Mature models show the beauty of aging

By, Allie Semperger
Published February 2014: About-Face

Word of the day: “Gerascophobia.” It is commonly defined as the abnormal and persistent fear of growing old or aging. Also known as modern American culture.

It’s no secret that the media idolizes youth. As women age, Botox, plastic surgery, and a generous dose of Photoshop are purported as the recipe for immortality. If you’re fifty and look your age, there’s something wrong with you or you’re not trying hard enough.

Carmen Dell'Orefice, beauty queen

Carmen Dell’Orefice, beauty queen

Of course it’s possible that you just haven’t found the right age-defying product yet. Keep looking and spending that money, lady! You’re not going to cheat death if you wear the wrong foundation.

However, with recent beauty and fashion campaigns that are embracing older models, I am (tentatively) hopeful that the youth-centric idea of beauty will evolve to include women of all ages.

It’s about time.

American Apparel released a new lingerie ad featuring 62-year-old actress Jacky O’Shaughnessy, with the tagline, “Sexy has no expiration date.” O’Shaughnessy is known for having a natural elegance, and her photos from the shoot are lovely – according to Vogue, no surgery or Photoshop touch-ups played a part either.

Now, American Apparel has a history of shady ads that sexually exploit their young female models (a simple search for the company on About-Face will tell you more). While I don’t support the company, I am a fan of this campaign.

And O’Shaughnessy is in good company, with a group of mature models who are the stars of other contemporary beauty features:

Daphne Selfe is a model in her mid-eighties and considered the world’s oldest supermodel. She prefers to age naturally and hasn’t had any plastic surgery. She recently modeled for TK Maxx.

Jacky O'Shaughnessy brings a natural elegance to American Apparel ads.

Jacky O’Shaughnessy brings a natural elegance to American Apparel ads.

Carmen Dell’Orefice, a model in her early eighties who starred on her first Vogue cover when she was 15, walked in two shows at New York Fashion Week in 2012. Her shoot for YOU Magazine is very Devil Wears Prada in the best way possible.

Linda Rodin is a 65-year-old model who starred in a shoot for The Row, the fashion brand by the Olsen twins.

Jenni Rhodes, a Hollywood actress in her early eighties, appeared in a chic spread for the fashion house, Vielma.

Sarah Wiley (dubbed the “Silver Siren”) is a 66-year-old model who recently appeared in a shoot by Stella magazine.

Yes, these mature models are thin, white, and evoke a mainstream idea of beauty in that sense.

Still, I would definitely call this movement much-needed progress in the mainstream media, and a trend that will hopefully expand to rightfully recognize women of color and more diverse portrayals of beautiful women and girls.

What is your take on the campaign for mature models? What are other ways that our culture can cure its gerascophobia?


Powerful Pantene commercial sheds light on sexist labels

By, Allie Semperger
Published January 2014: About-Face

“Don’t let labels hold you back.” This is the slogan of a new Pantene campaign that
encourages women to disregard negative sexist stereotypes and live their lives with
confidence — and, if you’d prefer, awesome hair. However, “Be Strong and Shine” is no longer just an ode to Pantene hair products.

The message is powerfully captured in a commercial from Pantene Philippines. The
advertisement successfully highlights some major double standards between the ways men and women are viewed in the workplace and society, including:

  • Boss vs. Bossy
  • Persuasive vs. Pushy
  • Dedicated vs. Selfish (working dads vs. working moms)
  • Neat vs. Vain
  • Smooth vs. Show-off

At the time that this article is being written, the video has over 20.5 million views on YouTube and more than 26,000 likes. If you take a look, it’s easy to see why.


The video is so compelling because it communicates, with simple terms and visuals, just how inherently wrong it is that women are harshly judged for doing the same things as men or just doing simple tasks like washing up in the bathroom.

It sheds a very clear light on the subject, breaking through all the absurd arguments about women’s supposed inferiority that are often reinforced in dangerously subtle ways in our society.

The Pantene commercial itself has an interesting back story. According to The Seattle Times, the ad was released online in the Philippines by its regional office without any objective to connect with American audiences.

However, the message resonated with online viewers worldwide, and it wasn’t long
before the commercial caught fire, racking up millions of hits on YouTube and forming a
community that clamored for the commercial to be shown on American television.

After a wildly condensed media purchasing process to meet consumer demand, the
commercial was broadcast on the ABC network during its classic annual news program, “The Year.”

persuasive vs. pushyThe Pantene ad has attracted influential fans like Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook.

Ms. Sandberg brought recognition to the commercial on her Facebook page, stating that it was “one of the most powerful videos [she has] ever seen illustrating how when women and men do the same things, they are seen in completely different ways.”

Some may question whether it’s hypocritical for a beauty company to promote this message.

Personally, I wouldn’t devote much energy to analyzing that idea – using beauty products alone doesn’t make someone any less of a feminist, and I’m on board with supporting
companies that raise awareness like this.

The commercial itself definitely prioritizes the message over the product and, at the very least, it’s inspiring necessary conversations about double standards and gender inequality.

