“There are fewer roles for older women because cinema likes young flesh and we shouldn’t moan about that… Sex is about being young – young bodies and beauty and youth. And then you pass into other things. You don’t need it so much, I might add, if we’re being honest”
This quote is from the British actor Charlotte Rampling who was recently interviewed for the Radio Times. During her interview, Charlotte talked about being an older female actor (she’s 66 years old) as well as her new film role where she plays a divorcee who meets a new partner through speed dating. The Telegraph ran the story on December 1st in their Women section.
What the story in The Telegraph doesn’t cover however is why this is happening. In my view it cannot be disentangled from the ‘double standard’ of ageing where men, according to Susan Sontag, are valued for their aged appearance but women are not. For them, the only standard of beauty is the girl.
Thus, if there is a preference to see ‘young flesh’ on screen it is a reflection of the values placed on ageing, on gender, and on beauty within a society at a given time. Film and television production does not take place in a vacuum. And by depicting characters in narrow or stereotypical ways, the film and television industries reinforce these dominant societal values and assumptions. They are themselves part of the production of knowledge. As a result, the characters, stories and messages that challenge negative or stereotypical depictions of older women tend to go unnoticed.
This topic was discussed at the recent Ageism, Sexism, and the Media event that I blogged about here. A key outcome of the day was the acknowledgement that there are many people (academics, journalists, politicians, activists, charity groups and so on) who feel strongly about representations of ageing in the media and that we should do something about the ageist and sexist messages that are often reproduced.
Take a look at the wonderful work being done at the Centre for Women, Ageing and Media.
Old female bodies? No thanks