Ageism in Hollywood and in general is an issue which is not frequently discussed. It may even be an issue about which many people are not aware, or can even be considered a non-issue altogether.
Ageism is defined as discrimination against or stereotyping of people or groups of people based on their age. There are many examples of ageism in Hollywood, which can sometimes prevent actors, particularly women, from having careers after reaching a certain age.
Women are, naturally, more affected by it than men, because there are many beauty standards that also come with ageism.
Ageism in Hollywood
What is Ageism?
Ageism is typically referred to in contexts regarding elderly people, including negative attitudes, discrimination against, and other policies or practices perpetuating stereotypes against older people, the aging process, and old age itself.
There are several reasons for ageism, namely, fear of death and fear of being disabled and dependent. Naturally, as one gets older, the closer they are to their death, and it is a natural fear to be afraid of death. Also, many people, as they get older, are less physically capable of performing certain activities that they were able to in their younger age, such as walking, running, or going up and down stairs.
No one wants to be dependent on anyone else, so it can lead to people having negative perceptions on being older, on older people, and on the aging process entirely. It can sometimes be used to refer to younger people, too, particularly when it comes to ignoring what younger people say because it is assumed they are ignorant due to their age.
While, naturally, younger people are biologically less mature and less capable of doing certain things as adults, many feel as though they are belittled by their adult peers, and perceived as less intelligent due to their age. Many younger people’s voices are not heard because adults perceive them to be less mature, and to not know what they are talking about.
Age discrimination is one of the most common forms of ageism. There are personal and institutional ways in which one can discriminate against someone based on their age.
For example, an older person may be told or may believe that they are too old to participate in a particular activity, such as a game, due to their age. A younger person can be told that they are too young to get a job.
There are also institutional ways in which people can participate in ageism, which are governmental policies limiting activities for people based on their age.
For example, in America, alcohol is banned for those under the age of 21, and only those over the age of 18 are eligible to vote. There are also policies which determine at which age a person can retire. In the United States, a person must be between the ages of 65 and 67 before they are eligible for retirement benefits for Social Security.
There are two particular areas in which ageism plays the biggest role- employment and health care. Especially with employment, women are largely affected.
Ageism in Hollywood
Ageism against women in Hollywood is especially prevalent. There are many actresses who are not cast for particular roles on the basis of their age, usually, because they are older than desired. Standards set in the film industry are centered upon youth.
Many older actresses are unemployed or told that they cannot be cast for a certain role because they are too old to play that particular role. The term “silver ceiling” is used to refer the ceiling which older actors have to deal with. Older actresses even claim that their opinions are not taken seriously in the film industry.
The roles that many older actresses are cast in often portray stereotypes of older people, including wearing matronly clothing, playing the role of a bitter old woman, playing the role of a less glamorous mother or grandmother, wearing an apron and doing womanly duties, and such, but rarely do they include anything lively and youthful.
Such roles are typically reserved for younger actresses. There are, of course, roles in which a younger actress is needed; if a particular movie is about a high school, all the actors in it need to be younger in order for the movie to be realistic.
But, there are some movies in which a woman is needed to play the love interest of an actor or a character who is over the age of 50, and women who are realistically close to that age are told they are too old to play the part; actresses in their twenties are chosen instead.
The effect that ageism in Hollywood has on society
This naturally has a negative effect on society. As older women are underrepresented in film, people are unaware of all that older women are capable of doing. Many women believe that as they get older, they become invalid and undesirable.
Older women, since they are portrayed as being bitter, unhappy, and unsuccessful, are seen as such in reality, and thus, many women fear getting older, as they may lose their vigor and youth.
The aging process is feared among all women, and women feel the pressure to get Botox or other procedures which will prevent wrinkles, cellulite, or other natural processes associated with old age. Any signifier of a woman getting older is seen as embarrassing.
According to a study, women are more embarrassed by their age than anything else, and are prepared to do anything possible by reaching their forties and fifties in order to obtain a more youthful look.
Another study showed that older men played more roles in films than older women who were of their same age. The fact that older women are not properly represented in film produces many misconceptions about the elderly and makes many women self-conscious about their age.
Examples of Ageism in Hollywood
Many actresses have spoken out about ageism in Hollywood, including about their own experiences.
- Jamie Denbo is an example of one. She posted on Twitter that she was not cast for the role of a 57-year-old man’s wife because she was too old, despite the fact that she herself was 43.
- Maggie Gyllenhaal, at the age of 37, was told in 2015 that she was unable to play the significant other of a 55-year-old because she was too old to play the part.
- Jane Fonda commented that men are allowed to get older in Hollywood, but women are not, because with women, it all depends on the visuals- men want young women. Therefore, women are pressured to look young, and Hollywood movie directors are looking for young actresses.
- Even Anne Hathaway, who is only 34 years old, stated that she has already lost roles to actresses younger than she.
Hollywood presents unrealistic beauty standards for women. Many actresses feel the pressure to be young and beautiful so that they can be cast for the best roles, and thus keep their jobs. Many actresses also undergo various plastic surgeries and other body modifications so that they can remain youthful and obtain the ideal body type.
Kylie Jenner is a prime example of a star who sets unrealistic standards for beauty. She is not a Hollywood actress, but many young girls look up to her and aspire to look like her. Jenner has reportedly spent two million dollars on altering her entire physical appearance.
Her lips are the most notable part of her body which have been altered. There is nothing wrong with wanting to look good and be beautiful, but no one should feel pressured into changing how they look.
Another example of a way women are pressured to change how they look in Hollywood is through their weight. Many women feel pressured to lose weight in order to be cast for certain roles. In Hollywood, it is typically considered embarrassing for a woman to reveal that she wears anything above a size 4 or 6.
Many stars claim that they wear sizes smaller than what they actually appear to wear. Lots of models especially feel pressured to go through extreme measures to lose weight, and end up being unhealthy afterwards, and have eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.
Surgeries and procedures that erasing aging processes, especially Botox, removing excess skin and fat, and lifting (brow lift, facelift, etc.) are very common in Hollywood, and thus, many women outside of Hollywood feel pressured to follow these trends.
Women who fought against ageism in Hollywood
At the same time, many actresses have fought back against directors who tried to pressure them to change their looks, and many actresses have spoken out against ageism in Hollywood.
- Jennifer Lopez even fired her manager for suggesting that she needed to lose weight in order to be successful.
- Meryl Streep joined the fight against ageism by funding a screenwriting lab for women above the age of 40 so that more projects can be created for middle-age and older women.
- Kim Kardashian is famous for her fuller figure. Many women have fought back against these unfair beauty standards, and thus, serve as role models for all of us.
It is important for all women to love themselves and their bodies. The unfair beauty standards Hollywood and the film industry need to be seen for what they really are- unrealistic and discriminatory.
Not every woman is naturally built the same way, and that does not mean that she is ugly or unworthy of success. Every person is bound to age one day, and the aging process is natural. It is normal and natural for one to have wrinkles, for their skin to sag a little, and for one to eventually not be able to run or walk as fast as they used to.
However, this does not mean that one cannot be happy and successful as they are older. Women who are older should not be prevented from playing the roles they deserve in Hollywood.
Being negatively portrayed, or not being portrayed altogether, causes many women to fear aging and to have misconceptions about what it means to age.
Hopefully, with more and more actresses speaking out against ageism in Hollywood and the unfair beauty standards women are held to, the way things operate in Hollywood can change too.
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