Is The Beauty Industry Ageist?

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
How often do you look in the mirror and have a panic attack about your face? The beauty industry would have us believe that, once you hit 21, your face turns into a battleground. The enemy? The wrinkles that will inevitably take up residence there. You have to wonder: Why is the industry so hellbent on making us concerned about a few lines? Why are men allowed to look "dignified" as they age, while women have to constantly be in direct conflict with fine lines, crow's-feet, undereye bags, and the rest?

If you choose to care about these things, we're not going to try to stop you. This is an individual choice — but it shouldn't be a requirement, as the industry seems to want to make us believe. And, there's a healthy amount of fear-mongering present in these messages. For instance, it's no secret that brands are attempting to sell anti-aging products to younger and younger women. "There is a huge push for preventative," says Gina Delio, who, along with Terry Rieser, is one of the cofounders of Tag Creative, a content-marketing company that has worked with brands like L'Oréal. "So, [the brands] do want to motivate a 25-year-old woman to wear...wrinkle cream." Origins has gone so far as to develop products for those with "quarter-life skin." ("Skin having a #QuarterLifeCrisis? No glow? And, those pores… Not okay.")

But, as much as they'd like us to take our skin by the reins and start "turning back the clock" before it's too late, younger women simply aren't buying anti-aging products in droves. "The biggest users of anti-aging products tend to be women over 35," says Karen Grant, global beauty industry analyst for the NPD Group. "In fact, 45-year-olds and older are highly engaged users — they're more dedicated." Grant explains that a woman who is 45 is typically using these daily — unlike a 25-year-old who may only use them a few days a week.

This begs the question: Are we procrastinators, or are they trying to get us hooked early on something we don't really need? After all, while sunscreen is always a great idea, wrinkles aren't bad for your health. It is an entirely culturally, societally engineered concept that we should try to prevent or erase them at all.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
On top of that, the ads selling these products don't even represent the women they're catering to, and it's time for the industry to become more realistic. Sadly, the female over-40 set doesn't get much love when it comes to ads. Instead, we get women who look like they just graduated high school hawking our wrinkle creams. "Sometimes, the marketing department [of a brand] believes that the demographic [of a product] is 25 to 45, but they'll reject every model who is over the age of 23," says Rieser.

Remember how big of a deal it was when Marc Jacobs Beauty cast Jessica Lange (who, at the time, was 64) in its first-ever ad? How about the sheer joy we all felt when the lovely Helen Mirren was named the face of L'Oréal in the U.K.? Or, when Tilda Swinton and Charlotte Rampling cast their dreamy gazes from their respective NARS ads? These all elicited such huge rounds of applause because they showed an age group that's typically ignored. While we expect older men to be tapped over and over again, it's unfortunately rare when older women get the same respect.
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
A lack of diversity is yet another wrinkle in anti-aging campaigns, as if there weren't already a dearth of it in advertising as a whole. You can chalk part of it up to the industry being tone-deaf, but Grant says it's a numbers game, with white women using these products most commonly. "We also see Hispanic women using anti-aging products. But, it's typically lighter-toned women, because they're likely to have more skin damage. They're the traditional market," she says.

As much as consumers may be pushing the industry to start showing more "real women," marketers continue to insist that the anti-aging customer doesn't really want to see women with wrinkles. "They like to see older [women] when it's a celebrity," Grant says. "They want to see a mature face, but not too much older at the same time. And, they want to believe she hasn't had any work done."

It's heartening to know that many women in the target demographic aren't ashamed of aging. "A lot of women today are saying, 'I'm not trying to look like I'm 25. I've earned every line and wrinkle and gray hair. I'm not ashamed of it,'" Grant says. "But, in the same breath, they'll say, 'I don't want to look like a wreck.'"
Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
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So, where does the answer lie? Should the industry start representing older women in its anti-aging advertisements in order to alter our preconceptions? Or, should we as consumers attempt to move the needle by rejecting "anti-aging" as a concept completely?

In our view, the industry needs to stop forgetting women once they blow out the candles on their 40th birthdays. And, consumers need to think critically: It is our choice to spend time attempting to look wrinkle-free. Women can age naturally and look incredible while they do it. Above all, older women deserve to be the faces that are regarded as beautiful in our society. That should be enough, and it's time we make sure it is.


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