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Empowering Old Women via Fashion Models?

You can count on it these days, that every two or three months there will be feature story about a fashion model who is 60 or 70 or even 80. The thing is, they are featured because there are so few of them.

I was reminded of this while catching up on some online reading. In May, the Senior Planet website published a story headlined, Older Models: Empowering or Not?

The story continues a topic begun at Vogue.com about fashion and ageism reporting that although fashion shows have been featuring a bit more diversity in skin color, gender and size recently, there aren't many models over the age of 20:

”Fashion’s never-ending pursuit of the latest, newest, and coolest extends into the hunt for models, which often results in casts comprised solely of women between the narrow window of 16 to 26, wrote Jenelle Okwodu.

“The issue extends far beyond catwalks,” she continued. “It isn’t uncommon for models in their 20s to serve as spokeswomen for anti-aging creams, or for magazines to completely ignore the existence of older women in their editorials.”

When Senior Planet asked their readers if seeing older models is “empowering” to them, the 13 responses were all in agreement: “Yes!” “Absolutely.” “Refreshing.”

Huh? I don't understand that at all.

Here are photos of three of the top older fashion models. From left to right, Carmen Dell-Orefice is 85, probably about 82 or 83 when this photo was made. Cindy Joseph is about 65 and Yasmina Rossi, about 60.

CarmenYasminaCindy

Gorgeous, all three of them, aren't they? And no wonder.

Whatever their natural beauty, each one is wearing a few hours and several thousand dollars worth of professional makeup and hair work, and god knows what the lighting director is paid but he or she doesn't come cheap.

If someone spent as much time and money on me, I'd look that good too. But should you and I feel empowered by looking at these beautiful old women? Empowered how? What is it I would believe I could go out and do now that I've seen them?

In the Vogue piece, Ms. Okwodu timidly suggests that perhaps fashion runways should include a few more old women, and most of the commenters on her story took the magazine to task for not living up themselves to such an easy remedy – regularly include more older fashion models in Vogue magazine.

Ya think?

I could feel empowered as an old woman if elders were fully integrated into American life. Yes, if we showed up in fashion magazines and on runways more often it might help a little. But also in TV shows and movies - and not only as demeaning jokes.

If we were allowed to compete equally in the workplace, in clinical trials of medications, were not subjected to a constant barrage of anti-ageing products demanding that we do everything possible to pretend we are young.

It is good that a few older women can get work in the fashion industry but do they empower me? I don't think so. Who empowers me is someone like the late Gray Panthers founder, Maggie Kuhn:

”Only the newest model is desirable,” she explained. “The old are condemned to obsolescence; left to rot like wrinkled babies in glorified playpens – forced to succumb to a trivial, purposeless waste of their years and their time.”

Comments

Without a doubt, those three models, in addition to the real time fluffing, had a liberal dose of PhotoShop applied.

Ha! Trudi. How many times over 20 years have I Photoshopped a photograph - not, in my case, to remove wrinkles or sags of a person, but to clean up, for example, deterioration of old photos or remove distractions from the subject or fix poorly framed subjects, etc.

But when I was writing this, I completely forgot that of course, in addition to all the makeup, hair and lighting, the graphic artist had his/her shot at them too. Funny how things like that are as we grow old.

Yeah, about all these ladies empower me to do is to make sure that in my next life I come back with those high cheekbones I'm missing in this one. I suppose if I hadn't already decided a number of years ago to stop coloring my hair, they might bolster that decision (although I bet even their white/gray is enhanced in some fashion).

Now, a female President -- yeah, I'd find that empowering.

Has anyone seen Lorraine Bracco on TV lately? So sad. A beautiful woman who played Tony Soprano's psychiatrist. I always liked her looks & acting no matter her age. But I saw her recently on a newer TV Show & her face has become distorted somehow by "cheek bone" implants or at least that's what it looks like to me. It isn't weight, but perhaps steroids? Whatever, it's made her look like a charactature (sp?) of herself. Hell, I'm old, & don't feel particularly empowered by any of these women.

However, I must say that I do "speak my mind" more these days, but always try to sound assertive & "wise", LOL, rather than a bossy know it all. I think I'm succeeding too. :):) Dee

My chief gripe is the lack of clothes for more "adult" women. It's an old complaint and I've seen your articles on this, but no one seems to give a hang ... they are still showing these women in high fashion type clothes that don't mean much in the real world! Most clothes I find are either too high-brow expensive or waaay too matronly for me. Sighhh OK ... back to shopping in the boys' department.

The other thing that seems to be required of people like Cindy Joseph is being upbeat to the point of perky. Blech. She does have one bit of good advice for older women, though: quit wearing eye shadow. Amen to that.

