Ageism: Is Body Positivity Inclusive Enough?

If the mainstream media had its way, women of a certain age would essentially cease to exist. Or at least that is how their casting choices make it appear. How often have you seen a 30-year-old play mom to a 20-year-old actress? It is almost as if they forgot that women aged 40 – 50 exist, well unless of course, they need to cast for a grandmother or a retiree. They are almost never permitted to have an obvious sex appeal after a certain age. Why does the mainstream media do such a great job at making older women seem unsexy?

I’m not saying you can’t be a grandmother in your 40s or 50s, many are. But I am saying that women are more than their relationship to the children/grandchildren and that some women are childfree. Also, that having kids or grandkids does not immediately void one’s sexuality. Women should be presented in the media as complex and well-developed characters. The show “Frankie and Gracie” is such a rare example that I can’t think of another series since “The Golden Girls” that even almost compares. I think the media’s theory is, sex sells and older women aren’t sexy. For exactly that reason body positive activists need to be including women of all ages, to bust that exact myth.

The same is certainly not true for men in Hollywood. This is a typical sexist double standard that allows men to age and still get cast in a wide variety of roles, including as the sex object and lead in a major production. Often if they are cast in such a role, their female costar will be much younger than them because the mainstream media almost never casts middle-aged women in the lead role, especially in a romantic comedy. This is ironic given the divorce rate in North America means many middle-aged women are actively dating. Since we are used to the media showing us older men dating younger women, it is perceived as normal while the opposite is shamed with words like “cougar”.

But is the body positivity community any better than the mainstream media and society at large when it comes to representing a wide range of different ages? How many campaigns can you name that include older women or even older men? When Dove’s campaign from years ago is still one of the only examples I can find with an exhaustive google search, we have a problem. Body positivity has a distinct focus on loving our bodies no matter what, even if they change, or rather when they change because they all do eventually. That might mean as we gain or lose weight, but it may also be as we age and/or as our abilities change for other reasons. That is when we usually need body positivity the most.

We need to also talk about how when older women are included in these campaigns, they are held to an extreme beauty standard that women of any age would have a hard time living up to. They are also almost always white, thin, able-bodied, and have long or at least a very feminine hairstyle. You can browse the album I included above for some evidence of what I mean. Ad campaigns don’t like dealing with intersectionality and would rather have a simple list of checkboxes to ensure they are exactly diverse enough. We as their consumers need to hold them accountable and ask them to do better.

To be blunt, why are marketing companies and brands ignoring such an amazing target market? It is actually irresponsible to their shareholders and their bottom line. Women of a certain age (30’s – 60’s) are often more financially stable and independent than their younger counterparts. They have some spare income after having paid off their student debt and being well established in terms of household appliances and furniture. Simply put, they have money to spend, but no one is marketing directly towards them. If body positivity is going to be co-opted by marketing companies, I expect them to at least do so in an equitable way. If you claim to be for all bodies, please be for all bodies.


Curvy Kate provided me with this lingerie as a part of our collaboration agreement. For a full review including fit and sizing, click here. Both items are currently on sale as of publishing this blog post on October 22, 2016; Kitty Black Copper Plunge Bra and Kitty Black Copper Short. The same design is also available in the colour Merlot, perfectly on trend for autumn.



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