Can a woman be old and beautiful? Why are older women invisible? And is the narrow view of what we now consider beautiful entirely the fault of the media, advertisers and male TV channel controllers “still living too close to the cave”?
Robin came head-to-head with a sparky bunch of panellists including Natasha Walter, author of Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism and The New Feminism, Dame Harriet Walter DBE, Actress and author of Facing It, Reflections on Images of Older Women and Lesley Reynolds Kahn, co owner of The Harley Street Skin Clinic. The debate was chaired by Head of College, Professor Frances Corner OBE (who gave Robin a run for his money in the outré spectacles stakes).
Robin’s argument, that evolution – not the media – makes us favour young women with long blonde hair was met with shrieks from fellow panellists: “Surely we’ve evolved beyond that Robin!” argued Dame Harriet.
But as Robin pointed out, advertisers – most notably Unilever with their Dove Inner Beauty and Self-Esteem campaigns – have tried to buck the trend. Reference was also made to the vociferous response on Twitter to a Debenhams campaign using real women; “Social Media is not the voice of the traditional media but in fact the voice of real people and this is what they think. It’s in their genes” he argued.
The ensuing debate, which ranged from the sacking of older female TV presenters, butt lifts and cultural attitudes to beauty, to the fascinating Snow White Complex (when mothers envy their daughters) did, however, end on a positive note about change.
“You can alter people’s perceptions by putting different images out there,” said Dame Harriet. “It’s like a new fashion – at first you think it’s awful but then after a few months you quite like it.” A point Natasha Walter agreed with: “I don’t believe this argument that it’s all in our genes! Social change is always possible”.