As women, there are so many societal expectations about our lives that don’t seem to take into account the fact that we’re all uniquely beautiful individuals. We’re “supposed” to achieve specific milestones of success by a certain time; we’re “supposed” to follow certain beauty rules dependent on our age; and, of course, we’re “supposed” to fight getting older tooth and nail. The truth of the matter is, however, women (and people of all genders) are beautiful at every age. That’s why Allure no longer uses the term “anti-aging,” because getting older is not something to fear, and aesthetic beauty is not just for those who are young.
In a video for RoC, Thandie Newton explains the problem with telling women they look great “for their age,” and describes how she helps people rewind and realize what they just said when they dole out such compliments. In it, she says, “If someone does say, ‘You look good for your age,’ I’ll say, ‘What does that mean?’ and then they’ll say, “You look good…’ and then it breaks down, and the person is left really questioning, ‘What did I just say?”
The thing is, women are constantly given these backhanded compliments, which might as well have big fat asterisks at the end of them. In fact, according to a study from RoC, 82 percent of women have been told they look “great for their age” in the past year alone, though most say they’d rather not be complimented at all than given one with such a qualifier. While the intention of such comments may be good, they’re actually loaded with the implicit bias that being younger is better and that the recipient’s best years are behind her. In reality, a true compliment would sound like this: “You look great.” Period. RoC and Allure have teamed up with a group of gorgeous, accomplished women to explain why thinking twice before saying, “You look great for your age,” is so important — read more on that below.
Carolyn Petschler looks great in person — and on paper. Her impressive resume touts accomplishments from her careers in both the U.S. Navy and public relations. However, she says she was nervous about her age for the first time when starting her career in PR and beginning civilian life after nearly two decades in the navy.
Petschler tells Allure, “After 18 years of military life, on my first job interview the woman across from me said, ‘Normally someone your age would interview me.’” Though the comment seems innocuous, the implication is that at her age, she should have been much further along in her career. However, Petschler was able to turn the interview and ultimately the whole experience around, and sees her age as just another asset. Now, she says, “I don’t just look great for my age, I look great.”
Jocelyne Beaudoin, Set Designer
“As you get older, you notice that people don’t take you into consideration as much,” explains Jocelyn Beaudoin, an established set designer with over 30 years of experience. Ironically, in her industry, it was hard to be taken seriously when she was younger, as well. Beaudoin says that when she used to walk into the lumber store to get materials for work, she’d be met with condescension. Over the years, she’s gotten more comfortable, and she says, “I don’t care as much anymore about how my appearance or my opinions are perceived.”
Beaudoin feels as though backhanded compliments that come with qualifiers are meant to put women in a box. She has a similar approach to Thandie Newton, and tells Allure, “I always say it right back to whoever says it to me, so maybe they realize that it’s kind of a put-down.”
Kersti Bowser, Chef
Name a famous chef and Kersti Bowser has likely worked with them. She has no qualms talking about her accomplishments, and tells Allure, “I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve worked very hard to get to this point in my life. No one can take that away [from me].” And yet still, people often feel the need to talk about her age when complimenting her and discussing her accolades. Bowser says, “I think society may have a lot to do with it. We’re living in a world of images.”
She believes there’s hope for a change, however, and tells Allure, “I think there’s definitely a movement that’s gaining momentum for women of age.”
Coco Mitchell, Model and Board Member of Project Brownstone
Modeling is perhaps one of the most youth-focused industries, and many models stop working in their late 20s or early 30s. But not Coco Mitchell — she’s been a model for over 35 years and has had an illustrious career in the fashion industry. Even so, she’s still not immune to comments about her age. Once, Mitchell was considered a serious candidate for a job, but in the end it went to someone else. She tells Allure, “They wanted a Coco Mitchell but younger. That really made me mad.” That’s understandable — Mitchell helped pave the way for a more inclusive modeling industry, and now, she was being denied a job because of her age.
However, there is so much to enjoy about aging, as well. Mitchell tells Allure, “The older I get, the more freedom I feel like I have.” She also has some ideas about how to fix some of the perceptions we have about aging. She says, “I would like to see women getting older in front of the camera.”
If you’re thinking about some compliments you’ve given and are cringing, don’t worry; Petschler suggests next time you use her tip: “Just say you look good, you look beautiful today. You don’t need to add a number to it.” Further, if you’re a woman who has been affected by these kinds of comments, Mitchell has a little bit of wisdom. She tells Allure, “Your life is not over when you’re 30.” And it’s true. Think twice about these kinds of compliments, because these women are proof that age is not a qualifier — and compliments directed their way shouldn’t come with them, either.
More on inspiring beauty movements:
- Thandie Newton Gets Real About Ageism in RoC’s Newest “For Your Age” Campaign
- Allure Magazine Will No Longer Use the Term “Anti-Aging”
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