I care much more about how well I move, how strong I am, and how well my brain works. I don't give a flip about my appearance since I'm usually wearing hiking boots, cargo pants and a t-shirt.

I don't wear any make-up anymore except light lipstick, haven't colored or curled my hair now for decades, (although I do have a skillful hair person who cuts it short so that it waves a little), still buy almost all of my clothes at thrift shops so they aren't au courant, --AND I've probably never gotten as many positive comments on my looks as I do now. Look your age--it's flattering!

I would LOVE to see women of a certain age in ALL forms of media.
I like the comment right above mine - Be yourself, it is beautiful at any age.

What goes around comes around. Most of those svelte models of 18-20 or so are out of work a year or two later because they're "too old."

I recently shared in facebook a photo of an elder couple hugging...completely naked in all their glory. You don't see anything except their sags and wrinkles. Sorry, I can't figure out how to paste it here. But after sharing it in commendation of having the true picture of elders out there, I realized it was a bit ageist. If these people had been in their 20s or 30s or 40s, the photo would have been pulled from facebook as being some kind of scandalous. So it is still there, the beauty of elder people in all their glory, though a bit of photoshopping was done to add a floor across their legs. The caption reads "No one is physically beautiful, slim, good in bed, or young all their life. Old age comes to everyone and it's followed by loneliness for those who seek perfection. Love sees the imperfection that time brings, and turns it into reasons to love even more."

After reading the article on Senior Planet I found the readers comments more intelligent when explaining their views. I thought the photo of 81 year old Helen Norowicz was a "Wow!" Obviously a beauty she looked her age but elegance of style showed through. I'd kill for an outfit like that! Of course it would need to be tailored to my body shape and wallet.:-)

However I am not fooled by all this...it's the industry, let's face it-beauty sells, sigh, and move on.

In defense ( sort of) of all models, they all use lots of hair, makeup and lighting help. I think that is the nature of the business and as long as you realize it's not "reality", who cares? I'm 70 and I need makeup more now than I ever did but apply it a lot more carefully and less liberally.

As a proud and engaged member of Gray Panthers NYC Chapter, I am delighted you included a quote by our founder, Maggie Kuhn.
And, no, I don't feel empowered by seeing older models, just glad to see them and hoping it's not being done once or twice because it's politically correct and then back to business as usual.

My good neighbor across the street, Kate, recently mentioned she has returned to modeling of late for charity causes. Kate is in her 70s and capable of making a good appearance without over-reliance on makeup. Now that you've piqued my curiosity by delving into the topic, I'm going to get more details of her new career.

@Charlotte-you said much of what I had intended to post. Personally I don't have an issue with makeup for women, if thats your choice or my choice why the hell not wear makeup? As Charlotte said, I need it now more than ever and the makeup I use has sun blocking built in. And I like the way I look when I'm styling'!!

The business of fashion, of Hollywood pictures and of Harley Davidson magazines and dealers is to sell, sell, sell. Photos of wrinkled but real people would not sell because thats the way the industry has been focused. They wouldn't sell the makeup, clothes or hair dye, just as a picture of a trashed wrinkled Harley wouldn't be acceptable when it comes to selling shiny new ones. I use the Harley example, BTW, because a friend of my sons dropped by to show off his new bike last weekend and offered to take me for a ride!...I wouldn't get on his old Harley because it always broke down, but the shiny new one was a treasure to ride on. Elders ride Harleys too!

Like our politicians, friends, we get what we vote for. If photos of elders au natural or of broken down old Harleys sold the product thats what the appropriate industry would use.

And if we, as a country, want a change in our national direction, than we have to vote that way. Be it voting at the polls or with your dollar at stores-we do have a say in what options we are given. However, t takes time to change opinions. Look at the Civil Rights for African-Americans or Gay equality measures. Civil Rights for all people are still woefully lacking and now are being attacked with the restricted voting identification some states have implemented. IMO, thats a battle that's worth fighting.

Is Fashion rights for elders the battle you want to fight? Then fight with your dollar and tell the places you shop what you are looking for. My sis, who is 12 years my junior, owns 4 boutiques in a cute tourist destination town in Washington State. I asked her about the youth focused clothes she sells but doesn't much wear for herself. She picks out ultra cute clothing for herself to wear, I can tell you, but the clothes she has in her shops have bare torsos and low cut necklines. She tells me that the "Gray Wave" as the town calls the buses full of Senior Center tourists, don't buy clothing when on vacation. They buy trinkets-one more Cookoo clock, beer stein or T shirt with the "I Went to Leavenworth' motto stamped on it. However younger people DO buy the very cute clothes she has on display. She's a senior too guys and she'd love to sell to elders, but so far there isn't that much interest.

