Let's End Ageism Through Integration - Not Insults
I’ve seen a few posts and articles that start with phrases along the lines of:
“Women in their 20s don’t have a patch on women in their 50s.”
“Older women could teach younger ladies a thing or two on style.”
“Those in their 20s only know fashion. Those over 40 know style.”
Now I’m obviously all for celebrating 40+ style and proving that beauty and elegance is not defined by age. But I’m afraid this is not the way to do it.
I get it. These phrases are meant to be empowering. They’re putting two fingers up to society’s unfair and insulting obsession with youth and those awful articles that continue to only celebrate younger women and criticise older ones. But as with dealing with any bully – the answer is not to stoop to their level.
You might think I have an issue with these phrases because I myself am in my 20s (and do think I know a thing or two about style!). But my age or style-nous have nothing to do with it. My concern is this: the solution to knocking down the walls of ageism does not lie in pulling down others in the process.
Celebrating style of all. Left: Photograph by Emily Stein - "I'm Older". Right: Photograph by Jay Lee - "Melodie Holliday". Image taken at Age Does Not Matter
After all, what does ‘ageism’ actually mean?
“Prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age.”
It doesn’t just apply to those who are older. You can be confronted by its ugly face at any point through your life. So these phrases, that claim to be supporting older women, are ageist in themselves.
If we really want to end ageism once and for all, the solution is in mutual acceptance, appreciation and integration. There are some beautifully stylish women in their 20s, as there are in their 60s. Style does develop and evolve over time. But that doesn’t mean you have more of it at one point than another – it’s just different.
On Saturday 1st October I went to the Age of No Retirement’s Age Does Not Matter festival, with the day’s program focusing on the Fashion Industry. Leading the day was Caryn Franklin – British Fashion Commentator and Professor of Diversity in Fashion. An impressive woman both inside and out, she perceptively pointed out that we should be appreciative of all ages because we are all on this ageing journey together.
Whatever stage of life we’re at, we can admire those who we’ve been in the past, who mirror us in the present, and as those who reflect our future. Ageing is something none of us can avoid, and we undergo it at the same rate, so let’s experience it together.
And the biological life cycle aside, we actually have a lot more in common in attitude across the age groups than we might realise. According to the Age of No Retirement, 83% of people between 20 – 80+ feel like they are not like everyone else in their age group. In other words, very few of us feel we fit the stereotypes we are encouraged to believe. And equally 83% want to mix with people of different ages and generations. So if we want it, let’s do it!
Now I’m not saying that everything should be age neutral. Personally I don't think that’s a wise idea. If we move towards age neutral branding, products and advertising, then we still risk marginalising sectors of society. It’s like saying a garment is one size fits all – it may fit a lot of people, but it most certainly won’t fit everyone.
But it’s clear that generations are increasingly similar. We do think in similar ways, as well as having differences that inevitably come with life experiences, body changes, lifestyles and new priorities. So if we want to end ageism and show that we are all equal, surely the answer is in championing and respecting these similarities and differences – not the opposite?
Age-prejudice in the Fashion Industry (and society as a whole) continues to thrive off stereotypes, misunderstandings, and lack of interest. Women over 50 are constantly and wrongly pigeon holed, so don't start doing it to younger women instead! That just shifts the prejudice rather than resolving it.
So please can we stop with these phrases before they become acceptable and the norm. Because, whilst they seem harmless, their undertones are damaging. Let’s just say “Women in their 50s can look fabulous – as can women at any age” and leave it at that.
Read our summary of the Age Does Not Matter festival's Fashion day here.