LeadingWoman: Equating age and beauty

LeadingWoman: Equating age and beauty

The statuesque model has a quizzical wrinkle between strong brows, penetrating and intelligent eyes and long grey hair.

She is 60.

Her name is Jacky O’Shaughnessy and she is the face of the latest campaign by American Apparel, a decidedly youth-orientated clothing and accessories brand.

I was struck to hear about O’Shaughnessy and a growing trend towards using older fashion models emerging among various brands. There is even a new Paris-based agency for models aged 40 to 85: Silver.

Bulgari has named a range of handbags after actress Isabella Rossellini, and engaged the 60-year-old actress to model them. An 82-year-old model featured in fashion house Lanvin’s 2012 autumn/winter shoot.

Is this a cynical (and very clever) marketing ploy or a genuine celebration of stylish older women, asked Radio National’s Common Knowledge program of the trend.

Good question. The answer, however, is beyond the control of the marketeers, in my view.

These women look fabulous because they have achieved a degree of poise, confidence, integrity and style that comes with their age and experience.

However cynical the plans of the companies leading such marketing campaigns, the women make their own statement about changing attitudes to ageing women.

Middle-aged women once reported that they became “invisible” in a social sense once their value as a potential sexual partner was deemed to be exhausted. Ignored in queues, overlooked in bars, irrelevant at parties and events. This was simply the way of the world for middle-aged women.

Today, it appears, middle-aged women are no longer willing to don the cloak of invisibility.

Some, at least, will not be intimidated by society’s burning insults – “she’s mutton dressed as lamb” – into abandoning their swagger and sexuality. But their interpretation of beauty is their own. Although two of the three I have mentioned are very slender, Rossellini is not, and still looks splendid.

O’Shaughnessy is in great shape, but she brings more than her lovely legs to the image. I am not saying that younger women do not bring their own individual qualities to the world. The only difference is that a youthful face and body has a lot in common with other youthful faces and bodies. The faces of our elders are etched with a world of experience, and the strength to stay true to them.

Women have gained power and money, and with them comes a magnetism that was once the domain only of men and the (young) women they anointed. And with them comes the business case for the marketing shift.

Nevertheless, it is clever marketing that is both leading and following a very welcome social (and personal) change: equating age and beauty.

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