As for myself...I've had cosmetic surgery. After I lost a huge amount of weight I had the saggy skin nipped and tucked, I 'bought my boobs back' with implants because when you loose weight, you loose it everywhere and I had gotten used to my 40DD breasts. I still look like myself, however,-no artificial cheek or restructured nose, though I did try a bit of lip plumping once, it hurt so bad I never tried it again. I still have my hair professionally colored and cut about every 2 months as my hair grows slowly. In any case, I've been a redhead my whole life, and I will remain one as long as there is hair coloring. I've had my eyebrows tattooed on since my own eyebrows were so pale they were invisible-and I like the way it looks. And I have tattoos, and am working on another one for my left calf, a garden of roses and iris and cone flowers. It's going to be beautiful when it's finished..about 5 years from now!! These are my choices, and I get to spend my money on what I choose to spend it on. I don't see any particularly 'better than' for people who make the decision to not color their hair or wear makeup. We all get to make our own choices.

Finally, for those women who bemoan the lack of clothes-shop at Chicos..They specialize in fashion for elders, and they have elder models in many of their catalogs or online. Chicos has a very wide selection of sizes, from my size 4 to my daughter size 20. Their clothing is colorful and you can find it on eBay for 1/8th the price of the store, or at many thrift stores. (I no longer work at Chicos, but I did after I left Ma Bell-their sizes are a bit wonky-my size 4 is a Chicos size O-but once you figure out the sizes you can shop online at eBay-just as an FYI). I also buy my overalls, which I live in when I garden, at online discount stores and at eBay.
And, after all, what is 'appropriate elder clothing?' Fashion is fashion and if you want to wear what the high school girls are wearing, thats your right.

Ronni, you write the best and most informative articles, and your resources are great ones. I have a bookmark on my computer called Ronni's links, where I can go for more info. Thanks so much for that.

Enjoy your summer friends! I'm putting on my makeup, the cute Cjhicos capris I bought on eBay and a cool top and going out to lunch!

Elle in Oregon

Hmm. I was a pretty woman, and I never felt empowered when I was young. I always felt like an outsider, trying to figure out how to belong, on the one hand, and stand out, on the other. It's taken me past middle age to give up on all that. And I'm probably accomplishing more now that I value than I ever did before I write more now. I'm playing the piano a lot more. I do wear makeup, and I do like looking as "good" as I can manage, but, y'know? Those women don't look like that either. (Plus, $50 says they're wearing wigs, or at least extensions. It's really easy to look stunning if you're in your 30s and put on a gray wig.)

I think that a lot of women, younger ones too, have to find their own empowerment. No one is going to hand it to you; it comes from within yourself. However, it wouldn't hurt to have some older people in our TV shows that are with it and modern. It wouldn't hurt to see more elders reporting the news, although there are a few now.

My chief complaint is clothes. I can't find things I like to wear. I am not close to a Chicos, but I've shopped there before. I find that their things don't fit that well. I end up buying most of my stuff through catalogs. But I do not dress the way I would like to dress.

Back to empowerment: I think we are making strides with inclusion of women in all areas of business and culture. I do think there is harassment of women, but this stage will pass, I think. It is hard for me to imagine that the Gen X woman will pass uncomplainingly into old age. They will expect, and probably receive, more respect than my generation

I understand that the percentage of workers in the labor force is shrinking. Perhaps in a decade, older workers will be more valued. I hope so. This is the area where empowerment needs to happen the most. Using workers as cheaply as possible, and then getting rid of them when convenient is immoral. And it creates a terrible instability in our society. That, to me, is the most important empowerment issued for elders.

Is that Carmen D O 's hair or is it a bag of cotton balls?

..

I'm very happy with my clean, healthy look with no make-up, some wrinkles and lots of grey in my hair. Life is too precious to waste time, energy, and emotions on the unimportant. IMHO.

Let me repeat the most important (in my estimation) above : I'll feel empowered when we have a woman President. People have been pointing out to me the not-so-great records of women president/premiers of other countries and I think of the not-so-great records of many, many male presidents. In my life time women have made great advances in business, education, and to a degree in politics. Only when it becomes clear and recognized by those who control the media that women are doing a great job in many areas will I feel we have been empowered.

Sure I like to see older women in fashion magazines, sure, I'm flattered if people are surprised at my age, but I look at movies, read novels (I don't watch TV at all) and read literary journals -- older women are stereotyped and rarely, rarely are the outstanding ones recognized. The topics of old age are usually Alzheimers and death, rarely ever an artist still having shows in galleries and writers with brilliant new books.

