Ageism and Fashion

After discussing the issues of ageism that Butler brings to light through Shori’s relationship through Theodora, I began to think more about the connotation that older women have in our society.  This reminded me of a piece that I wrote for Syracuse University Project Advance (SUPA) while in high school, in which a blog brings and binds together women of the senior set through their passions that are often overlooked due to their age.  The blog, Advanced Style (http://www.advanced.style) helps create a platform and discourse in which older women have a comfortable environment to express themselves without limits on their age.  I figured I would share my paper on this blog, as to give some insight and thought into our society’s concept of fashion and aging.  Please keep in mind that this was a piece written in high school that I have not touched since. 

 

The Style of Aging

While viewing billboards, magazines or any form of media advertising style, one may realize that the majority of models are young people, usually within their twenties.  This leads people to the assumption that style and youth go hand in hand.  This assumption is exactly what producer and creator, Ari Seth Cohen defies in his blog, Advanced Style.  For this blog Cohen photographs women of the ages of fifty or older with exceptional style to show the “fashion and wisdom of the senior set” (Biography, 2015).  Cohen does this to show women that aging can be a wonderful thing, despite stereotypes or unrealistic ideas of beauty, and how getting older should not hinder a person from dressing up and doing what they love.  Ari Cohen’s blog and project became a documentary as well as a book.  This discourse community that Ari Cohen, these elderly women and his blog followers created, promotes standing against ageism while allowing viewers to realize that age cannot slow down passion and beauty.  Doing what one loves can never be slowed down by age, status or the opinions of others.

Ari Seth Cohen’s grandmother’s inspired him to start this blog.  Growing up Cohen deemed his grandmothers as his best friends and “noticed a lack of older people in fashion campaigns and street style sites” (Biography, 2015).  Additionally, Ari Cohen states in an interview with The New York Times Style Magazine that, “‘My eyes have always been drawn to older people,” said Cohen, 28. “And from a style point of view, I find them more interesting because they are of an age where they don’t have to impress anyone and can wear what they want.’” (Silva, 2010).  Cohen’s grandmother told him that if he wanted to be creative he should move to New York City, which is just what he did.  In New York his inspiration for the blog began. Out of passion to take a stand against society’s mistreatment of older people, he began to speak at conferences about abuse of the elderly and began to devout his work towards elderly people by photographing their style to prove their importance and attempt to restore their confidence (Biography, 2015).

Interior designer and fashion icon, Iris Apfel states in Cohen’s documentary that, “The average woman is so beaten down and indoctrinated and besieged everywhere she looks, there are pictures of sweet, young things, wearing these gorgeous clothes and all this makeup and everything else.  Now how can you possibly look like that?” (Cohen & Plioplyte, 2014). Advanced Style goes against the stereotype of what it means to be beautiful and stylish by featuring older women in the blog, which ultimately opposes the prevailing fashion system.  In a society where elderly people are often underappreciated and ageism is everywhere, this blog gives them the perfect opportunity to show off their style and who they really are.  Many of these featured women describe themselves as “artists” and are boutique owners, style icons, performers, former models or just have a passion for style, often taking years to put together a single outfit.  Ari Seth Cohen shows how style is about “personal creativity” and how recognition of that creativity promotes self-confidence.  A “stylish” woman interviewed for Cohen’s documentary stated that, “Style improves the environment for everyone” (Cohen, & Plioplyte, 2014).  Style improving the environment for everyone can be seen through the women in Cohen’s documentary, when dressing up allows them to feel confident and happy, ultimately their happiness rubs off on others, improving the environment.  This allows people to see aging in a glamorous way rather than a dreading the day they start to show signs of aging.

            In today’s society people, specifically women, often view aging as the worst thing that could happen to their bodies.  We are surrounded by the commercialization of things such as anti-aging moisturizers, makeup or Botox. Many times I have heard my own mother ask me if she should color her hair because there are “too many greys” or if she “looks older” than her actual age.  We grow up thinking that growing old is a crime, yet it is the most natural thing to happen to our minds and bodies.  Because of this, people belittle the elderly generation by thinking that they are less than those of youth.  An elderly woman in Cohen’s documentary discusses how at her age she found it incredibly hard to get even a small part-time job after being retired.  She states how she applied for a hostess job at a restaurant and was turned down, while someone younger than her was given the job, despite h being more qualified (Cohen, & Plioplyte, 2014).  The elderly are treated with disrespect from younger generations, which is disgustingly ironic seeing as that the elderly are the reason younger generations exist.  Ari Seth Cohen promotes standing against this by showing the beauty and importance within elderly people.