What are some other double standards that could be featured in a commercial like this? Are there any other reasons you see for the success of this video?

Why the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media rules

By, Allie Semperger
Published December 2013: About-Face

Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis (of Thelma and Louise and Beetlejuice fame) founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media to advocate for diverse
portrayals and equal representation of female characters in the media

The Institute and its program, See Jane, promote gender equality in media representation through research, education, and advocacy. The focus is on children’s entertainment and
media with a demographic of children ages 11 and younger.



Geena was inspired to take action after recognizing the noticeable shortage of female characters in family entertainment that she watched with her daughter. Narrow-minded, sexist portrayals of women and girls (which are especially conspicuous when there are so few female characters to begin with), can affect everything from body image and self-esteem to occupational goals.

In other words, fantasy has a tendency to become reality as children absorb the
damaging message that girls aren’t as valuable as boys

The Institute regularly reports their findings and research studies on these topics and,
according to their website, have assembled “the largest body of research on gender prevalence in entertainment,” covering more than 20 years. For instance, the following research facts were provided from research conducted by Stacy Smith, Ph.D. at the USC
Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism:

Males outnumber females three to one in family films. In contrast, females comprise just over 50% of the population in the United States. Even more staggering is the fact that this ratio, as seen in family films, is the same as it was in 1946.

• Females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire. Further, females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a diminutive waistline. Generally
unrealistic figures are more likely to be seen on females than males

• Females are also underrepresented behind the camera. Across 1,565 content creators, only 7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers are female. This translates to 4.8 males working behind-the-scenes to every one female.

• From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law, or politics. In these films, 80.5% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real world
statistics, where women comprise 50% of the workforce.

Geena’s organization also works with the entertainment industry, educational institutions, and other influential organizations Geena Davis speaking at the Second Symposium on Gender in the Media.(like the United Nations) to create programs and
educational tools that raise awareness about gender-related issues in the media

For example, See Jane partnered with USA Today Education to create Gender Equality Lessons for Schools. Some of the featured lessons include “Do TV Shows and Movies Influence Careers Held by Women and Men?” and “Do TV Shows and Movies Make Sexual Harassment a ‘Normal’ Part of the School

To me, it’s always inspiring to see celebrities recognize their power of influence and take responsibility for promoting important issues, specifically those that pertain to gender stereotyping and representation.

Geena Davis is admirable for committing the time and resources necessary for providing
statistics and other evidence that point to the need for change in sexist media representation.

When you were a child, how were female characters portrayed in your favorite TV shows and movies? What are other ways you would like to see celebrities use their influence to
discourage sexism in the media?

Disclaimer for Airbrushed Models: An Effective Solution?

By, Allie Semperger
Published November 2013: About-Face

Airbrushed images of women and girls are bad for our overall health: mental, emotional, and sometimes physical. Before and after shots of airbrushed model.

We can reasonably assume that the vast
majority of media images are altered,
even those of famous figures who are
celebrated as examples of these “attainable” beauty standards.

So, why not draw attention to this issue through an actual disclaimer that calls out the use of airbrushing?

The idea for a disclaimer was raised by Global Democracy, a site that uses social media to identify solutions to world problems. Their description of the proposal is as follows:

“We all now know that seeing thousands of ‘perfect’ body types in the mass media is having negative [e]ffects on young girls and more. Airbrushing as a practice should be discouraged when it transforms otherwise permanent features on models. A ‘mandatory disclaimer’ to state that a model has had her physical body manipulated on a computer is a very simple step in the right direction to addressing the harm that we’re causing.”

The proposal was accompanied by a video that’s been making its rounds on the Internet as of late. It shows the evolution of a model, before and after airbrushing. Hair and makeup transformations for the naturally pretty model are only the beginning:

Once her photo is taken, dozens of other manipulations take place through airbrushing technology: her eyes enlarge, her stomach shrinks, legs lengthen — blonde hair is made even blonder, white skin turns whiter. The woman is virtually unrecognizable (pun intended).

While the idea of a disclaimer initially appealed to me, I wonder how effective it would be in practice. Based on the wording in the description above, it would be very easy for companies to avoid the disclaimer requirement when “permanent” is a more fluid concept than ever.

People’s weight can fluctuate, so one of the most problematic airbrushing issues is invalidated. And what about the popularity of plastic surgery? Are facial features even considered permanent anymore?

And even if images featured this disclaimer, consumers wouldn’t know exactly how the images were manipulated, so people still wouldn’t have a true understanding of how much airbrushing occurred.

Keira Knightley before and after Photoshop.

Videos like the “Body Evolution” video above and Before/After images are more striking and effective in showcasing how significant these airbrushing changes really are.

Big picture-speaking, unique ideas like this disclaimer proposal should be encouraged in bringing attention to issues with harmful consequences, like excessive airbrushing.

The challenge will be making sure that our demands are as specific and objective as possible to really hold companies accountable.

