Last month, cult New Zealand lingerie brand Lonely released an advertising campaign featuring 56 year old Mercy Brewer. Yes, that’s right, a lingerie campaign featuring a 56 year old woman.
Lonely is known for showcasing ‘unconventional’, ‘real’ beauty in their marketing. They don’t retouch their advertising images. Their lingerie comes in a large range of sizes/cup sizes. They encourage ‘real’ women, of all shapes, sizes and colours to photograph themselves wearing Lonely lingerie and then share these images on a dedicated Instagram feed.
Lonely got a lot of attention late last year when they released a series of unretouched images of ‘Girls’ stars Lena Dunham and Jemima Kirke wearing Lonely lingerie.
Featuring a middle aged woman in their latest campaign (albeit a genetically blessed ex-model) perfectly aligns with Lonely’s brand strategy.
It also raises the question: why is it so rare to see older women in fashion images?
Some fashion & ageing facts:
– According to the ABS: “Like most developed countries, Australia’s population is ageing as a result of sustained low fertility and increasing life expectancy. This has resulted in proportionally fewer children (under 15 years of age) in the population and a proportionally larger increase in those aged 65 and over.”
– Many of the editors of the world’s biggest fashion magazines are women in their fifties.
Anna Wintour of American Vogue is 68 this year.
Alexandra Shulman of British Vogue is 59 this year.
Emmanuelle Alt of Vogue Paris is 50 this year.
Edwina Mccann of Vogue Australia (once named the most powerful woman in Australian media) is around 45 (I couldn’t find her exact age but she graduated high school in 1990).
– Women aged 35-60 spend more money on clothing than any other age group. (In the US, it’s women aged 55-64 who spend the most money on clothes annually).
So, why is it the norm that fashion brands and magazines use teenage or twenty-something models to sell clothes? Why the obsession with youth?
Why don’t we see things like this Lonely campaign in the mainstream? Is it because ‘sex sells’ and older people just can’t be ‘sexy’? Older people+sex is a taboo subject?
Or is fashion’s definition of beauty just too narrow?
Fashion has a diversity problem
There has been a small increase in diversity on runways in terms of designers employing models of a larger range of sizes and ethnicities. But fashion is still dominated by younger women, with only a sprinkling of appearances from older models, like when designers occasionally bring veteran supermodels out of retirement to walk in a fashion show or star in a print campaign.
Mainstream fashion celebrates youth and therefore marginalises older women
In fashion, youth is desirable and beautiful, while ageing is ugly. Ageing is only acknowledged and talked about in the context of wanting to fight/stop/prevent/’reverse’ it or cover it up.
Fashion sets the standard of what society considers beautiful
By not showing older women, fashion media sends the message that they’re not beautiful and therefore not valuable. And this could contribute to the marginalisation of older women in society.
Rather than celebrating older women for their accomplishments and wisdom, fashion seems, for the most part, to want to forget them, ignore them, push them aside, exclude them.
Fashion doesn’t encourage young women to look up to older women/ aspire to be like them, it encourages all women to try to be like the perfect, airbrushed, forever young fashion models.
Lonely, a niche brand, has turned this on its head, choosing to celebrate the beauty of an older woman, and in turn, broaden the definition of beauty.
Lonely used a 56 year old ex-model. Fashion brands and magazines often feature middle-aged actresses. But why don’t brands go further than this and use women who are role models for reasons other than appearance?
In 2015, luxury fashion label Celine used the then 80 year old author Joan Didion in an ad campaign. That wasn’t for her beauty, that was because she’s an intelligent, accomplished, iconic woman. In the same year, Saint Laurent used then 71 year old singer-songwriter/painter Joni Mitchell in a campaign.
Why don’t more brands do this? Should they? Or should we just accept that fashion is about selling fantasy and the very reason people like fashion is because they get to indulge in that fantasy: a world where everything looks perfect and no one ever gets old or sick or dies.
Should fashion imagery be realistic? Or do we accept that most of it is ridiculously unrealistic and enjoy it as escapism from the reality of life (and death)?
Or is the problem that some women don’t recognise the fantasy in mainstream fashion images but instead see them as something to aspire to, therefore possibly increasing the incidence of plastic surgery and other cosmetic procedures like botox?
Is the fashion industry just plain evil because its success relies on exploiting women’s insecurities (including age)? e.g. convincing middle aged and older women to buy clothes under the delusion that those clothes will make them look like the airbrushed young models in the advertisements?
I don’t know if there are any easy answers but I do agree that the Lonely campaign made a ‘refreshing’ change from the fashion images I’m used to seeing.
And as someone who grew up raiding the closet of my very wise and elegant and stylish Nanna, I agree that we should celebrate the beauty of older women (and the many other things they contribute to society).
What do you think of the Lonely campaign?
Should fashion be more inclusive of older women/less afraid of ageing?