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?


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?