Aug 11, 2017

The Invisibility of Older People – Open Letter to David Jones

Dear David Jones,

It is time to join the 21st century. That’s the century where longevity is king, and – even more so – queen. What that means is that we’re seeing more and more fit and healthy and active older and old and very old people, and especially cashed up women, everywhere. Many of them in your stores.

So why, when you have just now put out a glossy 80-page promotional magazine entitled Everything Under The Sun, do we not see a single person looking older than the very young 20s? This is a magazine with the typically good looking models (and yes, great that a substantial minority uses a striking black model) for and of young adults, female and male. And with the most adorable little kids showing off the cutest gear. And with household goods and furnishings. And make-up, and personal items like watches and handbags.

So why aren’t we seeing at least a tokenistic nod to your older clientele, the ones who might well be spending up bigger than the younger set? There is, of course, a tacit nod to them in just one category of item: the anti-ageing and regeneration creams to help those invisible people look a little bit younger (but not young enough to grace your pages) if we’re prepared to shell out hundreds of dollars per lotion or potion.

Way back in the 1990s Naomi Wolf caused a stir with her powerful book, focussed on what she called The Beauty Myth, in her 1990 book of the same title. Couched in the feminist terminology of the times, it gave ageing issues an acknowledged but supporting role in the complex relationship that Wolf saw as existing between liberation and female beauty.

“The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through,” she said, “the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us……. As women released themselves from the feminine mystique of domesticity, the beauty myth took over its lost ground, expanding as it wanted to carry on its work of social control.

“Men, on the other hand”, as she saw it, “feel that their bodies are essentially alright. Studies show that while women unrealistically distort their bodies negatively, men unrealistically distort theirs positively.”

Where men and women differed in the ageing stakes, according to Wolf, was that “Women’s craving for ‘perfection’ is fired by the widespread belief that their bodies are inferior to men’s – second-rate matter that ages faster…. Of course, men don’t age any better physically. They age better only in terms of social status. We misperceive in this way since our eyes are trained to see time as a flaw on women’s faces where it is a mark of character on men’s. If men’s main function were decorative and male adolescence were seen as the peak of male value, a ‘distinguished’ middle-aged man would look shockingly flawed.”

Moving on towards the present, as the world that we live in has become increasingly competitive and uncertain, there is a recurring cry from older women who feel that ageing makes them become invisible. And not only has ageing come much more to the forefront as something to be feared and fought by women, but men have also become increasingly sucked into the appearance vortex. At the same time, and not coincidentally, male models are indeed becoming ever smoother-skinned and adolescent-looking.

Sadly, David Jones, your magazine makes all of those points all too clearly. I realise that you might be worried that the sight of older people could scare off your younger customers. But have you considered that the concentration on young models might seem totally irrelevant to that substantial proportion of your clientele demographic that is both affluent and older?

Hopefully, this letter might give your powers that be something to think about, as a basis for working on becoming a market leader, rather than follower, by making your next production both appealingly and more realistically reflect everyone under the sun.

Yours sincerely,

Anne Ring

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