One of the singularly most uplifting things to happen in beauty is the long overdue inclusion of women of color in mainstream makeup offerings. It wasn’t until Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty launched last year with 40 foundation shades that embracing global skin tones became a must.
In the year since, 40-plus and even 50-plus shade ranges are commonplace, with new offerings from Lush, Il Makiage, Cover Fx, NYX, Flesh, and Dior. And the diversity of models used for campaigns has improved beyond previous imagining. British Vogue Editor Edward Enninful notably featured nine beautifully different women on his New Frontiers of Fashion May cover.
But even as Fenty Beauty was created “for women of all shades, personalities, attitudes, cultures, and races,” there was something missing (quite literally) from those pictures. Anyone much over the age of 25. Thirty at an absolute push. Color cosmetics has a serious age problem.
Ironically, skincare—once the bastion of absurdly young teenagers selling products aimed at 50-somethings—is doing much better. As women have started favoring skin health benefit claims rather than “anti-aging” according to Euromonitor, brands are now using appropriately aged women as “faces.” Lancôme righted a historic wrong bringing back 66-year-old Isabella Rossellini for its Rénergie Multi-Glow range, complete with unretouched pictures.
But even as color cosmetics has seen meteoric growth in makeup as a means of self-expression, most fashion-forward colour and MUA brands rarely feature older faces on a regular basis. Even with non-trend brands understood as for more mature customers, I had to scroll back to September 2017 on Laura Mercier’s Instagram feed to find a solitary picture of 36-year old Priyanka Chopra and gave up on Bobbi Brown at July 2017 without finding one evidently 30-plus face…
And even when older faces are seen, it’s typically for makeup looks that are, that oh-so-slightly-sneering word, flattering. Really meaning it tricks the eye into thinking the face in question now adheres more closely to society’s standards of beauty i.e. absolute youth. Even NARS who’ve featured Charlotte Rampling and Tilda Swinton, the makeup is decidedly low key, almost non-existent.
Cover Girl is one of the few exceptions, featuring 70-year old Maye Musk with notably heavy smoky eye makeup. And of course MAC has its claim of being for “All Ages, All Races, All Genders,” occasionally spotlighting its Director of Makeup Artistry, Romero Jenning’s mother in full bold multicolour makeup, and its collaboration with 90-something style maven, Iris Apfel, was an immediate sellout. But on a day-to-day basis, older women are pretty much invisible on the MAC’s timeline. Men get more of a look in.
This invisibility is a reflection of the big social assumption there’s a certain arc to all womens’ lives: grow up, attract a man, become a mum, retreat into the background, become a grandma, dress in beige, vanish entirely. The backlash against Madonna for having the temerity to refuse this is a case in point. How dare she, put it away, says the world.
But the world is changing. Not only are women choosing to be child-free, they are working longer, living far longer, and spending their fatter wallets on beauty and personal care—up by 68% for 50- to 64-year-olds since 2011 say WGSN. And each is as individual as every Gen-Zer and Millennial. Compare and contrast the mild blandness of Zoella or Tanya Burr against older beauty vloggers like Monique Parent or Hot and Flashy. Mutton quite frequently has more taste and substance than lamb… New publications like No Limits Magazine fly in the face of the decorum expected of older people, and quite right too. Who wants to be boring for two-thirds of your life!
Many makeup brands explicitly orient their brand propositions around self-empowerment, individuality and breaking boundaries on gender and diversity. But only if you’re young it still seems: those brands have yet to tackle the (b)older woman. As with anything, seeing is believing. The more brands elevate those propositions (and formulations) to include attitude, not just age, in their offerings, the more likely it is for women to feel free to express themselves with colour and break those oh-so-outdated social norms. And, buy more makeup in the process.
This article was first published in SPC, volume 91, number 9. SPC is a product of HPCi Media Limited.
Photo credit: Annie Spratt at Unsplash