Aging, sex and the mainstream media

I have a bee in my bonnet again. It is about aging. Again. It isn’t that I am fighting it. On the contrary, I would like to grow old gracefully, but aging with grace shouldn’t come at the expense of other things. I should be able to be gracefully old and sexy. I should be able to have experience and wisdom on my side and still be seen as attractive. When I have mooted these sorts of thoughts on here before, the response is always one which is encouraging about age and sexiness. And thank you very much for that.

But out there, things are very different. Out there in the world of mainstream media, I don’t see examples of women like me. And by like me, I am talking about middle-aged women (and above) who are pictured in a sexy way, or at the very least, as still being attractive despite our greying hair and failing bodies. Because, of course, we are well represented in things associated with a more mature age: think tena pads, hair dye and anti-ageing creams. But never lingerie, or fitness clothing or something else. We are simply not role models that anyone would aspire to being like in those areas.

But what about Helen Mirren, I hear you cry? Of course, Dame Helen is generally accepted as someone who has aged with grace whilst retaining her sex appeal and I would agree that she is a very attractive woman. She is, however, deemed attractive because she looks younger than she really is. And also because her figure is slight and it doesn’t show the same signs of aging and the dreaded middle aged spread that many of the women her age would do. I am not knocking Helen’s attractiveness at all, but I am saying she has not aged in the way which would be expected.

A study by Allure magazine showed that, on average, if respondents could pick an age to be, it would be 31. When asked when a woman is most beautiful, men believe female beauty peaks at 29, while women give themselves a few more years, answering, on average, 31. According to their respondents (male and female), women are considered most beautiful and seductive at 30, show signs of ageing at 41, stop looking ‘sexy’ at 53 and are thought of as ‘old’ at 55. Oh dear. There is little hope left for me!

I think that it is really hard for people to have a view of themselves as attractive when they are so under-represented in contexts where they could be shown in an attractive way. In every walk of life, sexiness is linked with youth. I look around and there is a dearth of older fashion models, and yet older women buy clothes. Recently when looking for gym-wear, I was pleased to notice that the site had bodies of all different shapes and sizes. It was refreshing to see the clothes advertised on curvier, fuller bodies, but there wasn’t a model who looked over 25.

I get it: it isn’t only the skinny women with perfect bodies who head to the gym, but it isn’t only those under 30 either. Even in the yoga section the story was the same and it becomes tiring when the narrative is unchanging. I have made no secret of the issues I have with body image and I have also wrestled with the signs of aging, but part of this is down to the unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves. Because we don’t see ourselves reflected in mainstream media, our ideas of attractiveness remain unchanged.

The push to reverse the signs of aging, or at the very least to hide or cover them up is unhealthy. A while back I wrote to some of the sex toy shops who also hold lingerie and offered to review some of their products. I did explain my reasoning: their lingerie can be worn by and look good on women of all ages with real bodies and not just the youthful glamour models they usually use. Of all the companies I wrote to, Bondara was the only one to take me up on my offer. Despite my efforts I have only ever done one review of lingerie and many more of sex toys.

What is the message there? Are sex toy retailers more open-minded, more inclusive? Or do they just have a history of working with bloggers? In most of the relationships I know of, dressing up and making an effort to look sexy for our partner is as big a thing as finding toys which add to our play and sexual excitement. In fact, many of us would happily spend more on the former, rather than the latter. It becomes tiring and I really don’t think it helps us to feel good about ourselves when the comparisons and ideals we are presented with are so far from our own reality.

So yes. I do have a bee in my bonnet for sure. And it is buzzing around, getting more and more frustrated. My search for gym wear may have triggered it this time, but it is something that rolls around and is continually fed with new examples. On this occasion I went looking for leggings which were cut in a way which wouldn’t leave a camel toe; something that HL actually likes but not something I particularly want to sport on my morning dog walk! And I have to say that I purchased the clothing despite my annoyance at the way things are, vowing to rock my gymwear and show it could look good on a body like mine.

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  1. You are quite right, Missy, nowhere you see ‘us’ in media. I tend not even to look at advertising anymore, because it’s mostly younger models, or older ones with near-perfect bodies. I just go my own way, buy the clothes I like and feel either sexy or comfortable in, depending the occasion. But still there should be more for us to recognize in the media than there currently is, and 55 shouldn’t be seen as old anymore…
    ~ Marie xox

  2. Great post Missy and I think you are right to question the way society reacts to women over 50 but I have to say that not every one – male or female thinks that “only the skinny women have perfect bodies” – So many prefer a fuller or more feminine figure.
    I really do tend to steer clear of media in general, so am not bombarded with unrealistic images of perfection. But a few things did pop up recommended by “pocket” for me to look at…

    The images in this are beautiful – take a look

    And this one is apparently a famous actress who is in some big super hero type role as a menopausal woman – but i couldn’t find that one, so here she is talking about the menopause

    I think that the lockdowns have actually given older women more freedom to let their hair grow out or wear the leisurely clothes we want to… And as far as you are concerned, you are in great shape
    Take care my friend
    May xx

  3. A lot of the trouble with advertising is that it portrays what we aspire to look like, rather than who it is really for. You’re right that it should be more inclusive and I think that’s every reason for you to buck the trend and show how sexy you are, age not a factor. And that’s only slightly because I would like to see you in tight fitting clothes. Or make a lingerie portfolio to prove that sexiness lasts 😊

  4. If a lady of a certain age is beginning to feel older, then she simply needs to buy a bigger strap on! heh,heh, enjoyed reading this Missy, so you must be still sexy 🙂

  5. I think the explanation is very simple. This is a business process. All manufacturers of anything, including clothing, need sales (and preferably at an increasing pace). To increase sales, you need to advertise a product. There is no doubt that any outfit always looks better on a young attractive model. Who wants to voluntarily bother to attract older ladies, risking advertising budgets. Here is the answer.

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