As part of Willowberry’s National Age Without Apology month, we hosted a panel talk with industry experts to discuss: How can we best represent age in beauty? The talk highlighted the glorious potential of women in midlife and beyond. We’ve distilled the chat into three key takeaways that will appear on our blog. In this second article on the panel talk, we look at reframing midlife as an aspirational time.
Our panel of speakers:
Jenni Retourné, Founder, Willowberry Skincare and host of the talk
Helena Grzesk MBE, Chief Operating Officer, British Beauty Council
Lorraine Pascale, TV Personality, Best-Selling Author, Life Coach and Founder of The Rebrand
Eleanor Mills, Editor, Broadcaster and Founder of midlife platform Noon
Jan Masters, Telegraph Columnist
Ruby Hammer MBE, Global Make-up Artist and Brand Founder
Sallie Berkery, MD of CEW (Cosmetic Executive Women)
According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2020 there were 13 million women aged 50+ and by 2040 this is predicted to rise to 15.3 million, compared to 13.5 million women aged under 50. That’s a lot of women to be largely ignoring in beauty advertising. Willowberry skincare has always championed Age Without Apology, making sure we represent older women within our beauty imagery, use better language around age and help you to age well. We held this industry panel talk to call for the rest of the beauty industry to do the same.
The power of changing your view on age
Imagine, if you will, a world where getting older is something to look forward to. Not something which we are told from a young age to dread, to put off, to spend time and money avoiding.
As Helena Gzresk put it, we need to “learn to be unapologetically us” and to “encourage people to grow into the skin they’re in, not battle against that”.
The panel discussed how personal experience has taught them that ageing is nothing to fear. Rumours of life losing its allure after 40 or 50 or 60 have proved to be unfounded. In fact, the opposite is true. As Jan Masters explained, “We tend to think getting old means you’re getting to the end of something, but actually it means you’ve got more of something, not less. We’ve got heaps of experience… it’s a privilege to get older”.
There’s much we can learn from other cultures. Jan Masters told the panel of a custom in Japan: “I used to write for Japanese Vogue and there’s a thing in Japan called ‘kanrecki’. When you are 60, they consider that you are reborn. You’ve done a lot of the stuff that you dutifully must do and now is your time to be reborn.”
Ruby Hammer believes it starts with the individual. “As a generation we have that responsibility, it starts with you by example and then we pass the baton on. The more we do that as women of a certain age, we’ll pass that baton on to our children.”
In 2019 British Vogue produced an 80-page supplement called ‘The Non-Issue Issue’. Every contributor to the supplement, from the model on the cover to the writers, photographers and make-up artists, was over 50. And the reaction was incendiary.
Sallie Berkery was Associate Publisher of Vogue at the time: “I don’t think we knew when we started it how much of an impact it would have. It wasn’t just about beauty, it was about lifestyle, travel, fitness, politics. We shot Jane Fonda for the cover, we had features, we shot Helen Mirren, we did a fashion shoot, we worked with make-up artist Val Garland. It was a global phenomenon. It won a Cannes Lions award amongst many other awards, it received 20-million-page impressions when it launched on Instagram. The response was massive. It received so much joy from around the world.”
The JOY of age
So. Much. Joy. That sums up the way the panel feel about getting older. Of course, there are difficulties too. Dealing with teenage children, ageing parents who may be ailing, financial worries, perimenopausal and menopausal health issues, but it turns out actually getting older can be a blast. Who knew? And why are we not telling our young people this?
“I think we’re desperately in need of a rebrand of this stage in women’s lives,” Eleanor Mills confirmed. Her platform Noon, “is about trying to paint positive pictures and really change the story to something much more positive about what women are capable of at this point”.
Lorraine Pascale, Founder of midlife community The Rebrand, was on the same page: “I am so excited to be this age. I feel so empowered. I feel happier than I’ve ever been. I do more of what I want to do. So many women in my community say that they have a voice finally, they people-please less.”
Not a walking menopause
Although there was support for the fact that the topic of menopause is coming out into the open, our panel all felt strongly that this only tells part of the story. Lorraine pointed out that despite the good that has come from it, “The focus of the media on hormones and the menopause… the societal and cultural view of midlife women can become quite stereotypical”.
Eleanor pointed out, “It’s like saying to a whole group of men ‘oh, you’re in the Viagra years’. No one would think of doing that to men, so why are we all branded menopausal?”.
Lorraine called on the media to, “Think of it as making midlife women something that you aspire to be, something that’s exciting, something to look forward to. We’re sexy!” She wondered why advertising doesn’t show midlife women, “going out on a new date after a divorce or putting on moisturiser to get ready for a night in with your guy?”.
At Willowberry we are working to change the narrative around beauty, something our panel fully supports: As Lorraine said: “All this narrow talk about anti-ageing, I think we could do so much more and really become an aspirational age group. The beauty industry has the power to put midlife women in the spotlight as these fabulous, inspiring, influential, empowering women that lots of people aspire to be.”
Eleanor Mills has coined the term ‘Queenagers’ to describe the women living and loving midlife and beyond. “Older women deserve joy, fun, positivity, all the good stuff. Nobody ever talks about sex, fun, lights out. I had a great chat with Jo Whiley who was telling me that at her Anthems tours, the arenas are absolutely full of Queenagers leaping around as if they’re 18 again and that’s certainly how I feel.”
Eleanor explained that research commissioned by Noon shows, “Women really see themselves as moving into a time which is finally about them. You hit 50 and you’re like, I want to do the things that I’ve always really wanted to do and go back to discovering some of the things about me”.
Reframing mature women as aspirational is a gift we can give to the next generation. “I’ve got teenage daughters and I desperately want them to look forward to being 50,” Eleanor said. “I want them to see being a Queenager as the absolute epitome of their life where they come into their prime. All that experience and the money that they’ve saved up, everything means that they now have agency and control over their lives.”
“Why would you want to be younger if when you get to 50 is when you move into your power, when you become the woman that you’re supposed to be?”
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As seen in Vogue, Independent, The Telegraph, This Morning and more.