Look Beyond the Stereotypes to See the True Face of Aging

by Maddie Tannenbaum

A lot of attention is paid to the expectations young people have thrust upon them in today’s society – how to act, how to dress, how to look. There have been numerous studies, articles, and think pieces done on the negative effects of this attention on the mind of a young person.

It’s no surprise that the insecurities of young women and men have been exploited by marketers to drive sales. But recently, we’re seeing a greater backlash against this. Many brands have taken a more uplifting tone and have begun embracing all shapes, sizes, colours, sexual orientations, and gender identities. While there are still many issues to overcome in this space, progress is being made.

Can we say the same progress is being made in marketing against our older counterparts? I’d argue – no. When they’re not being ignored completely by the mass media and advertisers, they’re largely being depicted as caricatures of what an “elderly woman” or “elderly man” is supposed to look like. They become one-dimensional and easily dismissed. We have one image of them in our minds: feeble, conservative, and weak. Someone who strays from this stereotype is often seen as breaking the mould, or an exception.

But who really is the exception and who represents the new norm of aging? With people living longer than ever and embracing active lifestyles well into their 80s, how can you possibly lump who we used to call “seniors” together? There are so many different kinds of people over the age of 55 that need to be understood, embraced and acknowledged. Only then can marketers engage them in a meaningful (and more successful) way. Just like the recent movement we’ve seen around embracing the diversity of the young person, this needs to start happening with the older counterparts of our society.

As a 20-something millennial woman I’m able to identify with many of the images I see in the media of women in my age cohort – which is probably something my mother or grandmother can’t say. They see the feeble old woman in the home healthcare commercial, or the lady smiling excessively in a drug commercial, attempting to live her best life.

The reality is people over 55, like any other age cohort, can be thriving, struggling, or simply just living. They might be starting new relationships, new careers, or new hobbies. They are humans – whole, complicated beings – and if you would like to truly understand them for marketing purposes (and you should – just look at the numbers), you better do so with variability in mind.

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