Why is a woman’s age still being seen as something to be ashamed of?

 According to this shampoo advert, anyone over 40 should whisper their age, lest they be overheard

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By Hannah Banks-Walker on

Earlier this week, Allure magazine announced that it wouldn’t be using the term “anti-ageing” anymore. Michelle Lee, editor-in-chief, wrote about the decision in her editor’s letter, saying that “changing the way we think about ageing starts with this issue… Whether we know it or not, we’re subtly reinforcing the message that ageing is a condition we need to battle”. So far, so good, you might think. Yes, it’s taken until now for a leading women’s publication to recognise the damaging way in which society depicts women over, say, 25, but at least we’re starting to take a stand. Then, you might see the Plantur 39 shampoo advert on national television, and you might start to lose all hope again. 

The advert features a woman’s voice explaining the benefits of the caffeine shampoo. “Most women saw less hair loss”, she says. A woman can then be seen brushing her hair, seemingly fresh out of the shower, where she’s presumably used her Plantur 39 shampoo. “It’s especially popular with women”, the voice continues, before the ad cuts back to the woman in her bathroom, who leans towards the camera and whispers – actually whispers – “over 40."

Huh? Why are you whispering? It can hardly be a secret, you’ve stamped “Germany’s no 1 women’s shampoo” all over pictures of the product. Oh, I see, you’re whispering because in the antiquated, backwards world of this advert, it’s shameful and wrong for a woman to be over the age of 39. At least, that’s what the whisper implies. That a woman’s age, if 40 or over, is something that should be shrouded in secrecy. To put it in perspective, the advert for Alpecin, the male equivalent of this product, simply shows a number of shampoo bottles literally flying off the shelves, as a woman’s voice says: “Take a good look because it’s moving quickly. In fact, it’s now the UK’s fastest growing men’s shampoo because it prevents hair loss.” The closing statement? “It’s German engineering for your hair.” That’s it. No mention of age. No hushed tones and whispering voices. 

According to research commissioned by Phillip Kingsley, one in five UK women over the age of 25 now suffer from hair loss, suggesting that the condition is not one that just affects women over 40. More importantly, 40 is not “old”. Given increased life expectancy, for some it’s not even half way through their life. Why, then, are women being written off at such a young age, when their male contemporaries are awarded the luxury of being “ageless”? This is not a new question, but it’s one that is astoundingly still relevant in 2017. 

Today is Madonna’s 59th birthday. Allure’s cover star this month is 72-year-old Dame Helen Mirren. 51-year-old Cindy Crawford is the latest celebrity to take part in Vogue’s 73 Questions video series. Should we ignore these successful women because they are, shockingly, over 40? Of course we shouldn’t. But, like Michelle Lee said in her editor’s letter, until we change the language around ageing, mainly relating to women, this wildly out-of-date view will only be perpetuated. Yes, Plantur is a lesser known brand, but its advert is on national television. It’s time we changed the conversation.

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