Look at this picture. How old do you think this man and woman are?
The other day I was flicking through my facebook feed when a post for Lumen, the new 50+ dating app, came up, featuring this picture. In the comments section were several accusations of the woman in the picture not being in her 50s – one even said she could be the man’s daughter. And those who accepted she might be 50, thought she was far hotter than her peers.
Now I personally know the founders of Lumen, and can attest that all their images feature ‘real’ 50+ individuals. In fact, in this very image there was only 4 years difference between the man and woman. And the lady isn’t a professional model, she’s a teacher. Yes she’s attractive, but hardly an anomaly. So it got me thinking: why were so many people quick to assume the lady was younger?
My instinct is because she doesn’t feature typical indicators of age: she’s vibrant, stylish, and long glossy brown hair with glowing skin with few visible wrinkles. When I asked co-founder Charly Lester her view, she completely agreed.
Something similar has happened with some of the real women models we’ve featured on the-Bias-Cut.com. People, thankfully, havn’t so viciously attacked us, but they’ve commented that we’ve clearly started using younger models. But I can assure you they havn’t – they currently range from mid-40s to late 60s, with the majority in their 50s.
So what’s going on?
Well I think it’s something to do with a distorted perspective on what ageing really looks like. I’m no psychologist, but I’d conjecture that over time we’ve developed a series of identifiers that help us determine someone’s age. Key identifiers may include hair colour, skin, height and even clothing choices. And once upon a time, these may have enabled us to make roughly accurate guesses about age. But times have changed. What it means to be in your 50s today is nothing like it was, even just 20 years ago. And yet society as a whole hasn’t caught up.
The media still bombards us with stereotyping, lack of representation, and misrepresentation. Yes there have been developments, but they’ve been incremental. And because these misrepresentations have seeped into all corners of our lives, there’s still an awfully long way to go. As someone who’s passionate about diversity and equally, I still have to check my own internalised bias that may come out completely subconsciously.
What makes things even more complicated are the conflicting images of what certain ages look like. Today teen stars are styled to look like adults in heels and low cut dresses, whilst actors in their twenties, or even thirties, are playing teenagers on TV and in film. At the other end of the spectrum, we have ageist castings for women over 40 (Meryl Streep has said as soon as she hit 40 the roles for ‘witch’ came rolling in…), but then the likes of Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren being the faces of beauty campaigns for over 50s, despite being 80 and 73 respectively.
The perfect encapsulation of all of issue is the Spiderman films. The title character is meant to be in high school, so his aunt would most likely be in her late 40s/early 50s. Yet it took 14 years and 3 reboots of the series to actually have an actress of that age play the role of Auntie May (Marisa Tomei took the role at 51) . The first two iterations were played by Rosemary Harris, who was 75, and Sally Field, who was 65 (also note that in their films the role of Spiderman was played actors aged 27 and 29). So kids, teenagers and even young adults who went to see the first 2 versions of Spiderman were encouraged to believe that 50 looked more like 70.
Left, from Columbia/Everette Collection; Centre, from Columbia Pictures, Right, from Sony Pictures
Rosemary Harris, Sally Field, Marisa Tomei each in their respective Spiderman film
Fast forward to now, and we’re still being misled. If you’ve ever tried to find stock images of women over 50, you are only presented with pictures of people who tick those age identifiers mentioned earlier: white hair, lots of wrinkles, old-fashioned hair cut and dull clothing. And, even when you minus the clothes and are looking at a Fashion campaign, you can pretty much guarantee the model representing over 50s will have will have white hair.
I fully support those in their 50s or beyond who do decide to go grey or white; it can look fabulous, and if you’ve done it, I think it is fantastic that you felt confident to embrace your age the way you wish to. But equally, I still doubt you conform to society’s general perception of what your age looks like. I’m sure that you still will want to dress stylishly, have a modern haircut, and have great skin, whether that’s with or without lots of lines. You want to take care of yourself and look great. And the same goes for those of you who prefer to dye your hair.
So it’s time to break down our observational parameters of ageing. Let’s acknowledge our bias, re-examine our perceptions, and accept when ageing takes a different form. Because once we’ve dumped our warped, outdated views, we can really tackle ageism head on.