we know aren’t OK. If you hear someone make an ageist remark, challenge them. If you see someone using an anti-ageing product, help them rediscover their beauty. Stand up to brands who aren’t actively representing everyone and hold them accountable until they do.
The worst thing a person can do is believe they don’t have the power to fuel change. Even if you only changed one person’s belief, you have enabled change. And if you can help someone see their own beauty, that’s even better than change.
It’s time to show that growing old is beautiful. It’s time to change the world, even if your world is only one person.