An Age Old Problem: Women and Aging

vintage cartoon horny granny from Playboy

Limiting and less than flattering portrayal of older women once populated the pop culture landscape. Cougars circa 1974. Playboys “horny granny” cartoon by Robert Brown was a parody of the sexy youthful Playboy bunny

Growing up, being an “older” woman was not a pretty picture – literally.

Predictably, post-menopausal women were pictured pleasingly plump their sagging jowls and sagging breasts as slumping as their sedentary, asexual lives that were defined by grandchildren, gossip and reminiscing about the good old days.

vintage Little Golden Book childrens book illustration women

Little Golden Books often showed our golden years as grumpy old men and lumpy old women. Vintage Little Golden Book Illustrations by Eloise Wilkin



Vintage illustration older woman and younger woman

Remembrance of Romances Past. Vintage illustration from Pacific Textiles Advertisement 1947


Vintage ads seniors

Articles on aging didn’t depict older people still active in their communities; all dealt with the problems of aging, picturing “doddering old folks” reminiscing about the good old days. Most over 65 were not physically active or sexually active.

Swathed in a quilted hand crocheted shawl her chilly body temperature was matched only by her chilly non-existent libido.

And if “the old biddie” had a libido, it was ridiculed.

The dried up, toothless, ‘horny granny” created by Robert “Buck” Brown was a permanent fixture in Playboy Magazine in the 1970’s.

Take My Old Lady…Please

Next to ditzy female drivers and meddling battle-axe mothers in law, the older women was a favorite target of cartoonists and comics.

vintage cartoon sexist ageing women

“Is this where old bags get renovated?” Vintage cartoon by McKay Esquire Magazine 1956



vintage cartoon sexist aging women

“Yes, indeed, dear- it is a surprise!” Vintage cartoon Esquire Magazine 1956

 The  Age Old Problem

For all our current advances, one fact stubbornly remains: avoid any visible sign of aging or you become invisible.

CCollage vintage illustration Snow White Queen and vintage Ivory Snow ad

Competition. The Evil Queen was no match for the dewy young skin of Snow White. (L) Vintage illustration “Snow White A Golden Book” (R) Ivory Snow Ad 1968

Reinforced by Madison Avenue’s potpourri of promises to stave off signs of aging and restore youth, the Grimm brothers story of Snow White was quite instructive to young girls when it came to aging and faded youth

“Mirror Mirror on the wall who’s the fairest of them all?” The Queen famously asks her magic mirror. The queen has grown accustomed to a reassuring answer. “You,” the mirror always replied. “You are the fairest of them all,” until that terrible day when the mirror spoke another truth; Snow White is fairer than you.


No amount of Elizabeth’s Arden Vanishing Cream could change the ugly fact: Women of a certain age get used to fading compliments, as slowly the attention of men fade away.

No wonder women are haunted by the horror of growing old.

Washed Up

What are women to presume?

Obviously that beauty lasts only slightly longer than puberty and it is our business and obligation to keep those visible signs of aging at bay. Or else you’re all washed up.

Especially if you want to keep a man.

Vintage hair care ads gray hair

Hair Today, gone tomorrow (L) Vintage ad Breck Shampoo 1955 (R) Loving Care by Clairol ad 1962 Wash Away Gray

In the 1960’s a middle-aged woman whose marriage was in trouble could reignite her love life by simply washing away her gray hair.

“Hate That  Gray?  Wash it away! “

“How do husbands react when wives suddenly look years younger,” asks a 1962 ad from Loving Care by Clairol.

 Seems most men don’t know anything about the art involved, but every man knows what he likes. And that is a wife who stays young and attractive. Not only is it a pleasure to look at but it reflects nicely on him too.

Loving care looks so fresh and natural makes your husband feel younger just to look at you!

Stay Young and Beautiful

Vintage illustration ad grandparents reminiscing

The current portrayal of busy and botoxed boomers – diligently popping Boniva and those little blue pills – may be redefining aging, yet remnants of out-dated images linger like fossilized remains.

Age based stereotypes are often internalized in childhood long before the information is relevant; calcified for decades these disparaging stereotypes are often difficult to dissolve.

These dated images may have reached their expiration date, the prejudices against getting, old has not.

Expiration Date

Have You Crossed the Fatal Forty Line picture of woman

But how old is old?

