Some years ago I was approached by a very popular women’s magazine, it was a title I had read with interest from time to time, and I was pleased to be talking to a very pleasant young woman about my work. She was very enthusiastic about what we do, the fact that our team are all women, the provenance of the products etc. It was going well. She explained that this was exactly the kind of story they wanted. As the chat drew to a close she said to me ‘oh I forgot to ask, one last question, how old are you?’ Without a moment’s hesitation I said I was 49. The silence that followed was deafening. Within a minute she made her excuses, rang off and I didn’t hear from them again.
After that, I spent a day looking through magazines for articles where women over 45 were featured, and represented as dynamic. There was nothing. Not one single article across all of the main titles. In fact on that day, the only advertisement I found that acknowledged older women at all was for incontinence pads that made leak-proof star jumps a reality! How can it be that this still prevails 5 years later in 2018.
Every day I meet women doing amazing work who are over 45 - they come into the shop, they contact me on social media, they blog and vlog, email and phone. We have them as suppliers, they produce the art on our walls, they make the baskets we pick into, they cook the food we buy, they make the spirits we drink, they are our tribe. They are everywhere… but nowhere to be seen in the mainstream.
In the world of beauty there is a growing awareness of provenance of ingredients, events such as the Maiyet Collective at the Conduit Club and many others are focusing the mind on ethical production, beautiful quality and the importance of sustainability. Equally there are now increasing numbers of websites where ‘green’ brands are carefully sourced. This is great.
But whilst we busily look at the ingredients, do we look at the company that makes the final products? Do we think about the business structure they have? Do we talk about their marketing approach? Does their much vaunted philanthropy extend to the women in their own workplace?
We won’t change society until we hone in on the company structures, the marketers, the magazines, the recruiters; the peddlers of insecurity and the patterns of misogyny so firmly embedded in the way we are represented both as women and in employment.
On a most fundamental level, does the company you buy your skincare from promote a positive image of women of all ages? Do they employ women in senior positions? If they advertise do they concentrate on anti-ageing as the main thrust of their campaigns? Does the magazine you buy have a single story about women over 45? Have you read in any printed media about entrepreneurs who are older women as a norm rather than an exception? Have you read a single positive feature on the freedom that menopause brings? These are so basic but so absent. It is as if once you hit 45 you simply disappear, become irrelevant.
Pip Wilcox recently posted a photo of herself on Instagram. She looked lovely. She wrote underneath about how concerned she was to post an unmanicured picture that showed her age. I could have wept. This intelligent, decent woman behind ‘Makers for Refugees’ was anxious about showing her face and hands on social media. What followed was a stream of comments from other women of a similar age who shared the same fear. I did weep.
So Pip made a hashtag #middleyearsmondays for women to post photos of themselves – not the ghastly ‘this is me before I put on my makeup’ followed 5 minutes later by a return to conformity, but rather ‘this is me, this is how I am, going about my daily business.’ Bravo!
It chimed with me so strongly because at A.S Apothecary and Fierce Botanics we have some really important fundamentals:
1) We have 16 women working with us, 90% are over 45 because they are the best people for the job. Far from invisible or incapable, these women are brilliant. They have lived lives, are feisty, loyal, careful, quick to learn, generous and utterly reliable.
2) We never ever talk about our products in terms of anti-ageing, we make products that harness the full power of whole plants that will make your skin beautiful, healthy and glowing – not even snail slime (yes it’s a thing) will stop you ageing.
3) We have a flat, non-hierarchical company structure. Everyone is on the same rate of pay because every person’s input is essential for the whole to progress. We discuss ideas collectively to be sure that a new plan can be accommodated by everyone.
4) We negotiate, we don’t demand. We trust, we don’t micro manage.
5) We do no harm – we don’t test on animals or sell to any country that does.
6) We are not driven by profit but by offering the best we can to all women
7) We do not advertise in magazines that don’t represent all women well (we haven’t found one yet, apart from Viva Lewes)
We are a small company working in an incredibly competitive industry on small margins, but for all that, when we started I made a conscious decision about how I wanted our company to run. It isn’t easy but it is a daily reminder of how powerful women are when given the opportunity to really be themselves. #asapothecarymiddleyearsmondayeveryday