Ageism in Beauty

It’s past time for the beauty industry to expunge its bias and embrace women of all ages

The beauty industry covets youth. That’s hardly a secret. Brands have built empires around the concept that aging is a process to be artfully avoided. I’ve heard the phrase repeatedly – “she looks good for her age.” We all say it but do we ever stop to examine the implicit message in the statement? When we say those words, our meaning is “she doesn’t look as ‘old’ as most people her age.”

We’ve lost sight of the beauty that each stage of our lives brings. The flush of youth, where all possibilities exist, and our faces are still a bit unformed. Our thirties and forties where we’ve comfortably settled into ourselves, and the possibilities have become concrete reality. Our fifties, where we’re in our prime, blazing with confidence and striking on new paths. Our sixties and beyond, where each line tells a tale of wisdom, and our eyes sparkle with the devil-may-care attitude that comes with being fully formed exclusive of the rest of the world.

As a society, we put a fierce spotlight on that very first stage, marginalizing the rest of the journey at best, or at worst allowing it to wither in the vacuum of disregard. We want to remain perfectly cherubic regardless of our chronological age, but still get all the confidence and wisdom that comes with, well, living.

Certainly, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to look “good”. It shows that we value ourselves, that we recognize that aging doesn’t equal decomposition. But aging is not only natural, but it’s crucial. It’s good. It’s beautiful.

The beauty industry has a profound opportunity to be the trendsetter that challenges the notion that aging is something to rail against. Beauty brands can move beyond “anti-aging” and jump headfirst into “age-embracing”.

Here are some ways that the beauty industry can shift their thinking and be the spark that ignites change.

  1. 1.

    Anti- is not a good prefix

    Instead of taking a position against aging, brands can go age positive. Show consumers what we universally need, and then highlight the differences in our skin across different stages of life. Examine the language you use, and then re-examine it. Find ways to talk about aging as not only good but something to look forward to.

  2. 2.

    Truth is power

    Brands tend to use flowery language and euphemisms, although some are certainly bucking this trend. Be honest with your consumers. Have the conversation about menopause and how it affects skin, talk about hair thinning during pregnancy. Your customers are ready for candor.

  3. 3.

    Diversity includes ages

    We’ve all seen the collage of beauty models in happy poses showing off flawless skin. But skincare is for all women. Have models from all age groups (yes, this means sixties and up). Remember that today’s prominent issues are new only in loudness. We want to see an array of ethnicities, gender expressions, and sexual orientations, but remember that the people that started the conversations decades ago need representation too.

  4. 4.

    Skip the airbrush

    We can all get carried away with filters. I’ve been known to Photoshop myself if I think I’m looking particularly rough. But there’s correcting lighting and shadows, and reimaging the world, where no one has fine lines and wrinkles, and blemishes are an unknown. Show how beautiful women are at every age – without changing them.

  5. 5.

    Don’t live in isolation

    As guilty as social media is about showing snippets of constructed lives, it’s also a powerful platform for activism. Engage your consumers in the digital world and get them to share their own stories. Involve them in changing the conversation about aging. And don’t let those stories vanish in your Instagram feed. Bring them to your website’s homepage.

It took me a bit of time to mentally catch up with my age, but now that I have, it feels pretty awesome. I’m lucky to have a role model who with each decade of her life proves that aging is powerful, beautiful, and inspiring. Let’s bring those women to the forefront where they belong so everyone can see them and think “now that is what I want to be when I grow up”.

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Pierce Mattie

Pierce Mattie is a full-service marketing agency that interacts with consumers and key stakeholders at every stage of the journey. With a focus in beauty, health and wellness, we are immersed in the marketing landscape, able to powerfully communicate a brand’s point of difference to acquire and maintaining customers. The content team is obsessed with what's trending in the digital world, and how it intersects with consumer behavior. We are passionate about the changing landscape of the world, including how emergent technologies affect brand attachment, how diversity and inclusivity are critical to success, and where humans fit into the equation.

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