Words: Beth Fuller
Feature Image: ANML STUDIO
Whilst Fashion and Beauty campaigns have seemed to be championing inclusivity this year, there still appears to be a void of women above an ‘accepted’ age shown in mainstream imagery.
The conversation surrounding toxic beauty standards has shown that it is imperative to unpick the political agenda causing and perpetuating them. Ageing, for many women, is heavily associated with, if not directly linked to, becoming less beautiful. Indeed, the physical indications that a woman has experienced life – stretch marks, grey hair, wrinkles – are communicated as ugliness. In a sense, then, as a woman gains more life and is conditioned to hide or change her body, she is told to become physically less of herself. In connection with the influential media we consume which predominantly shows women in their twenties to thirties, female ageing is then almost invisible. And so, as we continue to only see visual language of a woman bearing slight wrinkles for an anti-ageing advert, women remain unwelcome in a celebratory narrative of beauty.
The visual language provided by images of women reflect and influence the social positioning of women too. There is then a connection with the societal beliefs of female beauty and women’s rights; if we as women are told that we are to be less visible; less relevant as we grow older, what does that teach us to believe about the values of our lives, experiences and worth? And how does this effect the position of women on a larger scale? Are we in fact conditioned to believe that we are not supposed to be visible in certain manners if not to communicate desire, sex and aspiration? A poignant example of the effects of the myopic view society holds on female ageing is in a personal essay published on The Cut whereby a woman had wrote: “Here’s the really sad part. It doesn’t matter how beautiful you were in your youth; when you age you become invisible. You could still look fabulous but … who cares?”. Hence the ageing of women remains antithetical from the existing concept of female beauty in order to move women – regardless of their looks, experiences and achievements – into an intangible bracket of age in which they are irrelevant.
As a way to unearth these socio-political effects of beauty standards, Naomi Woolf’s novel the Beauty Myth tackles the effects of societies pressure on female appearance. On the issue of ageism, Woolf powerfully commented: “Whatever is deeply, essentially female–the life in a woman’s expression, the feel of her flesh, the shape of her breasts, the transformations after childbirth of her skin–is being reclassified as ugly, and ugliness as disease. These qualities are about an intensification of female power, which explains why they are being recast as a diminution of power. At least a third of a woman’s life is marked with aging; about a third of her body is made of fat. Both symbols are being transformed into operable condition–so that women will only feel healthy if we are two thirds of the women we could be. How can an “ideal” be about women if it is defined as how much of a female sexual characteristic does not exist on the woman’s body, and how much of a female life does not show on her face?”
As women we’re conditioned to feel less positively about ourselves as we become more. We’re told that the physical signs of our life are to be hidden. With age, we become wiped away in the media and yet our life is only getting fuller. It is clear then that if we see the beauty in ageing, we will change the social construct that underpins the beauty standard against older women. Ultimately, the female body experiences triumphant changes throughout life; throughout ageing. And so, it is a harmful and disgusting truth that it is because of ageing that we as women inevitably become invisible.