According to society, youth is beauty.
It is a recycled set-up as old as time: the protagonist is a young maiden with rosy cheeks and a blemish-free face while the villain is a hunchbacked, cackling witch. The question is: why? What makes this overused trope so popular in our culture’s narratives? The answer to that question could lie in the long history of ageism.
Ageism can best be described as the practice of showing prejudice toward someone due to their age. While underrepresented in the media, ageism is important to address. The idea that aging is a terrible thing that must be hidden is very harmful for women of any age, as it steers women to comply to a single standard for beauty. While guilty of many crimes, ageism truly rears its ugly head in the workplace, whether it be Hollywood or an average office.
Jamie Denbo, who plays Ginsberg in the hit show “Orange Is The New Black,” auditioned for an unnamed project last year. She was rejected. Appalled, she Tweeted, “I was just informed that at the age of 43, I am TOO OLD to play the wife of a 57-year-old.”
Carrie Fisher, best known for her iconic role as Princess Leia, began the Star Wars franchise at age 19. Fanboys of the film lusted after her in the 70s and 80s. However, as she got older and dared to look her age, the actress noticed her treatment by fans shifting. Many people began intense debates on whether or not she aged well, as if she were merely an object to be judged. Fisher told the Wall Street Journal, “I swear when I was shooting those films I never realized I was signing an invisible contract to stay looking the exact same way for the rest of my existence.”
While Hollywood does have its fair share of ageism towards women, the film business is not the only place this can be found. In the Washington Post article “Why Age Discrimination is Worse for Women,” Lydia DePillis reports on a study by David Neumark and Ian Burn of the University of California at Irvine and Patrick Button of Tulane University. The team sent out 40,000 fake résumés that reflected the experience of fictional 42- to 51-year-olds. When they zoomed in on a sample of female applicants, they discovered that “those age 49 to 51 got 29 percent fewer callbacks than applicants age 29 to 31, and workers age 64 to 66 got 47 percent fewer callbacks.” In other words, older women in the workplace are less likely to get jobs just because of their age, no matter their qualifications.
It is therefore no surprise that even young women are apprehensive of aging. “I don’t think anyone wants to be that old because of the idea that your life is over,” said Malia Setalsingh, sophomore at Boston Collegiate Charter School. “I feel like all old people look like raisins.”
What we need now is acceptance. It is ridiculous that something so trivial can allow someone to be excluded. However, some women choose to see getting older in a positive light. One such woman is the Deputy Director & Chief Academic Officer of WriteBoston, 36-year-old Jessie Gerson. “When I was younger, I worried about getting older, but as it turns out, it feels like life just gets better,” Gerson said. “I enjoy feeling a clearer sense of purpose professionally as I get older.”
Blyss Swan, sophomore at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, has a similar outlook. “Growing old is a part of life, and you’re lucky to live that long,” she said. “So what’s the point of stressing about something inevitable?”
Many people think growing older is an adventurous experience, while others think it can be terrifying. Both groups of people are right! Middle aged to elderly women have adventures, along with struggles. They are human beings and should not have to go through the biased profiling they do today throughout the workplace, Hollywood or not. The concept of ageism is ridiculous enough as it is. There is no reason it should impact women’s careers.