Jun 16, 2017

50-Something Women: Coming Into Their Own

This morning, in my email inbox, I found that two people who know of my interest in ageing issues had sent me a link to the same article, one that had just appeared in the online GuardianThe salt-and-pepper pound: where are all the fiftysomething models? | Fashion | The Guardian

In it, the very articulate British-based stylist and blogger Alyson Walsh bemoans the lack of models of her age, saying that they have been overlooked in the rush by advertisers to co-opt much older women, in their 70s and above.

As a 70-something, I read it with interest, and realised that – coincidentally – in just in the early part of June that I’m writing in now, I have encountered what could be considered a plethora of 50-something models and role models.

As far as models go, there are a number of Australian magazines published by the Bauer Media group, which have definitely got the message.

First and foremost is its newest fortnightly magazine that specifically targets women in their 50s and over, Yours. Not surprisingly, it is jam-packed with models of those ages, both in the commercial advertisements and in illustrating various advisory articles.

And the women who are the subject of feature stories also come fairly equally from each of the decades from around 50 and above. This is especially highlighted in my favourite regular four-page feature, “Street Style”.

Here, in each issue, stylish older women in a range of ages, shapes and sizes, and who happen to be in a selected location, are featured with a description of what they are wearing and where the items were sourced, and with a column highlighting similar fashions and where they can be purchased.

Then there is the stalwart Australian Women’s Weekly. While its nominal target age group is given as the 25 to 54-year-olds, in fact 35 % of its readers are 35 or over, and 40% are 50 or over. And its advertising and feature content certainly reflects that wider range. As a case in point, in the June edition the 6-page fashion feature has as its model the1980s supermodel Joy Bell, now 60 and not looking a day over 55, and stunningly showing off a variety of winter coats.

Meanwhile, in both of the first two June issues of its stable mate the Woman’s Day, the fashion feature used models happily showing the deep laugh lines that come with being somewhere in their forties or early 50s. This is in a magazine whose stated target group is also between 25 and 54, but whose actual readership has an even higher proportion of older readers. Seventy four percent are 35 years old or older, and 52% are 50 or over.

In an entirely different venue, I took myself to the movies yesterday, and saw two in which women in their 50s were front and centre in the action. First of all, there was the remarkable Annette Bening in 20th Century Women, as one of its stars. I say remarkable because she is one of those 50-something actors (and their numbers are increasing) who is prepared to look naturally her actual age on screen, her age being part of the story, not something to be hidden. As the film is set in 1979 it has the bonus of nostalgia for those of us old enough to have lived through those times.

The second film, which I make no excuses for seeing (not even the perfectly valid one of showing your grandchildren that you can be on the same page as they are), was Wonder Woman. And in that the film one of the actors getting rave reviews (especially in women’s magazines) is 51-year-old Robin Wright.

As one of the much lauded stars of the TV series House of Cards, she plays a sophisticated role in that political drama. But that’s a world away from who she is in this new movie. She plays Antiope, the general of the Amazon army, and as described in Elle magazine, “scarred, powerful, and with wrinkles of time and experience visible on her face, Antiope is the epitome of everything Diana (aka Wonder Woman) knows she should be.”

To round off the positive presence of the over-50s women, I would urge you to go to the ABC’s iview, and watch the edition of “The Drum” that was broadcast on 6 June, and is available until 20 June. In it, John Barron discusses with an all woman panel in their 50s and over, some of the issues affecting women over 50, including money, relationships and ageing.

The panel comprises a great combination of uber-articulate women: author Jane Caro, former Age and Disability Commissioner Susan Ryan, President of the National Farmers’ Federation Fiona Simson and general practitioner Dr Caroline West. And they highlight some fascinating pros and cons of life for women after 50, from being more vulnerable to homelessness and loneliness, to being potential economic powerhouses with the capacity to keep a range of businesses in the red if the latter only had the wit to recognise their existence.

I don’t think these first two weeks of June are an anomaly. Instead, I think I can reassure Alyson Walsh that the 50something brigade is unstoppable in its march towards high visibility, both through their own activism and through the growing recognition of their economic and their social power by at least some businesses. And this is especially the case when they are in the business of mass media.

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