A couple of years ago we published a series about the growing use of middle-aged models in lingerie advertising by brands hoping to reach mature customers. Alas, the “trend” we predicted never truly materialized.
There is indeed a cluster of prominent older models in the marketplace today — Penélope Cruz, Heidi Klum, Halle Berry, Helena Christensen et al. — but for the most part they are well-toned lifelong celebs in their 40s. ‘Older’, in lingerie marketing, seems to have an upper limit of about 50.
Which is why this photoshoot featuring model Marie Helvin (above) is so relevant and appreciated. Now 62, she showed up in the Daily Mail‘s weekend magazine (on the cover, no less!) to promote a new line from UK retailer JD Williams. And to reflect on the considerable challenges of modeling underwear in your 60s.
“It takes a great deal of work to maintain a good silhouette,” she says. “I train like an athlete. I go to the gym four times a week for 45 minutes to an hour without fail … While my body is not anywhere near a 30-or 40-year-old’s, it is in good shape and it gives me great pleasure to be so healthy and fit for my age.”
Still, she insists, this will be her last paid gig as a lingerie model, declaring: “I think I’d rather eat pizza.”
Marie provides an interesting benchmark for how women’s bodies are regarded by the modeling industry because she’s been at it for so long.
Blessed with an appealing Japanese-American genetic heritage, she was a Vogue cover girl (above) 39 years ago and worked through the 70s, 80s and into the 90s too. In recent years, she has still earned some high-profile jobs due in no small part to her well-preserved looks and frame. She even walked the runway for sexy lingerie brand Agent Provocateur at age 60.
The new JD Williams line is called Always Aliza, named for its creator Aliza Reger. Marie modeled lingerie sets from her mother, the legendary designer Janet Reger, as far back as 1972.
But Marie Helvin is undeniably the exception to the rule … the one that shunts women to the sidelines, invisible and ignored, once they pass some mythical best-before date.
“I think it’s to do with the fact that most people who work in advertising are young men, and their idea of a 50-plus woman is not a positive image,” she told the Daily Mail.
Marie’s occasional modeling assignments help to correct that bias, but her hard-earned figure isn’t really representative of typical women her age. She’s the idealized version of your elder self, the aspirational goal for anyone who feels like hitting the gym every day (and cutting the carbs) in their 60s.
Yet women of all ages still buy foundation garments and lingerie, too. And what’s still missing in the marketplace is a brand willing to represent their customers honestly, without condescension or dismissiveness. This isn’t just an ethical imperative, it’s a market opportunity.
Some brands have tackled this issue with respectful campaigns that acknowledge and celebrate the aging body. American Apparel continues to use the wonderful 60+ New York later-life model Jacky O’Shaugnessy, and JD Williams cleverly put together the photo campaign featuring over-50 models earlier this year as a promotional tie-in for the 50 Shades movie release.
And last year Polish full-bust bra brand Ewa Michalak produced a tremendous photo campaign (above) that employed three generations of women. That campaign was the product of Ewa’s “outrage” over the depiction of older women in advertising, where they’re typically only used to sell denture cream and adult diapers. That reality was at odds with her experience selling bras to women of all ages.
“I get to know them as active, full of life, witty people,” she wrote in a blog post. “Why, then, are they ignored in commercials as if they weren’t a part of our society?”
As for Marie Helvin, who is enjoying another round of media gushing for her latest exposure, we salute her and wish there were more like her, and more companies willing to showcase women like her. Even better, we’d love to see her do this again next year, after a year of enjoying pizza and a more relaxed lifestyle, looking more like the women who admire her.