Do you think a disclaimer would be helpful in discouraging airbrushing practices and fostering healthier body images for women and girls? If a disclaimer was implemented, what should be included in the warning?

Model with Down Syndrome Takes Fashion World by Storm

By, Allie Semperger
Published October 2013: About-Face

Popular fashion retailer Wet Seal has a new model who is turning heads and making headlines. She describes her style as “biker chick,” prefers Justin Bieber music on the set of her photo shoots, and has gained the admiration of thousands of fans and counting.

karrie_otherpicHer name is Karrie Brown, she’s a 17-year-old high school junior from Illinois, and she has Down syndrome.

Karrie is a natural in front of the camera and to support her dreams of being a model, her mother Sue started a Facebook page called, “Karrie Brown — Modeling the Future.” People immediately took notice and worked hard to bring Karrie to Wet Seal’s attention.

When the fashion company saw that her page had over 10,000 likes, they flew Karrie and Sue out to their headquarters in California for a photo shoot and accompanying ad campaign. Like most companies, Wet Seal expresses a commitment to diversity on its website; unlike most companies, they really act on their words.

“When it gets right down to the wire [a lot of companies] don’t really practice what they preach,” Sue said in an interview with TODAY.com. “Wet Seal has been phenomenal. There was no hesitation for Karrie to come out there.”

Karrie’s story is yet another example of the awesome power of technology to unite people and create significant and positive change by fighting for a common goal. A simple Facebook page gave Karrie the presence and power to directly impact a huge number of people.

If you want to promote more inclusive depictions of women and girls in the media (or, by the same token, if you want to hold companies accountable for sexist and harmful images), start a blog, a Facebook page, create a petition on Change.org and spread the word. There is a community of people out there who share your opinions and can help you change the world.

Take advantage of this lightning-quick communication — at the very least, you’ll be raising awareness for your cause and inspire people to reconsider conventional ideas of “beauty.”

karrie_smallpicIt’s worth noting that Karrie’s ability to dress comfortably and fashionably in Wet Seal clothing started when the company began carrying plus-size clothing. At the time of this writing, Karrie’s Facebook page has over 26,000 likes.

This is a clear demonstration of a world craving exciting, diverse, and, most importantly, realistic depictions of women (remember this
Glamour model?).

Props to Wet Seal for supporting diversity and choosing models that are beautiful inside and out — and a standing ovation for Karrie for redefining stereotypical perceptions of people with Down syndrome (and looking fashionable and awesome while doing so).

If you could promote a certain depiction of women that is underrepresented in the media, what would it be? What are other ways to encourage clothing companies to be mindful of diversity in their ads?

App Camp For Girls: Building Confidence and iPhone Apps

By, Allie Semperger
Published August 2013: About-Face

App Camp for Girls is redefining the common image of a software developer. Step aside, guys. The new faces of software development are middle school girls. And the future will look a lot less typical.

Campers from the beta session of App Camp for Girls.

Campers from the beta session of App Camp for Girls

Summer camp here is less crafts and s’mores, more design interfaces and Xcode. Instructed and mentored by successful female designers and developers, the campers learn the software business firsthand: brainstorming, designing, and building iPhone apps.

This nonprofit even goes one step further, teaching the girls how to market and pitch their apps to women investors.

I was in the awestruck audience when founder Jean MacDonald spoke to 3,000 people about App Camp For Girls at World Domination Summit 2013, a decidedly magical annual conference in Portland where creative, remarkable people unite to get inspired and develop the confidence to change the world.

The idea formed in Jean’s mind back at WDS 2012. A year later, she brought the camp to life thanks to a successful campaign on funding platform Indiegogo, raising more than twice her original $50,000 goal.

Jean’s story is so inspiring to me because she’s empowering girls by giving them priceless, hands-on experience and the tools to shape technology to their unique visions. This power can’t be underestimated.

Any stereotypes that girls aren’t as technically savvy as boys crumble before these girls’ awesome apps and education. Campers get the satisfaction of working through the process and seeing the finished product: their abilities and creations are their own, and no one can ever take that away from them.

And building your own iPhone app at age twelve? That’s a sweet self-esteem booster you can carry with you for a long time.

Today it’s easier than ever to go online and find DIY info for whatever skill you want to learn. But sometimes that knowledge isn’t enough. This past June, Jean attended the Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference and was disheartened to see that only 250 of the 5,000 attendees were women.

Role models, especially female role models, provide much-needed encouragement. With the help of successful women in their field, girls will know they are strong enough and smart enough to work through the challenges and see their visions through to the end.

The first full session of App Camp For Girls takes place in Portland this summer, from August 19-23. Jean eventually hopes to expand to more cities and age groups with the extra funds from the campaign.

Screenshot of The Penguin Quiz app, developed at App Camp for Girls.

The Penguin Quiz app, developed at App Camp for Girls

I always ask myself: What would a world run by women look like? Beyoncé has some ideas, but we need a world influenced by the minds of all women. If you could create an app, what would it look like? What are some other ideas to get more girls and women into technology fields?