The feministic viewpoints of producer and women’s rights activist, Jean Kilbourne correlates with the purpose of Cohen’s blog.  In Jean Kilbourne’s analytical documentary, Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women, she discusses the impact that advertising has on women, specifically on how they view themselves. In this documentary, Kilbourne states that “Advertising tells us that the most important thing about women is how they look” (Kilbourne, 2010).  Advertising surrounds us with this concept of “ideal female beauty,” forcing girls from an early age to believe that they need to achieve perfection, making us feel ashamed when we, inevitably, do not meet these criteria.  Constantly surrounded by billboards of unrealistic ideas of perfection, we live in a world where one never sees an ad of a women considered beautiful who has not been photo shopped.  Because of this, women believe that they need to live up to this standard.  For example, there has been a dramatic increase in cosmetic surgeries in the past years; of these surgeries 91% were within women.  From 1997 to 2007 these procedures rose 754% in Botox and laser treatments (Kilbourne, 2010).  Women are constantly put under the pressure of society to look young, thin and flawless; all unrealistic beauty goals.  Women and girls feel this way due to ads constantly promoting this unrealistic beauty standard, they are brought up believing that they are judged on looks alone.  Jean Kilbourne states that, “the fear of aging starts early” and one specific ad she shows in her documentary reads, “Who knew that by age 15 your skin had already retired?” (Kilbourne, 2010).  Because of this obsession with youth, women are made to feel that being young and childlike is sexy.  Models often dress like children or are photo shopped to look like young girls.  Not only does this promote sexualizing children, but also makes elderly people feel terrible about themselves and their bodies, furthering the disappointment that comes with aging (Kilbourne, 2010).  Kilbourne contributes to the overall discourse community of feminism and anti-ageism by educating people about the way ads affect society.

Ari Cohen’s blog improves not only the confidence, but also the overall feeling individuals have about aging and has set the inspiration for viewers to feel the same way.  On February 6th, 2013 Susan Drysdal commented on the Advanced Style blog and said, “I am so glad I found you and I will get your book.  I’m doing a plus size blog for women over fifty called stylingwithsusieblog.com.  It’s so nice to find others who believe you can be stylish at any age” (Cohen).  This blog has also inspired younger generations and how they look at the idea of beauty.  On February 12th, 2013, an anonymous person commented “Dear Ari.  I love your blog.   It is incredibly freeing to finally see inspiring, interesting, intelligent women wearing beautiful fashion.  Although I am only 23 years old myself, I find much more inspiration in these ladies than any of the style icons I find whenever looking for inspiration elsewhere.  Ilona might be my favorite, but all of these women are such inspirations.  All of you make me look forward to next many, many years.  Thank you!” (Cohen).  It is amazing what a single photograph can change.  This blog, or movement, is so important today because in a society with a false sense of “beauty,” it makes a difference being able to see elderly models that feel happy, confident and beautiful in their own skin.  Within this discourse community people are responding to these photographs and documentary about their inspiration and their views on ageism.  The conversation amongst this blog is growing by gaining more comments each day and promotes the importance of feeling positive while aging.

This blog began to grow in popularity as more people began to recognize and support it.  The New York Times Style Magazine published an online article about Cohen’s blog with the title “Respect Your Elders” (Silva, 2010).  The article, “Respect Your Elders,” discusses how Ari Cohen, “chronicles the stylish and often eccentric get-ups of a crowd that’s largely ignored by the fashion system” (Silva, 2010).  This article got positive feedback through comments.  For example Veronica Morales commented, “It was wonderful to find this interesting story.  Older people have much to say through their clothing as they are the living history of their country.  Many greetings and congratulations on your great publication,” and Jplesko commented, “I want to be like them when I grow up” (Silva, 2010).  These comments prove the positive impact that confidence and attention to the elderly can have on all people.  The New York Times Style Magazine published an additional online article about Cohen’s blog entitled “Fashion Grows Up” (Currie, 2008).  This article promotes the blog by discussing what the blog does and projects or fashion shows Ari Cohen has worked on.  Additionally, this discusses how people all over the world are hearing about it, increasing the Advanced Style discourse community.

