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.
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.
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.”