How Does The Media Represent Us Women, At Any Age?

How does the media represent us women, at any age? I have a gut feeling of course: that we’re supposed to be slim, energetic, healthy, perfectly groomed, and lovely to look at. But A Very Big Group, the AARP, conducted a survey of women ages 21 to 72 to see what we (not just me) actually think about women and media. Here are the results.

And here are my takeaways; I would love to hear about yours in the comments.

  • “The new AARP survey also found that older women are more comfortable in their own skin than younger generations are.” Ahh, I think this is true. I obsessed over so many perceived flaws when I was in my 20’s and 30’s. Looking back, I was perfect just as I was. I obsess much less now, and am grateful to be healthy, active, of compos mentis, and (if I may flatter myself), stylish.
  • “Older women also don’t seek validation from social media in the same way many younger women do.”  I envision a bad future where causes of death will include “overdose of IG-ing and Pin-ing.” Do it if you love it, and if it makes you feel good. But remember, most of those pictures are, ahem, enhanced.
  • “The survey also points to the challenges that remain, as many women of all ages still equate growing older with deterioration.” Wow, that’s a strong, ugly word when applied to people. We do lose things as we age, like excellent eyesight, fast reflexes, and taut skin. But I don’t think of it as deterioration, more like migration to a different stage.
  • Happy news overall: “women generally feel good about themselves as they age.” This seems to contradict the point above; maybe we are not so concerned with deteriorating after all! The majority of women surveyed agree with the statement “I am beautiful at any age.” Preach.

My own views aren’t wildly different from the majorities in the AARP survey. I have taken to laughing out loud at the “anti-aging” cream commercials that show a 24 year-old woman gently dabbing her dewy cheeks. And online “plus-size” models are (most of them) an average US size 12-14. Grey hair, when it’s shown, is thick and luxurious. So we clearly have a long way to go in portraying women authentically.

And as for television programs and movies, it’s rare to see a sixty year-old woman who looks sixty, although this is improving. It’s one of the reasons I always enjoy watching Frances McDormand – a brilliant actor who looks her age. Olivia Colman at age 45 is another; and she just took home an Oscar for best acting performance. I love it that she’s not all glossy-perfect or a size 00.

Here’s Olivia Colman in The Favourite, playing England’s Queen Anne.

What say you all? Do you mostly like what you see as media’s portrayal of women?

Keep joy in your heart, and stay fabulous, xo,

Here’s some cool pieces to browse, for any age woman:

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  1. I agree with Suzanne’s comment that men don’t compare themselves to the examples they see in advertising and consider themselves lacking as much as women do. We have a ways to go before seeing confident, stylish women in their 60’s and older who look their age appear regularly in ads that are not for retirement living, depends, or arthritis medication.

  2. i think that overall people in general are misrepresented in advertising. The difference is that most men think they are super attractive and look like the models they have in the ads whereas women recognize right away they aren’t.

    I’m often more disappointed with social media compared to advertising because it was initially supposed to be authentic. It’s one thing to see something in a glossy magazine and realize it’s impossible but when you are seeing someone in their kitchen you think it’s natural.

    I’m surprised at the survey results for women feeling good about themselves as they age. Maybe they learn to accept it but that’s not the same thing as embracing it by any means.

    Interesting topic.


    • I totally agree about the disappointment with social media, which has driven away many women in my age group: we can’t look that flawless every day. And SO TRUE that men perceive themselves as better-looking than reality (it’s been studied rigorously) while women tend to see ourselves as less attractive. Hmmmmm. xox

      • This fake flawless aspect on Social has led me to represent myself “mess and all” on my personal “SpyGirl” instagram. I’ve even changed my tagline to “Life is messy. So am I.”
        I’m tired of “curated” content.

  3. I think I’ve finally! reached the age at which I no longer need the validation of anyone else, media included. It’s the most liberating thing ever. BUT, I cringe when I look through fashion magazines and see what passes for elegance. These are clothes that would be flattering on no one – – even the emaciated models on those pages. Does anyone else have trouble finding good looking clothes that aren’t so revealing?

    As an aside: don’t you just luuuuuuv the Viagra commercials with the graying man and a much younger woman????

