According to the World Health Organization, the worldwide 60+ population is set to double by 2050. Governments have had to reconfigure social safety nets. There have been new public health efforts to encourage active, healthy ageing among seniors and a rise in urban design to accommodate ageing in place, such as senior ‘playgrounds.’ The Coronavirus pandemic has also dialed up our overall attention on ageing, as we are constantly reminded of the vulnerable position older people occupy. Yet, more so than the demographics and the headlines, it is the mindset shift about age, happening within individuals themselves, that is the most profound evolution. Traditionally, culture has taught us to universally revere elders for their wisdom. However, as Western society has become steadily absorbed by industry and technological advancement, a prevailing thought developed. We considered ageing a slow crawl towards being less adaptable, less relevant, and largely, less valuable to society. We have become a culture obsessed with youth. Ironically, the seed of this problematic view on ageing is often planted young. By the time a person so much as gets their first grey hair or wrinkle, they can find themselves confronted with it. Today more people, especially women, are challenging this with a positive ageing movement that is based in gratitude, confidence, and joy.
It helps that the lives of retirees look quite different now than generations passed. Many are world travelers, serious athletes, and entrepreneurs. In fact, Boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964, mirror many of the wellness and fitness attitudes of millennials. Brands have started to get wind of their dynamic lifestyle, and spending power, and have created offerings that address the realities of ageing without an overly paternalistic tone. Perennial is a nutrition company whose brand message is ‘longevity innovated.’ Irish brand, Revive Active’s Mastermind supplement is designed for a customer they refer to as the ‘active ageing.’ Silvur is a financial wellness app designed for strategising about retirement finance. Whisper is a subscription-based hearing-aid service based in smart technology. These brands embody a new outlook on age. They present an image that is uplifting, sleekly designed, tech-forward, and emphasises the personal empowerment of the consumer. Even Willow, which sells incontinence products, does so in a way reminiscent of stylish period brand, Thinx.
Sexism and Ageism intersect in such a way that it is often women leading the charge of positive ageing. For decades, women have been encouraged to do everything in their power to preserve a youthful appearance. When they can no longer keep up with this ‘anti-ageing’ mission, they are just expected to fade quietly away from public view. This means that the experiences that women encounter as they age, menopause for example, do not get the airtime they deserve. As early as 40, compliments start to be qualified. She doesn’t just ‘look good,’ she ‘looks good for her age.’ Now women are pushing back. In 2017, Allure Magazine announced that it would ban the use of the term ‘anti-ageing’ from the publication. Some beauty brands have begun to take new ‘pro-ageing’ language on board. Haircare brand, Better Not Younger, makes its position clear from the name. We have also seen more older models like Maye Musk and Daphne Selfe on cover pages and runways. This year, Gucci collaborated on a photoshoot entirely of models over 60. Fashion photographer Denise Boomkens has amassed a large following for her platform, AndBloom, which she calls a ‘digital happy place for women over 40.’ It features striking portraits of women at a variety of glorious ages and messages of self-love. In Ireland, there is theHeyDay, a purposeful online community for women in their midlife.
Of course, no one should be expected to love every moment of getting older. Brands should appreciate this too, and approach consumers from a position of respect and support. People over 40, or people over 60, are also certainly not a monolith. Everyone’s experience with ageing will be different. However, with ties into feminism, body acceptance and inclusivity, the positive ageing movement is truly a movement for all of us. Getting older is a fact of life. Everyone should age in a way that makes them feel good. Yet, we should all be free from the social pressure to fight against the inevitability at every turn. Best case scenario, we step back and appreciate the value and the beauty in in. In her memoir, fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg put it like this, “In my older face, I see my life. Every wrinkle, every smile line, every age spot. There is a saying that with age, you look outside what you are inside. Your wrinkles reflect the roads you have taken; they form the map of your life. My face reflects the wind and sun and rain and dust from the trips I’ve taken. My face carries all my memories. Why should I erase them?”