The Return of the Woman
Since the modern post-industrial revolution, marketing has focused on youth and for many decades, products for teens dominated the market, whether it was for cosmetics, clothes, electronics, and during the height of the 80s-90s, it seemed everything was made to appeal to teenagers as they were the largest demographic of consumers.
However, now as we are facing a demographic shift, and there are more 50+ year olds in the population than any other age group, with 1/4 of the world’s population 65+ and older, there has been a subtle shift, yet again as media and marketing adjusts to this new ruling class.
30-something year old actors playing teenagers was a favourite theme in many iconic TV programmes of the 1990s. Still from Darren Star’s 90210, the most watched programme of the 1990s about high school kids in Beverly Hills. Photo from imdb.com
Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu plays the femme fatale CEO Sylvie in Emily in Paris, the 59 year old who has stolen the show and garnered widespread publicity for her sultry and sexy persona. Stills from Emily in Paris, 2022, photo by ioDonna.
“Life begins at 40, up until then, you are just doing research.” -Carl Jung, psychoanalyst
It used to be that turning 40 meant the end of life. In the 1800s, by this age, most people were preparing for their eventual deaths. Through access to clean water, hygienic conditions and advances in medicine and epigenetics, healthspan and longevity have accelerated at a steady rate in the last two centuries, and as more people live healthier lives and are reversing the epigenetic clock, it appears that in the oncoming generation, 40 could mark the beginning of one’s life journey and not the end.
Gwyneth Paltrow poses in gold for her 50th birthday, reinventing what it means to reach a milestone birthday. The award-winning actress and entrepreneur continues to defy convention by tackling difficult questions about ageing and sexuality through her company Goop. Photo by Andrew Yee
New advances also factor in how we might view ageing in the future. Many scientists and researchers have differentiated between the concept of chronological age vs. biological age.
Chronological age is measured in years, whereas biological age indicates how much ageing and damage have occurred inside the body over the course of one’s lifetime, which is usually indicated by epigenetic markers. It is believed that disruptions in the epigenome drive the ageing process.
Another reason for the differentiation between chronological age vs. biological age is due to the fact that many populations of people tend to age differently. It is not uncommon to see two people with the same chronological age but who could also have vastly different biological ages. There are many markers of biological age, including DNA methylation, assessment of telomeres, the epigenome and other factors which configure into a kind of epigenetic clock.
Born on the same day, these mice have aged differently, with the right one showing accelerated biological age. Scientists have discovered how to accelerate or reverse biological ageing in mice through a partial genetic reprgramming. Photo from veritasium.
Scientists have also figured out how to reverse biological ageing in mice through the doxycycline induced TET ON and OFF system in which turning off mutations restored vision in mice and also reversed skin wrinkling and hair loss.
This partial genetic reset allows cells to revert back to a younger version of itself without losing cell identity. Pluripotent cells can be considered a type of “ageless, immortal” cells, usually called stem cells that can be turned into any type of cell, which are the embryonic stem cells that are passed on through X-inactivation during pregnancy to the unborn child as it develops inside the womb, but through partial genetic reset using doxycycline induced TET ON and OFF system, any cell in the body can be reset without losing its cell identity. Through a partial genetic reprogramming, cells revert back to an earlier version that have youthful epigenetic markers.
Recently at the Babraham Institute in the UK, researchers were able to reverse the ageing of human skin cells by 30 years. This was achieved through partial genetic reprogramming, enhancing the function of older cells, and renewing biological age.
The film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Dir: David Fincher, 2009) showcases a man played by Brad Pitt ageing backwards. Through a doxycycline induced TET ON and OFF system, genes can be switched on and off, and be partially reset in order to biologically age an organism (and potentially a human) either backwards or forwards. Movie poster from Paramount Pictures
The Longevity Economy
It has been projected that the 50+ age group will account for 38% of global employment by 2050. Currently, people over age of 50 are responsible for more than half of consumer spending in the United States, and in the UK, ⅓ of the population is 50+ despite only 5-10% of marketing budgets are targeted towards this dominant age group. It is inevitable that as the shift in demographic continues to favour 50+ people, that marketing budgets will also reflect this change, hence affecting the way we perceive age in the media.
Ageism is a pervasive problem, most likely due to its societal norm regarding its treatment. However, the National Poll on Healthy Aging found that 82 percent of older adults reported experiencing ageism quite frequently, including being exposed to ageist messages and jokes suggesting older adults were unattractive and undesirable. Women experienced more ageism than men despite that older adults’ attitudes toward ageing were positive and 88 percent reported feeling more comfortable with themselves as they got older.
A significant portion of ageist beliefs can come from repeated messages in the media, especially in marketing where getting older is being portrayed as less attractive, rather than being worldly, experienced and sophisticated. These trends however change, as demographics shift. If we consider previous eras, being older was considered something of a privilege that hinted at refinement, elegance and intelligence.
In the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film Rebecca, the young ingenue Joan Fontaine tells Maxim de Winter (played by Laurence Olivier) that she wishes she were older in her 40s, sophisticated and well-travelled so that he might love her. Still from movie.
Plutarch writes of Cleopatra VII that when she had met Julius Caesar, she was “just a girl (of 21 years old) and inexperienced in affairs, but as she was going to visit Mark Antony, it was at a time when women have the most brilliant beauty and at the acme of intellectual power”. From Plutarch, Parallel Lives, The Life of Mark Antony. Statue of Mark Antony as Osiris at the Vatican Museum.
The contemporary notion that one peaks at 20 and life goes downhill at 40 might be due to the contemporary machinations of media, mass marketing and the domination of the pharmaceutical industries in our post-industrial era, in which every kind of drug is sold to people to tell them what is wrong with them.
As move towards 2030, a shift in media from a teen-centric focus on the marketing of goods, products and entertainment towards the integration of an older class of people who have become the dominant demographic around the world will most likely be certain.
In addition, as advances in medicine and technology continue to accelerate, ageism might become a thing of the past as we move from the limiting notions of a past era in which chronological age was often the focus, and instead pivot towards the dawning of a new biological age.
By Sierra Choi