As early as childhood we are exposed to what can be characterized as a fairly biased portrayal of what it is like to age. The portrayal puts notions in our head of what it is like to get older – notions which are expanded upon and reinforced over the years. We are also influenced by our interactions with older people and with each other. The negative portrayal of aging causes many people to experience a fear of aging, which can result in a subsequent fear
of ill health becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Research shows that if aging is portrayed positively through images of healthy older people, we tend to eat healthier, exercise more, function better physically, stop smoking and consume less alcohol. In other words, representation of images is extremely important. Even though the 60+ age group is the largest (25 percent), it is the least visible age group in media (4 percent older women and 6 percent older men). Karin Sandelin of Kantar Sifo believes the allowed scope
for diversity in portrayals has been too limited.
Five ideas on how to portray less stereotypical images of older people
What do we need to consider when selecting images? Women between 15 and 44 years of age are most prevalent. Men are also primarily represented in the same age group, but we see more men than women in the 45–59 year old age group. To achieve a more diverse, non-stereotypical representation, remember:
☞ Use more portrayals of people who are 45+, especially people who are 60+.
☞ The subject does not need to be about "aging" just because you decide to visualize with an older person. Perhaps you want to stand out from the crowd by going down a different path that makes us think? The more of us that use non-stereotypical images, the greater creative freedom we have in our selection of images.
☞ "Older" people" are often portrayed as "very old" with a hunched back, passive posture, withdrawn body language and averted gaze. Challenge the stereotype by showing people who are 60+ with as much versatility as younger people.
☞ Consider how the ingredients in your image relate to the context. What in the image signals location, interior and other people? Very often we see older people together with their grandchildren – which is naturally not strange. Perhaps, though, we socialize even more in other constellations? And at other places?
☞ Also consider authenticity in the image. All images do not need to portray the most idyllic places in the most idyllic weather during the most idyllic season. Your message may very well be more relevant in a common, everyday context.
Would you like to see more alternative portrayals of older people?