It's no secret that women's value in society is still so heavily based on beauty and youthfulness.
HBO / Via giphy.com
Just this year, a man on Twitter declared that Emilia Clarke "hit the wall" because she had crow's feet under her eyes, a very normal part of aging. On TikTok, AI-beauty filters, like the so-called "Bold Glamour" filter, show us just how easy it is to manipulate our bodies, warping the perception of aging on an app where the majority of users are Gen Z. And according to Statista, the global anti-aging market was worth a whopping $62.6 billion in 2021, and is only expected to rise.
It sometimes seems like we will never get a break from all the youth-obsessed lore, but in recent months, I've sensed a positive shift.
From Martha Stewart on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 81, to that viral April 2023 Vogue Philippines cover of Apo Whang-Od, a 106-year-old traditional Kalinga tattoo artist, to Pamela Anderson and Brooke Shields reclaiming their narratives as older women after years of exploitation from their youth, there's been a huge uptick in positive content around aging.
And I'm not alone in this observation — in a viral video by Julia Fox, which amassed 2.7 million views and 400,000 likes, she declared that "aging is fully in, like FULLY." She said, "If I see another product that says anti-aging on the label, I'm SUING. I'm going to sue because I'm going to age regardless of if I put the $500 serum on my face...let's stop lying to ourselves."
Julia Fox / Via tiktok.com
She argued that getting older is actually "the sexiest time in life" and that "being 'pretty' and 'hot' in your twenties is the fucking trenches." And commenters agreed. One wrote, "Trenches. Perfect word for it. The amount of TIME I spent in unpaid labor trying to look pretty would amount to years."
And while I love Julia Fox ranting on the Internet about the ridiculousness of the anti-aging industry, or Jennifer Coolidge showing that she can make big wins in an industry notorious for shunning women after they develop a single wrinkle, it's not just celebrities hopping on the pro-aging bandwagon.
On TikTok and on social media more broadly, a subset of creators have been going viral lately, sometimes called "Granfluencers" or "pro-aging" creators, though they're typically just creators over the age of 50.
One of the first "pro-aging" creators who came across my For You page was Ting Ma, who uses the handle @tingmystyle on TikTok and Instagram. At 52, she makes fashion, beauty, and fitness content that challenges stereotypes that women over 50 are "unhappy, unattractive, and frumpy." She told BuzzFeed, "These stereotypes are far from accurate...In reality, we are diverse and unique, with a wide range of experiences, interests, and lifestyles."
She added, "In our youth-obsessed culture we are urged to fight age. The standards of perfection are set so high...but is getting older really that fearful? A woman's face with wrinkles and gray hairs should be celebrated as much as a woman's face that looks 'flawless.' I want to show youth that aging is a beautiful and challenging journey. Gray hair and wrinkles indicate a full life I have lived and they show character and are distinguishing."
And in one of her viral videos rocking a trendy outfit near the Eiffel Tower, she says, "I don't dress cool to impress men. I dress so when a young girl passes me, she thinks being older is not a fearful thing, and women can have grey hair and wrinkles yet still look confident and be excited about growing older. To me, this is what a good influencer is all about."
I dress cool at 52 so when a young girl passes me she thinks being older is not a fearful thing. A woman can have wrinkles and gray hair yet still look confident and cool. To me this is what being a good influence is all about. #over50women #dresscool #growingold #proagingadvocate #wrinkles #grayhairdontcare @tingmystyle
♬ original sound - tingmystyle
@tingmystyle / Via tiktok.com
The video started a trend — Gym Tan, aka @californiaistoocasual to her TikTok and Instagram followers, overlaid Ting's voice on her own video celebrating herself at the age of 62, which now has over a million views.
Similar to Ting, Gym shows her active lifestyle and fashion expertise. She posts side-by-side clips wearing the same outfit as her 23-year-old daughter, proving that life doesn't stop for her just because she's 62. Decked out in brands like Skims, Aritizia, and Abercrombie, favorites among millennials and Gen Z, she writes that "style has no age."
Gym told BuzzFeed, "I never really thought of aging in a negative way...I came from a very professional family. When we were young, we were included in their conversation. I think that always made me look up to more mature people. I was always learning something every day. They were very passionate about the topics of conversation and I saw them all having so much fun. So I never actually had this thing of like, 'God, what's gonna happen when I get old?'"
Women often flood the comments to thank Ting and Gym for exposing them to the positive perspectives of aging. One told Gym, "Having role models like you makes me truly excited to age."
Not only are thousands advocating, following, and uplifting the messages older creators and celebrities are putting out, but luxury brands are now using "Granfluencers" in fashion and beauty campaigns to bolster sales. In China, Miu Miu debuted a collab with 85-year-old Chinese actress Wu Yanshu, sparking mass attention in the country.
And back in the US, Carla Rockmore, a 56-year-old fashion designer and influencer who TikTok fans and Vogue labeled the "Real-Life Carrie Bradshaw," blew up in the pandemic and has since collaborated with major labels like Saks Off Fifth, Revlon, and La Mer, and even launched her own jewelry and clothing capsule. Since her first video about dressing for a night out went viral in May 2021, which included tags like #overfiftyfashion and #overfiftywoman, she's amassed over one million TikTok followers.
It's inspirational for young people to see a thriving, stylish creator when the world sometimes assumes our value declines after 30, but it's also relatable content for older women, who want to see fashion influencers at their age.
And while all this evidence demonstrates an uptick in support for older women online, Carla is tired of hearing that older women are having a moment. Instead of viewing older women as a passing trend, she wants to see continued respect and recognition. While she told BuzzFeed that age has only expanded the opportunities presented to her and she never sees it as a restriction, she hopes more and more attention is paid to older influencers online.
To confirm if this is more than just a moment, I spoke to Susan Douglas, a feminist cultural critic and professor at the University of Michigan. She noted that this uptick of older women in the spotlight is not just a trend, but is part of a much larger phenomenon.
She told BuzzFeed, "There are more women over 50 now than at any time in history. So, this is our demographic's revolution. This is the same generation of women who pushed forward the women's movement and who said no to all kinds of constraints against education and employment and other opportunities."
But beyond the obvious positives, Douglas did issue a reality check: while the visibility of older women in media is inherently a good thing, women's interests don't lie just in fashion and beauty, and structural support is still needed. "There are tens of millions of older women in this country living alone or in poverty. Women get less social security than men. They have lower retirement savings than men. Many of them are living alone or they don't have support systems."
"On the one hand, there's a feminist element right now to see us out in the world, being visible, being respected, and even being followed on TikTok. On the other hand, there's a deep politicizing element to that at a time when, you know, so much is still in crisis."
More conversation about the support women need as they age is definitely needed. But I think we can all agree seeing people talking about, appreciating, and creating space for older women is definitely a step in the right direction. I am happy creators like Ting, Gym, and Carla are debunking myths about older women and proving that life doesn't stop just because of a number.
Netflix / Via giphy.com