These are the biggest mistakes brands and advertisers are making when trying to reach older women

The biggest mistakes made by brands and advertisers include showing women in their 50s ‘wearing old-fashioned clothing’ or ‘kooky & struggling with menopause’, new survey results reveal. 

The online poll conducted by the Centre for Ageing Better and Ageism Is Never In Style® by The Bias Cut also reveals women in their 60s were concerned about being painted as ‘lonely and lacking in relationships’, while those in the 70s and 80s hated being shown as ‘frail’ or ‘lonely’.

Over half (55%) of UK women over 18 told the online poll the way they are portrayed in the media makes them feel ‘bad about ageing’.   

The survey also reveals that as women grow older, the dissatisfaction level with how they are depicted continues to climb, with 82% of women in their 50s saying they are represented ‘poorly’ alongside 89% of 60+.  

The survey was conducted to mark the collaboration between charity the Centre for Ageing Better and global campaign and community Ageism Is Never In Style® by The Bias Cut on a new fashion-focused shoot creating a collection of stylish age-positive images to be made available for free for public use.

It is the latest innovation from the Centre for Ageing Better’s image library which was launched last year and now contains over 3,000 images that have been viewed more than 25 million times.  

Dr Carole Easton OBE, Chief Executive at the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “The survey results show that the photos used in the media aren’t representing women in a positive and realistic way, and often resort to inaccurate and limited stereotypes such as old-fashioned clothing, lack of relationships, and frailty. It reflects a frustration among older women – when they are represented in the media at all – of being pigeonholed as stereotypes, such as frail and lonely individuals to be pitied or kooky eccentrics that are unrelatable to many. Our survey also confirms that because of this, women are reduced to feeling negative about ageing. 

“Our new Image Library photos with Ageism Is Never In Style® by The Bias Cut aim to provide an alternative to the stereotypes around ageing which are clearly unappealing to women. We hope our shoot provides a blueprint to how to do things differently, championing age-inclusivity and redressing the balance of how women over 50 are depicted.  

“The Image Library is our response to the ageism that is still so pervasive in society and forms part of our Age-friendly Movement trying to change how people think, feel and act about ageing. The subjects of our shoot all have little to no modelling experience but are great examples to highlight that getting older and being glamorous, professional and confident aren’t mutually exclusive.”    

One in eight women highlighted the fact that brands and media outlets use models which are younger than the women the product is aimed at, exacerbating their negative feelings around ageing.   

Adverts and media outlets focussing on work and employment were deemed the worst ageist offenders, with three quarters (73%) of older women saying they were shown in a negative light. Two thirds agreed finance and fashion articles and adverts portrayed them poorly, alongside 61% in beauty, plus news and in political context.   

The poll also shows a third of all women are particularly concerned about lazy and negative stereotyping in stock images – the photos used in adverts, social media post, academia, teaching and magazines.  

Despite 60% of working age people using or searching for stock images, one in three women quizzed said there is a major problem with a lack of representation with images described as ‘inauthentic’.    

One in five also highlighted a lack of diversity, including images of older women from different ethnic backgrounds and body diversity.   

Jacynth Bassett, Founder of Ageism Is Never In Style & The Bias Cut, said: “Representation matters. It influences how we see ourselves, and how others see us. It boosts self-worth, self-esteem and creates a sense of value and validation within society.  

“With our population ageing, retirement age increasing, and over 50s being encouraged back into the workforce, it’s vital that women over 50 feel seen and valued. And yet, as our survey shows, not only do women still not feel truly represented as they age, but they are internalising negative attitudes around ageing as a result. This is detrimental to themselves, and to society at large.  

“We’re delighted to be partnering with Centre for Ageing Better to disrupt and improve representation of 50+ women. Ageing is a privilege, not a punishment, and we’re on a mission to ensure that’s the message women – and society – begins to internalise.”  

The images from the new collection have been available to download for free from the Centre for Ageing Better’s image library and platform since Thursday, 1 June.

The image collection launch will be supported by an empowering social media campaign where women will be encouraged to show how they express themselves and “look their age” regardless of society’s ageist expectations and unhealthy stereotypes. 

Ageism Is Never In Style & The Bias Cut founder Jacynth Bassett will be interviewed by Centre for Ageing Better’s Director of Communications and Policy Emma Twyning for the second instalment of Ageing Better’s discussion series Challenging Ageism.

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