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Jakarta Post

View point: Anti-ageing or pro-ageing: '€˜Gadis Sunsilk'€™, Madonna to Jane Fonda

  • Julia Suryakusuma

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, January 13, 2016   /  04:57 pm

Do you notice that shampoo ads in Indonesia usually feature a teenage girl with long, flowing, silky hair moving in slow motion? I call it the gadis Sunsilk phenomenon. For as long as I can remember, this manner of advertising shampoo has not changed up to now.

This is weird, considering that the use of shampoo is hardly limited to teenage girls. And most likely it'€™s their mothers who buy the shampoo anyway. So how come I have rarely seen a shampoo ad featuring an older woman?

If advertisers think that thick, long, flowing hair is de rigueur for shampoo ads, there do exist older women with thick, long, flowing hair. Me for example, ehem. Hmm, why hasn'€™t anyone offered me a contract for a shampoo ad? It could sure help supplement my income as a writer!

Alex B., 58, is a woman I know, who could certainly be a shampoo model. She has the most stunning waist-length silvery-grey hair I have ever seen. She'€™s a scholar and researcher as well as a mature model. And beautiful, of course. Her hair is obviously her personal signature, which she uses very much to her advantage in her modeling gigs.

Alex is one of the models represented by Grey, a model agency founded by Rebecca Valentine, and is the only one in the UK that specializes in representing mature models aged 35+ for catwalk, advertising, print and TV. Their catchwords are elegant, eccentric, confident, stylish and determined. They say they'€™re on a mission to make grey the new cool and are '€œset to change the public'€™s perception of beauty, fashion and lifestyle by bringing out of the closet the invisible grey population to place them back where they belong: At the forefront of style, knowledge and experience'€.

I'€™m all for that! Yaaay for Grey!

The emergence of Grey Model Agency is very timely, appearing smack bang in the middle of a longevity revolution that has probably not been noticed as much as the revolutions in science, health, technology and communications.

The world is experiencing an unprecedented increase in average life expectancy and population aging. In the 20th century, the industrialized world gained 34 additional years of life.

This is a quantum leap: never before did this happen during the preceding 5,000 years of human history. The number of people over the age of 60 is expected to increase to 2 billion by 2050, from about 600
million in 2000.

Sure, there have always been octogenarians, nonagenarians, centenarians and even supercentarians (110 plus), but what was once the experience of a few is now becoming the destiny of many.

So why has the advertising world been so slow in catching up on this reality?

Well, there are a number of reasons. It'€™s because the people creating the ads '€” the writers and art directors '€” tend to be young, in their late 20s to early 30s.

For the past 40 years the advertising industry in general has worshipped at the altar of youth. This is of course a reflection of societal values at large, even in Eastern societies like Indonesia, which traditionally venerate the old for their wisdom and experience. But now with the changing demography, it'€™s not just wisdom and experience; those aged 50 plus are also the ones who have the most disposable incomes.

There have been exceptions to this youth-centered approach in the advertising world, for example the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty in 2007. Featuring four non-professional models '€” women in their 50s and 60s from Chicago, London and Berlin '€” the ad proclaimed they were not anti-, but pro-aging. The online ad still runs using these women '€” totally nude '€” with the voiceover: '€œNew Dove Pro-Age. Beauty has no age limit'€.

How true. It'€™s just about the social construction of age and beauty, isn'€™t it? The other side of a youth-centered culture is of course ageism which exists not just in advertising, but in show biz, the world of work, and the political arena, as Hillary Rodham Clinton, 69, knows only too well.

Good thing that there are cultural icons like Madonna, 57, who persistently defies the stereotype and age taboo, as she has defied other taboos in the past.

Then of course there'€™s the amazing multi-talented actress, activist, fitness-guru Jane Fonda, who, at 78, looks better than women half her age. Sure, she'€™s admitted openly to plastic surgery, but hey, why not?

But more than her physical youthfulness is the philosophy of aging that she espouses for her last three decades in life, or what she calls '€œThe Third Act'€ which '€œis actually a developmental stage of life with its own significance '€” as different from midlife as adolescence is from childhood.'€

Instead of using the usual curve of being born, peaking in midlife and declining into decrepitude, Fonda prefers to use the metaphor of the staircase, '€œthe upward ascension of the human spirit, bringing us into wisdom, wholeness and authenticity. Age not as pathology, but age as potential'€.

There are many other women who I have found immensely inspiring, e.g. Diane Niad, who swam from Cuba to Florida when she was 64; Ernestine Shepard, 74-year-old body builder who started when she was 57; Olive Riley, 102, the world'€™s oldest blogger, Frieda Lefeber, who celebrated her first gallery show at age 100.

In Indonesia two of my heroes are Ibu Herawaty Diah, 98, one of Indonesia'€™s first female journalists, and my former professor Saparinah Sadli, 89, whose minds are still as sharp as ever.

Are corporations and governments capable of adapting to the longevity revolution and the adage: Age, increasingly irrelevant; ageing, increasingly meaningful?

Whether they like it or not, older people are here to stay. With the right policies and services, rather than being seen as a burden, an aging population can be seen as an opportunity, rather than a liability to society.

Maybe Grey can open a branch agency in Indonesia and kickstart the movement here!

The writer is the author of Sex, Power and Nation.

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