Ageism in the fashion industry Are times changing?
Four years ago, at the age of 46, I began a new career as a model. As a grey-haired, curvy, size 14-16, older model, stepping into unknown territory, the imposter syndrome was real. I'm loving my new career path and have learnt to really embrace my body, I've become passionate about encouraging women, particularly over 40, to regain their body confidence. I have worked on some of the most amazing campaigns, including modelling swimwear alongside Ashley Graham, Active wear with Davina McCall, appeared in several JDWilliams commercials and been involved in numerous lingerie campaigns. If you'd have asked me if I could have imagined doing all this in my twenties or thirties that answer would have been a firm NO. I struggled with body confidence and it's taken me until my forties to find it.
I'm now passionate about representing older women in the fashion industry because we are still so under-represented.
So, why are we still fighting to be seen in the fashion and beauty industry?
Whilst there's definitely been a shift over the last few years with more diversity in the industry and media, there is still a long way to go when it comes to including older women on mainstream platforms instead of just pockets of tokenism. I appreciate we have to start somewhere and whilst adding a single older woman to the mix may seem a shallow gesture, the positive response to such campaigns from consumers will lead the way to brands really listening and creating the long-term change needed. Especially when you consider that the over 50 market is responsible for 51% of the UK's total wealth and is the largest growth area for fashion expenditure, with no signs of these figures slowing down. The International Longevity Centre
Society is still geared up to fear ageing and it feels like the beauty and fashion industry feed into this through the ‘anti-ageing’ language found in beauty marketing and the stereotypical models used in fashion advertising. One of my first jobs was a for a leading healthcare brand, playing a grandmother advertising living aids and I'm aware that I was chosen for this role because of my grey hair, even though I was only 46. The Sunlife - Retiring Ageism
report also highlighted this issue reporting that 78% of Brits over 50 say they “haven’t seen accurate representation of their age bracket” in the past year, with 56% feeling “most misrepresented in the fashion industry”.
It's not all doom and gloom as there are some brands out there flying the flag for older women, such as No7 who we saw use 75% of people over 50 in their advertising campaigns since 2019 and brands like JDWilliams who always showcase older fashion models in tune with today's modern society.
I was recently involved in the fabulous Playful Promises ‘Ageless fashion’ lingerie campaign, celebrating older women who want and deserve to feel good in their bodies wearing lingerie. The response on social media as the images came through was overwhelmingly positive, comments from women in their fortes and fifties that want to be seen and so there is a very clear demand for change.
Playful Promises ‘Ageless Fashion’ campaign 2021 — Photographer Rachel Marques Model Rachel Peru @Bridge models
“This is fab! I never see people my age in shots. Thank you”
“Yessss. 100% what women need to see. This will only help women see that growing older doesn't have to mean that we become invisible and unsexy.”
“Always such a joy to see older women in lingerie. I'm 46 and it means so much to see images like this. Thank you”
“Incredible. Why is this not the norm? We need more of this!”
Being involved in campaign like this is what drives me, along with talking to other women who really struggle with their own body confidence that are left feeling invisible by the fashion industry. If the media portrayed a more diverse fair representation of women in midlife, then less women would have these confidence issues. Wouldn't it be nice to walk into a lingerie store as a woman in your later life and not just be bombarded with only images of young slim models, which we can no longer relate too and instantly demoralises you from going to find something you might look good in. It's no wonder that 62% of women In the UK are left feeling negative about their bodies as reported in the recently published Women’s and Equalities Body Image Report
Positive representation of older women is equally important for the younger generation as they need to see how great life can be as we age and that it's not something to be feared or ashamed of. It's down to us to take this lead, vote with our purses and actively seek out the brands that are showing up for us right now. I have a long list of brands that I would love to work with, including Marks and Spencers and Next, who surprisingly came out badly in the Sunlife
report data. Indeed the Sunlife report shows that in 2019 none of the Next social media images included anyone over 50, ‘completely alienating an entire age bracket', which as a long-standing customer was very disappointing. The biggest surprise from this report was how Marks and Spencers weren't showing up for what I always imagined to be their target audience, with only 5 of their Instagram posts in 2019 including anyone over 50 and in the small percentage used in television commercials they resorted to stereo types, older people napping whilst the younger generation were shown having fun. It will be interesting to see what changes have been made in the last couple of years to address this, although after a quick scan of their feed I don't feel optimistic. High street brands must do better.
I have always loved fashion and having fun with my wardrobe and it strikes me that midlife and beyond is a time when women enjoy expressing their true selves through fashion and care less about any ‘fashion rules’. So why are high street brands not reflecting this, it just doesn't make any sense. The industry certainly can't blame it on a lack of older models to choose from as there are so many amazing older models just waiting to work for these brands, women who can bring a different level of self-assured confidence. Social media has also given older women a platform to share their own fashion style and there's some fabulous over 40 and above influencers who are out there full of inspiration.
Photographer Ceri Oxman — Model Rachel Peru @Bridge models
At a time when peoples' mental wellbeing is being hit the most as we come out of the pandemic, how we feel about our bodies can have such a detrimental impact on our everyday lives. We all need to see images that we can relate to, that's why representation matters.
Looking back, I can see how my lack of body confidence stopped me from trying so many things when I was younger. It feels liberating to not worry about wearing a bikini at the beach or showing my cellulite to the world, there are far more important things going on in the world right now than a few lumps, bumps and wobbly bits. Change takes time but if we all play a part in the conversation perhaps we can speed thngs up.
I look forward to the day when we don't need to have these conversations any more, when campaigns showcase a true representation of todays society as the norm.