For many of the women in Cohen’s documentary, age has not taken over or influenced their sense of fashion. They find it important to dress in what makes them feel beautiful and flatters their bodies. An elderly woman of Cohen’s blog stated, “When one becomes older, one has learned to accept one’s self” (Cohen, & Plioplyte, 2014).  Many of these featured women continue making art, performing, singing, dancing, doing yoga, working out and making clothes at ages of seventy or older.  Many believe it is important to express gratitude because, “When you see the end is close, you want to be grateful for everything you can do” (Cohen, & Plioplyte, 2014).  These iconic women also remain inspirations for younger generations such as granddaughters or shoppers in their boutiques who look towards them as style icons.  One woman in Cohen’s documentary collected designer handbags that she would pass down to her granddaughter. This set inspiration for her granddaughter to love fashion as well and look up to her grandmother. She stated how when she tells her friends about her grandmother they all think she is “cool” and “fashionable.”

Additionally, the women featured in Ari Cohen’s documentary have an aura of independence.  Many grew old without a husband and still extremely happy doing what they love.  Many of these women embrace their age and beauty by still dating and expressing a hopeful attitude about relationships and marriage in the future despite their age. A woman at the age of seventy interviewed in Cohen’s documentary discusses how she never got married or had kids, but still hopes to someday. She realizes the impossibility of having children so she hopes to “find and marry a man who already has children” (Cohen, & Plioplyte, 2014).  Some of the elderly women who are married or even if they lost a husband focus on their work and style to make them happy. Cohen filmed a woman who had lost a husband. This woman discussed how she “misses him,” but it is important that she focus on herself by doing what makes her happy and not dwell over her loss (Cohen, & Plioplyte, 2014).  The featured women are free-spirited and put themselves before the idea of a man.  A women in the documentary stated how men are often afraid of a free-spirited, stylish woman and how she often catches herself thinking, “What would a man think of this outfit?” without letting it stop her from expressing her style (Cohen, & Plioplyte, 2014).  This documentary not only shows the acceptance of aging, but also the importance of self-acceptance and knowing self-worth.  This teaches people to dress for themselves because one’s own opinion is of greater value than that of others. Furthermore, this shows the value of women as a whole and teaches them the importance of independence and self-love.

Ari Cohen’s blog, Advanced Style brings together a discourse community of people who all support Cohen’s attempt to put an end to ageism by showing the value within the elderly through photographing their style.  This blog sends such an important message to its viewers about the true definition of beauty.  Cohen proves that beauty stems from confidence and self-love, furthering that one can be beautiful and stylish at any age.  Age should never stop one from doing something, especially having confidence.  Ari Cohen sends the message that the time has come to appreciate the elderly and learn from their style.

References

Biography (2015). Ari Seth Cohen. Retrieved on October 15, 2015 from

http://www.businessoffashion.com/community/people/ari-seth-cohen

Cohen, A. (Producer), & Plioplyte, L. (Director). (2014). Advanced style. [Motion Picture].

United States

Cohen, A.  (n.d.).  Advanced style.  [Web log comment].  Retrieved from

http://advancedstyle.blogspot.com/

Currie, N.  (2008).  The post- materialist | fashion grows up.  T Magazine.  Retrieved on October

15, 2015 from http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/19/the-post-materialist-fashion-grows-up/

Kilbourne, J.  (Producer & Director).  (2010).  Killing us softly 4: advertising’s image of women

[Motion Picture].  United States: Media Education Foundation.

Silva, H.  (2010).  Respect your elders.  T Magazine.  Retrieved on October 15, 2015 from

http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/12/respect-your-elders/#sthash.7hloQ8Kp.dpuf

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *