By VICTORIA SARNE
Why are we allowing the fashion, cosmetic, advertising and media industries to continue promoting youthfulness, as if that stage of life it is the only one that matters?
For women in particular, age discrimination is now a bigger issue in the workplace than sexism. This continuing promotion of anything and everything targeting the under 40 market, of course, makes billions for those companies involved, so they have no skin in the game to change tactics.
I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit I miss my firm limbs, smooth skin and agile body that could run, dance and do cartwheels once upon a long time ago. But I never wanted then and certainly not now, to be defined by my looks alone. I am, like all women, a whole person with many facets to my persona. To be defined so narrowly is an insult to my intelligence. Men are not targeted or depicted in the same way. They are allowed to grow old and still be admired. Our continual objectification causes the corruption of a healthy, equitable society.
All human beings have unique brains which grow differently only in how they are conditioned and trained. In other words we are being programmed in accordance with received information; we are being controlled. The constant barrage of youth and beauty promotion which young women are receiving is deleterious information about what is important; it creates pathways in the brain which then inform behaviour and attitude. This sets in motion an automatic set of responses and a distorted perception of body image causing a potential life-time habit of unhealthy eating. This can lead to disorders such as anorexia and bulimia or obesity.
The emotional damage inflicted inculcates a sense of inadequacy, unworthiness or self-hatred and a deep-seated fear of aging. On the other side of the coin it continues to send boys and men the same distorted message – that girls and women are “less than” – objectifying them and stealing their humanity. It’s no surprise that advertising agencies, media outlets and agencies are overloaded with white male executives making these decisions.
The long-term implication means that if we believe our likability, our desirability and our functionality is predicated only on our looks, not only do we build up an aging phobia, we are shortchanging ourselves and implanting a further sense of worthlessness as we start to see the signs of physical aging. This cult of youth adoration is deeply concerning individually and for society as a whole. We are being brainwashed en masse, men and women alike, to believe that a decline in our physical appearance equates a decline in our intelligence, our mental acuity, our abilities and our humanness. To not be acknowledged as whole human beings with brains as well as breasts is demeaning and serves only to undermine the stability and future progress of any society which undervalues 51 percent of its population. We are all diminished when we are reduced to stereotypes
Who decided where to draw the arbitrary line severing “young” from “old”? Who determined that only younger women have value when clearly common sense dictates that all of life is a learning process? It is already being predicted by scholars and sociologists that older women, post-retirement, will be leading the future of economies using their acquired skills. We need to accelerate this process. We need to be the agents of change if we want to see our futures as potentially the best of our lives.
A more honest representation in the media and marketing campaigns across the entire age spectrum would, I believe, would increase profits as well as ameliorate the negative impact. Occasionally we now see token images of older women, but nowhere near enough. We still like to look our best, to dress in our own idiosyncratic way without letting it be the sole representation of our identity. We should be acknowledged as positive role models for those younger women who are still trying to live up to some photoshopped, impossible ideal of desirable womanhood. We want a more accurate depiction of the composition of society. The question is: Why do we let greedy industry influence our self-perception? The answer is “because we let them”. Let’s be “more than” not “less than” what they insist we believe.
• Victoria Sarne is an entrepreneur and writer. She headed a team to establish a shelter for abused women and children in Canada and was its first chairwoman. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit www.lifelineswritingservice.com, or call 467-1178.