    • Hi Vicki and thanks for commenting. And yeeeeees, those ED commercials would be funny if they weren’t so tragic! xox

  4. @Cee..there should be a diverse portrayal of women in the media. My mom is 76 and has very limited range of motion in her shoulders so it influences what she can comfortably put on. A tremor in her right hand makes it harder for her to do buttons. A history of falling makes high heels a thing of the past.
    While there are 90 years olds who may have much better physical fitness than my 76 year old mom, maybe there is a reason some older people do indeed choose baggy athleisure clothing choices.
    I’d never do the weekly blowout thing, but as I get older I see why certain choices appeal to older adults. My mom has difficulty styling her hair because of her physical limitations. Not saying my mom’s limitations apply to all people, just trying to offer perspective.
    I do some of my mom’s clothing shopping and keeping those limitations in mind means fewer choices. Going shopping and trying to find things that are practical for her needs but aren’t old ladyish can be a challenge.
    As far as movies and television, I’d like to see more diversity in terms of looks and stars in roles for older adults.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Kate. There is a wide disparity in the fitness of 76 year-olds, as compared to the near-uniformity of a 26 year-olds. We have to be aware of each other’s needs. xox

    • Kate, I understand that not all “seniors” are 100% mobile and I appreciate your comment. I struggle with arthritic knees, a herniated disc and adhesive capsulitis in my left shoulder. Because of the shoulder, I stopped trying to tame my naturally curly long hair and now I wear a wash and air dry style. The point I was making about hair is that the “little old lady” who has a weekly set and spray appointment is another stereotype of aging.

      Still, in what I will call ordinary advertising, such as what one might see in a magazine like Good Housekeeping, older folks are usually portrayed as dotards. Sure, there is the occasional beauty product house that makes a huge deal when they sign up a “silver fox” but there is (to me) this media myth that when people reach a certain age, they lose their sexuality, credibility and humanity and become caricatures of kindly old doting grandparents, eccentric cat ladies, and/or lumps who sit on the couch with the heat turned up too high watching day time t.v.

      I think finding attractive, fashionable, off the rack clothes marketed to my generation is a Herculean endeavor thus I love seeing Patti’s “upcycled” ensembles.

      Thank you for your perspective. You sound like a lovely daughter.

  5. There’s a distinction between social media vs. advertising vs. entertainment (TV, movies, fashion magazines–which are really just advertising) vs. news media. Social media seems like self-inflicted/inflicting imitation of entertainment and advertising, neither of which is about representing reality. I don’t think the news media (certain sexist TV channels excepted) is looking to push perfection among women, but women are underrepresented as experts. That’s partly because if asked, women will decline but men always jump on the opportunity to promote themselves, even when they aren’t experts on a topic.
    I wouldn’t care except that I need to work for another 15 years and so, so many of my friends are getting laid off, blindsided, and finding it impossible to find a new job. Ageism is the last acceptable prejudice, especially in the workplace. “You’re overqualified.” As if.

    • “Ageism is the last acceptable prejudice.” It’s true and as you say, it harms women economically. And we are qualified, as qualified as any given man. I think you’re right that we lag in self-promotion. Gotta work on that. xox

  6. I feel genuinely sorry for older teens and women in the age range of 20s through 50s because of the messages social media sends them. A few years ago, when I was still working in a corporate office, one of my co-workers, probably about 26, came in with no make up on. No one cared but upon entering the office, she tried hiding her face and kept repeating, “Please don’t judge me! I overslept and am not wearing makeup! I promise to put it on asap! Don’t hate me.” That was sad.

    I get really ticked off at seeing women in my age group (mid 60s) and beyond portrayed as dotty, dowdy, baggy leisure wear clad, tightly permed carictures and hanging out with their equally goofy appearing, weak and impotent looking male companions. Many women my age are still active in the work world, stay fit and toned, like to look well and fashionably dressed, don’t go for a weekly set and spray hair do and are anything but nodding and doddering. So no, I do not like the way the media portrays women of ANY age. Color me pissed off!

    • Ah, that’s such a sad story about the young woman who was ashamed to be makeup-free! What about all the men, weren’t they also sans makeup? And I agree about the caricatures of over-60 women; so inaccurate and insulting. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, xox

  7. I think the media does what they want…I’m glad at almost 71, I am not taking them seriously. Some of the young women news and weather reporters look so overly made up, hiding their natural beauty. We as a society, seem to have been obsessed with youth. Besides having to look or act a certain way or age, the media bombards us with anti-aging, 24/7. It’s a privilege to age, something some people do not get the pleasure to experience. So, the media, huh, I just don’t take them seriously.

    • I think you’re so right, Jill. And your attitude is the one that brings happiness! xox

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