Aug 03, 2018

From magazine junkie to old age media commentator singing the praises of ‘Woman’s Day’

There is a universal truth about how to get job satisfaction: do something you love. And I managed to get there somewhere in the middle of my life. The thing is, I have been a mass magazine junkie pretty much ever since I could read. Starting with kids’ mags and graduating very quickly to women’s magazines thanks to the magnificent obsession of girls of that era for our British royals. Out their photos were cut, to be pasted into bulging scrap books.

The problem with being a mass magazine junkie as you grow older, and into a conventional life as a tertiary educated professional, is that you have to be a bit covert about it. While it’s fine to have a Time or a Bulletin or even a Vogue tucked under your arm, it can be a bit awkward to be caught sneaking out of your brief case your weekly fix of The Australian Women’s Weekly, Woman’s Day or New Idea.

Unless, or until, you can turn your embarrassing addiction into an acceptable research topic. That penny finally dropped when I was 46 years old, and it was suggested to me that I might like to have a go at a PhD in health sociology, a subject that I’d been tutoring medical students in for a couple of years.

Casting around for a topic, I realised that if I was going to be steeped in serious work for some years, I should choose something that could also be fun. Light bulb moment! What sorts of health-related messages are women and men getting from the popular women’s and men’s magazines that they are reading, and have these messages been changing over the past fifty years?

Bingo! A topic which meant that I could legitimately dive into a massive pool of magazines from different eras, doing my research. Some years later, having survived a mix of very hard slog + fun, I was the happy author of a thesis with the wankily academic title of “Health, gender and the media agenda”; and had turned into a fairly able media analyst with a special interest in the ways that health, body image and ageing are depicted in the media.

And I’ve been continuing – and reporting on the results of – my addictive survey of magazines ever since. In the nineties and noughties I spoke out about the misleading ways in which cosmetic surgery was being promoted by some doctors. This was at a time when – suddenly – there was a major turn-around regarding doctors’ rights to advertise: from not-at-all to pretty much a free-for all. And some doctors practising cosmetic surgery got a bit confused as to whether they were doctors or beauticians when they were advertising their trade.

As I’ve been getting older, however, my interests have become more and more focused on how older people and our issues are being presented – or not – in the popular media. Currently, I’m finishing work on a book on how to age well. And I’m now involved in the Benevolent Society’s forthcoming campaign EveryAGE Counts, as well as being a regular feature writer about ageing, on a couple of websites, including the HelloCare Magazine. As a vocal 76-year-old, I also make a point of speaking out in some way when particular media publications get things very right, or very wrong, about ageing matters.

Right now, for example, I’m writing this article because I want to draw attention to an article in a recent issue of the Woman’s Day, what I did about that, and the outcome. So, in a typical women’s magazine, where anti-ageing rules, both in articles and – even more so – in the advertisements, it takes a brave magazine to publish an article that is in unqualified praise of ageing. No ifs, no buts, and no homages to being 60-years young. And that is what was featured in its May 7 issue.

So, I wrote a letter of congratulation of this pretty unique achievement. Little did I know that by doing so, there would be a second bite of that cherry, of published positive ageing in that magazine. Some weeks later, in the June 4 issue, there prominently in the centre of the Letters pages was my letter, as Letter of the Week, entitled “Embrace your age”, and accompanied by a large photo of the original 2-page article.

My letter made the following points:

  • Woman’s Day definitely ought to be congratulated! And I’m delighted – as a longstanding 76-year-old reader – to have lived long enough to see, finally in your May 7 issue, an article that is written unreservedly in praise of ageing.
  • To see the headline of “Fall in love with ageing…. YES, REALLY,” followed by all sorts of lovely endorsements of these stages of life, without any anti-ageing advice on how we can make the most of it by looking or staying young or ageless, is an absolute joy. There is so much anxiety-arousing negativity in the mass media about growing old.
  • As Dr Samantha Clarke pointed out in this article, there is so much to enjoy and live for as an older person. As a health sociologist with lived-in ageing experience I’ve just written a book on that very subject, and I hope that that, too, will help to spread the word.

I would definitely encourage others who are interested in destigmatising ageing to write letters of praise to media that are doing so, and to call out those with an ageist, anti-ageing agenda. It’s one way of working on bringing about attitudinal changes that are important in an ageing society.

Anne Ring ©2018

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