There has been a lot of talk about British VOGUE's revolutionary non-issue and the fact that it's a good thing fashion is finally recognizing older women.
I call bullshit.
First of all, we are still not represented in the pages of Vogue. It is an advertising supplement produced by L'Oréal. The only women on the cover are both over 70. Not a woman between 50 and 70 years old in sight.
Don't get me wrong, I love Jane Fonda, an 81 year-old woman who looks amazing. But we know it's a feat only attained by Hollywood royalty (through surgery, stylists, trainers, chefs, beauticians, make-up artists, hairdressers and re-touchers). Jane openly admits to it all. She knows her audience.
We've grown up with her; she's like our cool, beautiful best friend, and we know we've never looked as good as her, but we are totally fine with that.
It hasn't been for lack of trying. There's barely a woman over 50 who hasn't at least attempted a Jane Fonda workout. She's never bullshitted us—looking that good is a lot of hard work. Some of us still put in the hard yards. But those of us who produce endorphins in other ways have decidedly slacked off.
Yet L'Oréal thinks we want a youth-activating serum.
What? Go back to a time where they made girls feel bad because we weren't as perfect as Barbarella?
That's me at 17. Even when I see this photo now, I can still remember looking at it as a teenager and seeing nothing but my enormous thighs. The beauty industry's hatred of "normal" was so virulent that it spread to all aspects of life. I was called "big girl" and "thunder thighs"; I got told that my jaw line was too soft or my favorite old chestnut, "If you lost [some weight], you'd be beautiful." And that was just from men I slept with.
I wasn't alone. I was surrounded by brilliant young career women doing amazing things from nine to five who were just as powerful and talented as Ms. Fonda.
But it was a different story for the women behind the camera: stories that played out in quiet, in tears, in the bathroom. Brilliant young producers throwing up expensive lunches because the creative boys thought their naturally wobbly thighs were hilarious.
We pretty much all hated something about ourselves. And we tried to do something about it. In our young womanhood we bought creams to get rid of cellulite, lift our boobs and ward off those dreaded laughter lines.
None of them worked. Now they want to keep selling to us, but are we going to keep on buying?
Apparently, most facelifts are carried out on women in their forties, when those terrifying laughter lines start appearing. By the time a woman hits her fifties she realizes the enormity of the job ahead—trying to ward off the inevitable. She knows the only way to try to look ten years younger is to spend a fortune and face a lot of pain.
She also knows she won't really look ten years younger—just rich enough to be nipped, tucked and to have had her face burnt off. And we all know if you have that sort of work you can afford the latest 'bee sting serum regime from the foothills of the Andes' that's peddled post-surgery.
Not a $25.99 cream on the top shelf of the beauty aisle.
Look, us mere mortals will always buy the cream. We like it. We like the way it feels on our skin. We like the way it smells. We feel better when we use it. We don't know if it makes us look better because we don't know what our skin would be like without it. But we sure as hell know it won't get rid of our wrinkles.
So stop with the snake oil salesmanship and start affording us the respect you show our daughters who you empower and portray realistically.
After all, we took our own anger at your deceptions and educated the next generation of women to define their own standards of beauty. They have forced you to show young women of color, women of size, trans women, disabled women, sports women and intellectual women.
But you're still trying to scare the shit out of them about aging. Which is ridiculous because it's going to happen. And for many of us it's the best time of our lives, something for younger women to look forward to.
Now they want to sell to us again?! Isn't it time the big cosmetic companies gave us a break from the impossible expectations and show us as the powerful, creative, intelligent, forthright, controversial, and time-marked women we are?
Not just the leading feminist on your cover. A woman we look up to and admire. A general in Gloria Steinem's army of grey-haired women.
We know Jane Fonda's laughing all the way to the bank, and she deserves it. She's worked hard enough—she spent most of the 80s jumping up and down in leg warmers FFS! We love her, and we'll buy a magazine with her on the cover because we want to hear what she has to say. We know her unbelievable good looks are the result of great genes and a lot of work. We also know all L'Oréal contributed was a big healthy cheque.
I know all about this, because Revlon was the biggest client of my agency for many years. I remember once a new independent cosmetic line was launching with brilliant packaging, an eco-friendly product and a really cool ad campaign. I asked my client if he was worried; he said, "Until they have a $50 million ad budget I'm not in the slightest bit concerned."
That was early this century. Now you can build an audience on a shoestring. With the right message and product, you can get the same exposure as a Vogue supplement. You don't even need to be in Sainsbury's to sell it anymore.
There are lots of smaller companies popping up that have formulated products designed to enhance the ageing process not deny its existence. Clever marketers who show beautiful older women realistically with messages to enhance our confidence not encourage us to criticize our reflections.
The most successful companies nowadays are those that take selling to the most powerful consumer group (women between 50 and 70 years old) seriously. If the big cosmetic companies want to compete, I suggest they forget this 'youthful' folly and celebrate our wisdom.
It's not us who need to Reset. Revitalize. Renew.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."