Why is the beauty industry ignoring older women?

Sometime in July 2020, when the entire world was on lockdown due to covid-19, businesswoman Martha Stewart posted a selfie, posing by her pool with pursed lips. Went viral. The selfie also managed to shake the stereotype of a woman in her 70s as a wrinkled matriarch leading a boring life. Because here was a septuagenarian in a bathing suit who totally owned her look.

Recently, Stewart made a reel centered around that poolside selfie. Entitled Thirst Trap 101, it was a clever way to advertise her latest job as an American brand ambassador for French cosmetics brand Clé de Peau. In a space teeming with young beauty influencers, Stewart becoming a beauty ambassador at age 80 is a refreshing change.

Lest you think this is the new normal, it is not. In Amsterdam, photographer Denise Boomkens, who runs an age- and body-positive Instagram account called @and.bloom, recently posted about her disappointment while checking out social media for a makeup brand. “Looking for a face that I could identify with, I started scrolling down, and down, and down. I couldn’t find a single ‘little older’ woman represented. Perhaps they still don’t know that women over 40 also buy makeup products, nail polishes and many skin care products? she wrote.

Denise Boomkens

Denise Boomkens

Clearly, most of the beauty industry still doesn’t really represent women over 40, either in the models it chooses to endorse its brands or the customers it targets. Women over 50 are practically invisible. What little the industry does is involved in selling products labeled “anti-aging.” The mature segment, however, is beginning to demand more.

The message about age

Signs of change so far are few and far between. “The message you get constantly is that you shouldn’t show your age or you should hide it,” says Sonia Dhawan, a Bangalore-based geneticist and founder of Granny Gregs, an alternative and holistic health brand. At 50, Dhawan laments that older people are under-represented in the mainstream media. “Most of the time you see older people in ads that are about nursing homes or joint mobility or something similarly depressing,” she laughs.

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Art consultant and writer Lata Vaidya, 59, says: “Skincare/makeup brands are often alarmists who wield the power to scare women even in their 20s with narratives of fine wrinkles and such.” . As a contrast, she cites an ad featuring supermodel Paulina Porizkova for US makeup company Laura Geller Beauty’s Let’s Get Old Together campaign. In the ad, Porizkova, with her visible wrinkles and gray hair, asks, “I’m getting older. And what’s wrong with that? Quite.

what we would like to see

In India, where people are quick to label you an aunt based on the gray in your hair, you need that message. However, it may be a while before Indian women utter Porizkova’s words, not caring about her worry lines.

“I think the aging process should be celebrated. I’d like to see the media spread messages advocating ’embrace aging,’” says Dhawan. Vaidya would like to see a beauty industry that “isn’t all about looking young.” “I would like to see advertising in which age does not have the stigma of beauty, in which a mature woman sells a product to women of all ages without the promise of ‘looking younger’, but of ‘looking beautiful’” , He says.

Archana Jain, founder and CEO of PR agency PR Pundit, who is in her early 50s, would be very happy to buy a product that has an older woman modeling for him. “Where do we see older faces on billboards or banners today? So yes, I would be motivated to try a product endorsed by someone closer to my age,” she says.

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That is still a challenge. “Today, where everything is digital, it is easy for us to reach millennials and Gen Z. On the other hand, it is difficult to find older women (consumers or influencers) because they are reticent or constitute a micro segment. Finding the appropriate channels to communicate with them is challenging,” she says.

sign of change

Jewelry brand Olio Stories, founded by Aashna Singh and Sneha Saksena, has run some social media campaigns with older men and women wearing their handcrafted jewelry. A recent advertisement for Olio Stories featured an octogenarian, Asha Sahgal, as a model. Dressed in a sparkly vintage top, gold jewelry and makeup, Sahgal stood out on crowded social media. Singh says of Sahgal: “She is my husband’s grandmother, and Sneha and I have admired her style for many years. She is always dressed to the nines, especially in wonderful vintage pieces. And more than that, she is full of life, her eyes sparkle and her energy is contagious. We are grateful that we were able to photograph her in this way.” Singh says the campaign has made Sahgal a viral sensation.

Older women are a central focus for luxury skincare brand LR Wonder Company, which creates products from exotic ingredients like snail mucin, bee venom, caviar and 24-karat gold. “As a brand, we sit at the intersection of high efficacy and effortless luxury beauty, something this age group values. They value quality and efficacy, and are willing to invest in luxury skin care. They also tend to have higher disposable income and purchasing power,” says Viren Sawhney, a partner in the firm.

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Dermalogica, which recently signed actor Neha Dhupia, 41, has a skincare range for the senior segment. “Our Age Smart range addresses the needs of older people. But because skin aging begins in your 20s, our focus is on addressing the triggers that cause accelerated and visible signs of aging and helping clients live with their healthiest skin through the ages and stages of life. their lives,” says Pushkaraj Shenai, CEO of Unilever. Professional Beauty, owner of Dermalogica.

Most brands that cater to the senior segment find that older models help them connect with the public. “For products that address issues like anti-aging, lifting and tightening of the skin, it is very important that we are identifiable. So yes, we have used older models and even have campaigns planned for which we are actively seeking models over the age of 35,” says Sawhney.

Singh is hopeful for a more significant change in perspective. “Social media campaigns are storytelling tools. The response to all our jewelry campaigns ensures that consumers are interested in unique characters. Gone are the days of the ‘perfect’ models.”

Mahalakshmi Prabhakaran is a journalist based in Bangalore.