Glad someone in the gray adult community has a good gig. Other than that it means little to me. Interesting but not empowering. Says more about the difference in their income and mine.

Clothes for older women/men are always a fit problem. When I was younger I wore jeans, tee shirts, and birks. Now I wear knit pants, tee shirts and birks. Clothes have never really fit me so I learned to sew. Now store bought stretchy knits make up for most things. More importantly I live contentedly with how look though I do miss my eyebrows, they went awol some time after 60 but its ok.

Great article! Empowered by older models? Right, I wish I had the money to look like that! They are lovely ladies but even they don't look like that in real life!
What we are supposed to aspire to beauty!
I am sorry fashion world but this goes even further to prove that your world is only based on short term physical attributes!
You made great points in your writing! Thank you!

By any standard, I get more empowered from what I read on this site.

And it continues to dislodge my common sense that someone barely 50 is put into the 'old' category as am I (73). That's a 23-year difference. That's like grouping those of 15 years with those of 38 years. Or is this a form of ageism, where those 23 years are not as important and valuable as when younger? Is this the time when we are being ever so slightly erased, or at the least, ignored? Especially women.

People like Clinton, Warren and the sight of a good number of women sitting on the Senate floor today is impressive and time will bring changes to the old ideas of old age. I hope I get to watch.

@Aimone..you beat me too it! I was going to send the picture of Elizabeth Warren et al sitting on the floor of the Senate,trying to call attention to lack of change in the gun control issue.

Thats worth getting excited about much more than worrying about feeling empowered by fashion models.

I don't even read Vogue or Marie Clair or other fashion magazines..never have..I subscribe to things that interest me..Rolling Stone, Time, Washington Post...like that.
Elle

Why doesn't Vogue feature a lot of older fashion models?

The answers here give a pretty good clue: sooner or later most women figure out that High Fashion, with all its made-up rules about what's In this year and what's Out... is only a con game exploiting female insecurity and body-image anxiety issues. Sure, costumes can be fun to play around with. It's very nice to have a garment that lifts your spirits when you look in the mirror... but Vogue wants us to take it seriously.

Maybe the percentage of older women who have decided it's a silly thing to fuss about is just too high. It's too late, they've lost us. We're not paying attention any more!

If dressing up and putting on makeup makes you feel good about yourself, do it. There was a time in my life when I didn't look too bad and I enjoyed trying to look fashionable and sexy.

Those times are gone for me now. As long as I don't look in a mirror, I feel good about myself. But when I do look, I realize that no one is ever going to whistle at me or flirt with me ever again. If that were all there were to me, I'd feel totally un-empowered and worthless. But that's not all there ever was to me and most of the important parts of me are still here.

If all someone ever wanted of me was for me to be eye-candy I would have been extremely disappointed in them. For example, I had a huge crush on Robert Redford for years -- but it was not just his looks (although I admit that's what drew my attention at first), but his strong interest in the environment and saving it from development and ruination that drew and kept my admiration for years and years. Had he been nothing but a pretty face/figure my interest in him would have waned in a very short time, but there was much more to him than that.

If all our lives were based only on our youthfulness and physical beauty, we would all feel ready to commit suicide between 25 and 30. There is much, much more to us than that -- at least I hope there is.

I agree with Celia: "Interesting but not empowering." I don't think that "empowering" is the proper word - or - if it is, I would ask what it is supposed to empower me to do. I appreciate seeing older models (that someone my age has a job!) but I would rather that older models look like older models instead of looking like 30- or 40-year-old models.

Those photos were nagging at me, especially the one of Carmen Dell-Orefice, because no way is that a photo of 85-year-old skin, no matter how much expensive makeup and lighting is applied. I finally put her name into Google Image Search, and there are a few unretouched images available. Here's one: http://media.gettyimages.com/photos/legendary-model-carmen-dellorefice-awaits-her-turn-at-the-makeup-at-picture-id151715842

She's stunningly beautiful still, but in that picture she's an eighty-five-year-old beauty. I might be empowered if there were more images like that in the world, reinforcing that there is such a thing for women. Old does not have to be equated to ugly - and it isn't, for men. We get to see and admire images of handsome old men. But women? Women must be photoshopped to look twenty. I would like the world to recognize that there is such a thing as a beautiful old woman.

That said... I also looked her up on Wikipedia. I do not envy her one bit. She's had a horrible life.

One of the freedoms of aging is being less engaged in pleasing others in a superficial way, which includes appearance. I am always entranced by true beauty, which is very different from the manufactured beauty of the fashion industry. I am still attracted by a bit of flash, pizzazz, but the sparkle of the mind, heart, humour, that's what attracts and holds.

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