Superbowl show brings out ageist responses

Ageist bias reflects in online response to Superbowl show

Social media users complimented singers Shakira and Jennifer Lopez’s physique, asking women to learn from them

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez’s Super Bowl halftime show has gotten more coverage than the game itself. 50-year-old JLo and 43-year-old Shakira danced, sang, jumped, twirled and twerked all over the grand stage, sending audiences and fans into a frenzy. 

The performance also gave rise to a flurry of memes and posts on social media, with many users (mostly men) applauding the stars for ‘not looking their age’ and asking women everywhere to take note.

Now while both the ladies deserve every bit of the adulation and appreciation coming their way (the performance was indeed spectacular!), it has also reignited an old debate, which shouldn’t even be a debate in the first place — why are women not allowed to age?

Insecurity is profitable for corporates

Think of all the companies that will go out of business if women all around the world just woke up one day and decided they liked the way they looked? Make up products, cosmetic surgeries, fashionable clothes -- all of them make profits in billions from the insecurities of women and the unhealthy and unrealistic standards society holds them to. 

Even fashion magazines recommend young women to start using anti-aging beauty products at the age of 20 and battle wrinkles long before they even appear.

Aging is scary and embarrassing

Especially for women, who are constantly told to not look their age and if they can’t help it at all, at least ‘age gracefully’. In a society that is obsessed with presenting a picture-perfect life on social media, this equates to dying one’s hair, avoiding wrinkles and most importantly, keeping one’s body in shape.

Society is unkind to women who don’t conform

From trolling on social media (especially for models and actresses) to facing prejudices at the work place to finding it difficult to get a job in the first place — the hurdles for women ‘who look old’ are many. 

One standard for women

In the recent years, there have been many posts celebrating older men — models or otherwise — with silver hair and crow’s feet. Society has many standards for judging men of all ages; right from a cute boy to a handsome young man to a fine mature gentleman; but all standards converge into one when it comes to women. She should look young and pretty.

Bias can be traced to olden days

Malvika Binny, Assistant Professor at SRM University, points out that the  unrealistic and often unhealthy beauty standards to which celebrities, particularly female actors, are held up against, can be traced back to deep rooted patriarchal structures found in both Western and Eastern civilizations. “The obsession with youth and vitality was a pre-requisite for any ancient society, which required to reproduce at a pace concomitant to its mortality rate, hence the onus on women ‘to be young or seem young or forever remain young’. It is a sorry fact that the tendency or social attitude continues to plague our psyche even now,” she says.

Malvika explains how the process makes women obsess over beauty because she is expected to be beautiful and will be treated differently if she is not pretty enough and on the other hand, she will also be called vain and self obsessed for trying to match up to the beauty ideal.

“Scholars like Naomi Wolf have discussed at great length about how the beauty myth - or conventional ideas of beauty - lead women to obsess over their physical appearance and how society is unkind to women who do not stick to it. It also leads to a lesser focus on all other achievements/attainments of women in other areas of their lives, lowering them to the position of eye candy rather than a full fledged human with agency,” she adds.

Body image linked to self confidence

Sumalatha Vasudeva, clinical psychologist, BGS Gleneagles Global Hospital, says that though physical attractiveness matters to everyone, women pay more attention to their looks because it is directly linked with their social image and self-confidence.

“Men and women feel equally insecure about their body image in social situations. Since social power in the society is more skewed in the favour of men, they expect women to look perfect - for them. So deeply ingrained is this notion in our heads now, that the average woman’s self-confidence is now (mostly) proportional to the way she looks. A woman who looks good is also perceived as someone who prioritises herself and pays attention to herself,” says Sumalatha.

She adds that comparisons with others, especially celebrities, can really demotivate women. If repeated over time, their body image issues can translate into social anxiety and depression. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to compare their financial status with others. 


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