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The New Age of Old Models: Is Aging Finally Losing it’s “Ugly” Stigma in Fashion [Or is grey hair just the new

Posted Feb 02 2014 11:54pm

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Sleek hair, impeccable styling, perfect makeup – even though everything about her screamed model I still couldn’t believe my eyes. And yet there she was staring right back at me from a full-page glossy photo fashion spread for The Row , Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s high-end fashion line.

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The lovely 65-year-old Linda Rodin even had the audacity to accessorize her gray hair and wrinkles with a whimsical smile! Excuse me, but who said old people are allowed to look and feel beautiful? Certainly not popular culture. And yet how adorable is Rodin here, in a separate ad campaign?

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 I want to be her best friend… and borrow her shoes

Every article you read about aging is either about how to fight it with expensive creams, pills, diets and treatments or how to “accept it gracefully” as if you were losing a coveted award but still wanted to appear above it all. Even when we do pay lip service and put a  cover models are a 50-and-fabulous Ellen Degeneres, they still photoshop her to look 25. This subtle ageism is especially apparent in fitness magazines, which is funny since every piece of fitness advice I’ve ever read says that exercise should be a life-long pursuit.

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This is from 2012 – she’s 54 years old here. She is a beautiful, effervescent lady… with a few well-earned wrinkles that seem to have mysteriously disappeared. 

Indeed, a study being published in this month’s British Journal of Sports Medicine gives scientific proof that not only does staying active past 50 years old lead to a longer life but it leads to a higher quality of life during the latter part of life.

In the eight years between the study’s start and end, the data showed, those respondents who had been and remained physically active aged most successfully, with the lowest incidence of major chronic diseases, memory loss and physical disability. But those people who became active in middle-age after having been sedentary in prior years, about 9 percent of the total, aged almost as successfully. These late-in-life exercisers had about a seven-fold reduction in their risk of becoming ill or infirm after eight years compared with those who became or remained sedentary, even when the researchers took into account smoking, wealth and other factors.

Yet aging happens to all of us. In fact it’s happening to you right now. So it boggles that the media would ignore something that is not only a facet of life but an inevitability of life. Despite the wealth of knowledge that experience brings, we idolize fecund youth over all else.

But perhaps this is changing? A little? Recently the media has been making strides by including more models with different body types, especially plus sizes. While they are still fairly few, Robin Lawley and others are insisting on being seen and heard and I love it. After all, in traditional lady mags it used to be you could only be non-model-sized and happy if it is your “before” picture. You certainly couldn’t have an overweight woman smiling. Or a woman with wrinkles not trying to hide them. Or thighs that touch. Or gray hair. Or a tummy that showed it had born children. Next thing you know women might stop hating themselves just a bit. And then what? Self-esteem from something that goes beyond your body? Does nobody think of the children? Who will indoctrinate the next generation in the fine art of body checking and body snarking if their mothers are no longer doing it?

Before I get too Utopian up in here, we still have a long ways to go. The fact that Rodin has made so many headlines – and let’s be honest, she’s still a very thin white lady – just shows how much more work needs to be done. Yet, other companies are catching on. Not only does Rodin say she has more modelling work than she can handle but other venues are jumping on board as well. Check out American Apparel’s 62-year-old beauty Jackie O’Shaughnessey (with no photoshop, no less):

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The ad campaign is titled “Sexy has no expiration date”

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Or 82-year-old Carmen Dell’Orefice on the July 2013 cover of You mag:

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This lovely lady has been modelling since she was 15. Isn’t her 1947 Vogue cover stunning?

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And the best thing for me is that in none of these examples did they try to hide the age of the women. The lookbook for The Row included not only 65-year-old Rodin but also 39-year-old Esther de Jong (the youngest model featured) and 50+ Ursula Wallis. While I’ll admit I find The Row fashions to be alternately bleak and boring (not to mention overpriced, they of the $55,000 handbag), I’m delighted by the 27-year-old Olsen twins’ unconventional model choices.

Rodin has no illusions about the industry , saying , “I think the whole culture’s screwed up. They retouch 20-year-olds…I see the pictures, and I know that they’ve retouched this and that….I just go, ‘She doesn’t have any wrinkles!’ ”

But she’s still determined to take this as far as she can. Of being chosen to do the Lookbook she  said, “I’d be lying to say I love all my wrinkles, but going into it I knew what they wanted. . . The confidence they gave me was really crucial.  I loved that I was respected for who I am.” She adds that it’s only been recently that her modeling career has taken off, “No one ever looked at me when I was 25! It’s a riot, but you don’t take it that seriously.”

It’s this ability to showcase the beauty of what women in all stages of life and in different elements that draws me to The Sartorialist blog . I used to follow a lot of fashion blogs but quickly became disillusioned after post after endless post of the same young things wearing the same “unique” hipster outfits with the same “anthropologie/thrifted/whatever” taglines. It wasn’t that I found them unbeautiful per se, but rather I found them all the same kind of beautiful.

I mean, I love (LOVE) looking at a well put together outfit. And you don’t have to sew it yourself or buy it hand-crafted from a bazaar in Burma for me to appreciate it. But it’s more important to me that it expresses the personality and unique beauty of the wearer. Anyone can go into J. Crew and pick out a cute outfit – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! – but I don’t necessarily want to see a picture of it either. That’s more consumerism than fashion to me.

What I want to see is a picture of you, the person underneath. (And I mean that in the least creepy way possible.) I think that’s why I’m so drawn to “street fashion” over, say, Vogue or catwalk shows. See, the Sartorialist takes the idea of beauty and releases it from all the traditional rules of age, skin color, gender stereotypes, wealth and prominence and just looks to find a beautiful moment in the everyday:

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I don’t know that you’d see any of the above women on the street and think OOOH MODEL and yet… look how beautiful. There’s this element of surprise and joy that makes the beauty and I think that every woman should have at least one picture of herself that encompasses the surprising joy of living.

Now, if we could just see some older women represented in fitness modeling I’d be really thrilled. Age is not synonymous with ignominity and I’ll health! Bring on the yoga grannies, the running nanas, the ballet dancing babas – I find them interesting and inspiring in a way that youth simply can’t be.

So what do you think – do these models show progress in how we define beauty or is this just an example of how fashion loves the latest shiny thing, whatever that may be? Do you have a favorite fashion site?

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