By now you may have read that Jane Fonda is on the cover of this month’s British Vogue, in celebration of ‘Ageless Style’. According to Edward Enniful, ‘we should celebrate women over 50’, hence the publication of the ‘Non-Issue’.
Under the helm of Vogue’s former editor, Alexandra Shulman, there was an annual ‘Ageless Style’ issue. Since taking over the reins, Enniful seems to have moved away from this, and this is the first publication under his leadership to really address age and the discrimination that exists in Fashion.
For a woman over 50, let alone in her 80s, to be on the cover of Vogue is something to be applauded. Personally I am a huge fan of Jane Fonda, and it is refreshing to see someone like her being celebrated by Vogue. So there is something extremely encouraging about this issue. That said, is it really as progressive as it appears?
Let’s break it down.
Jane Fonda as the cover star
I have always admired Jane Fonda, her activism and her style. And I urge anyone who hasn’t seen it yet to watch her Netflix comedy Grace & Frankie; it is an exceptional depiction of today’s modern older woman, relationships, and critique of the ageist attitudes still entrenched in society (one scene in particular that stands out is when Grace & Frankie have developed an empowering vibrator for older women, and their PR company presents them with a ridiculously photoshopped campaign featuring the two of them).
However, whenever Fonda’s name comes up in the media, I see a lot of criticism regarding her use of cosmetic surgery, claiming she is a poor representation of embracing age. So is she the wrong cover star for this issue?
In my opinion, no. Ending ageism is about choice, and I support any woman’s decision to have botox or surgery if she decides it is the right decision for her. Now you might argue that Fonda doesn’t fall into this category; she has been vocal about the pressure she has felt to remain youthful in Hollywood. However, for me, her openness regarding the topic is what makes her a great spokeswoman for ageing; she has personally experienced ageism, acknowledged the impact it has had on her, and is now speaking out against it. To me, that gives her more credibility.
I also love that Fonda’s lines are visible, both on her face and her body. She may have been slightly retouched (as anyone would be), but her age is clearly visible.
It is a supplement
This is where I become less impressed. Despite the headlines, the feature is a supplement. So it is not what one will see on the newsstands.
The cover star of any magazine is integral to its success; it’s what grabs attention and ultimately sells the magazine. So what could have been a bold move, becomes less impressive given Vogue are not relying on Fonda to sell the latest issue.
The actual magazine’s cover star is Kate Moss. Now, at 45, you could still argue this is progressive. However, I find it less ground-breaking given Moss is a veteran British Vogue cover star. So, to me, it feels like a safe choice.
Moreover, the actual core magazine does little to celebrate age. There is a feature focusing on 70+ artists, and an interview with BBC News presenter Fiona Bruce, but other than that it features the same old young models and advertising.
What is interesting, though, is how the supplement is gaining more press attention than the magazine itself – which is seemingly being fuelled by Vogue’s own PR. So perhaps this was a way for Vogue to dip its toe into the water, and its overall success will encourage them to fully commit in future to featuring older women on its cover and pages?
It’s in partnership with L’Oréal
This is also where I struggle to fully applaud the issue. Essentially it is an advertorial for L’Oreal which, to me, undermines its progressiveness.
I’m often asked why we are starting to see more age inclusivity in Fashion and, whilst I wish it wasn’t the case, I do believe it is mostly commercially lead. The Fashion and Beauty industries are cottoning on to the spending power of the older market, and are increasingly wanting to get a slice. And this advertorial further verifies this. As a result, it feels somewhat inauthentic.
What I do really like about the issue is that it is called ‘The Non-Issue’. It directly states that age should not be a hinderance when it comes to fashion and style, and I support that sentiment.
What’s more, it doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the level of ageism that still exists.
The magazine reads:
"Welcome to a better future
Inside these pages is a vision shared by British Vogue and L'Oreal Paris.
A belief that age should no longer be an issue.
In 2019, women over 50 remain conspicuous in their absence in the beauty and fashion, and the wider media landscape.
Age discrimination still exists, consciously and unconsciously, leaving many women feeling excluded and invisible.
It is something that will have a negative impact on us all.
Which is why now is the time to challenge stereotypes and positively shape our perception of age, encouraging a future where we can look forward to growing older.
From this page onward, from the words that you read to the images that you see, age is a non-issue..."
This is really encouraging and I’m impressed by Vogue and L’Oreal’s vision.
The only language I am less sure of is the quote by Fonda on the cover “It takes a long time to become young.” I understand the sentiment behind it, but it still implies that youth is to be desired. Whereas, instead, we should be promoting a positive attitude towards ageing and embracing it.
There are some great interviews in the magazine, with women of many ages over 50, including news anchor Christiane Amanpour and co-housing pioneer Jude Tisdall. A couple of years ago, I wrote about Vogue’s ‘Ageless Style’ issue, and highlighted that there was only a handful of women over 50 actually featured. This time, every woman in it is over 50.
There’s also some good, non-patronising, tips on shopping online, beauty ideas, and a beautifully artistic editorial feature. And I like the empowering quotes featured on several of the pages.
As to the fashion – well there isn’t a huge amount, primarily because it focuses on beauty due to it being in partnership with L’Oreal. There are a few pages on timeless style, and the pieces are chic and sophisticated. However the pieces are still very classic, in muted tones, and I would have liked to have seen some more fashion-forward pieces, that are playful and colourful, and inspire women to have fun with style.
Should there even be a publication that only focuses on women over 50?
One could argue that it's wrong for an issue to be dedicated specifically to women over 50; why can’t the core magazine just feature women of all ages, treating it as the norm? I completely agree, and as someone on social media acutely noted, there havn’t been other issues dedicated to other diversity problems such as race and sexual orientation. And last year Enniful presented his vision for diversity, and age wasn’t mentioned, so why single it out now?
However, whilst in an ideal world women of all ages would be in Vogue without question, I do concede that sometimes issues need to be directly called out and focused on first in order to gain attention, leading to real change. So, rather than it being a case of Vogue ticking a box, hopefully now, given the widespread publicity it is receiving, the publication will remain committed to its vision and start to integrate it into its magazine.
So what’s the overall conclusion?
I think there is a lot to praise here. From its cover star, to its vision and its contents, I appreciate that Vogue has called out ageism and taken a step towards a more inclusive magazine.
Do I wish it wasn’t a supplement? Yes. Do I think its authenticity is undermined by the fact its an advertorial? Yes. But whilst this may be disappointing, and there are several other aspects that can be improved, it is still a step forward. And if it is a way for Vogue to test the interest in celebrating 50+ women, then we should support it, so that hopefully Vogue feels more comfortable featuring older women in its issues in the future.
I do think it’s important for us to continue to critique and assess the steps, and query the motivations behind them, but overall we shouldn’t be so negative as to discourage progress. We should give credit where it is due, whilst offering constructive criticism on how it can be even better.
So well done Vogue; this is certainly a move in the right direction.
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