For most of my life the media seemed incapable of portraying an attractive woman over 30.

When it comes to attractiveness it seems like there is always an expiration date. Best used by…

Middle age was once indicator of the end of your beauty shelf life …. A warning your desirability was about to expire.

Middle Age Madness

Vintage cartoon Palolive soap middle aged skin

Vintage ad Palmolive Soap 1940

Palmolive Soap ran an ad campaign in the late 1930s to warn of the scourge of ladies everywhere- middle-aged skin. Once afflicted, dates were broken along with hearts all because a careless lady allowed herself to develop middle-aged skin.


Vintage anti age ad Palmolive Soap

Vintage ad Palmolive Soap 1938

Even a young women could be mistaken for middle age long before her time, if precautions weren’t taken.

How Young is Old?

Young, at 51? Impossible you say?


vintage ad for face cream Gloria Swanson

Vintage Ad 1951 Jergens All Purpose Cream with Gloria Swanson

By 1951 fifty was apparently the old 60 when Jergens  Cream  marveled that a 51-year-old woman could still be considered attractive. Even if that woman was aging movie star Gloria Swanson.  No Norma Desmond she, Miss Swanson was no fading beauty, thanks to her daily ritual of cleansing with Jergens All Purpose Cream.

The ad asked the middle-aged reader to  be truthful: could they possibly look as young when they were over the hill.

Of course today if 40 is the new 30, and 60 is the new 50, middle age itself gets murkier.

Ageing Looking Younger

Doesn’t she know she can look younger? Cosmetic companies eye your sagging face with greed.

The expiration date may be pushed back, but in our youth obsessed culture it is inevitable.

As long as there is an obsession with the “problem” of age and how best to avoid it through diet, exercise, chemical formulas, moisturizing creams and good old-fashioned denial, old stereotypes  can exist.

Like processed food, the more chemicals additives and fillers added to a woman, the longer the shelf life of her attractiveness.

In a culture that worships of the altar of all natural no additives the same can’t be said of our aging women.

If positive portrayals of aging promote the idea that defying aging is the only way to age successfully, negative stereotypes can remain strong

Copyright (©) 2015 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved



  1. I would say that physical appearance is not everything. I think good conversation, a great sense of humor and a good heart goes a long way to making a woman sexy. Some wines are way better when they’ve aged.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m reminded of a chemistry research paper I read years ago, suggesting that the anti-aging creams at the time, were a waste of time. It went on to say that if you started eating 3 Big Macs a day from the age of fourteen onward, you would reduce the aging process in your skin by half over the course of your lifetime.
    That being said, the horrors of advertising rears it’s ugly head, yet again here. Great article.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Despite the overblown claims of anti aging products that we suspect are pure hucksterism, we still seem susceptible to their promises to stave off any physical signs of aging.


  4. I’d be happy to look like the women in the Remembered Romance and the Schlitz ads — the question is, are they supposed to be seventy or sixty? Or fifty-five?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would suspect they are supposed to be no more than 60 probably in their late 50’s. In an ad that ran in the same time period (late 1940’s) by the Pharmaceutical Division of Dow chemicals, they proudly boast that thanks to “advances in modern medicine new drugs of amazing effectiveness have extended our life expectancy to better than 63 years.”


  5. Pingback: Women and Aging – You Can Survive | Envisioning The American Dream

  6. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder…then why can’t age just be a number?


  7. Gail Anderson

    Unfortunately, ageism is still a factor for older women. If you don’t believe me, read the nasty comments about the recent incident at Coachella where Madonna kissed Drake onstage. There’s even an ad for a hamburger chain about this that says something to the effect of “Eat our hamburgers Drake, and get that old lady taste out of your mouth.” I often have mixed emotions about Madonna, but this advertisement has got to go! There are far better ways to sell hamburgers.


    • Wow! Surprisingly I had not heard about that incident you mention and the offensive ad that references it. It’s distressing and quite unacceptable.
      Thanks for letting me know about it and will check it out.


  8. Kocolate Avante

    Keep a smile on your face, a little makeup w/lipstick, dress attractively and most of all, give thanks to our Creator that you are still alive on this beautiful Day!!


  9. Marty

    There are two types of aging. One is of the body which we have no control over. The second is of the mind. The saying goes age in of the mind not the body. Enjoy life do not regret the past enjoy today


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