Forever Love by Tom Ford 2010, Vogue Paris
Following the basic tenets of fashion photography: a showcase of clothing and accessories, a projection of wealth, romance, sex, elegance, and a carefree sensibility. This image contains all of these aspects, but we all know there is something “wrong” about the photo as well. Instead of using the standard-issue fabulously seductive and young models of the fashion world, (a mainstay in designer/photographer Tom Ford’s campaigns), The photographer cast a different age-set for his photos. Ford became “tired of the cult of youth. The cultural rejection of old age, the stigmatization of wrinkles, grey hair, of bodies furrowed by the years…”. In this photo we see an elderly couple in a steamy embrace, the woman scantily clad in a chest-revealing gown, her aged skin adorned with jewels and the eager hands of her partner. It shouts out desire, glamour, and above all, “LUST”. This photo, placing septuagenarians in a stage set for young supermodels challenges the“cult of youth” and shuns the idea that age is undesirable, something to be hidden in a retirement home and under an argyle sweater.
America is obsessed with youth. It is the ideal promoted in media and advertisements, ironically over-represented in an aging population. This cult of youth is what fuels the cosmetic surgery economy, wellness industries, and anti-aging enterprises. Interestingly enough, this photo spread was presented in Vogue Paris and not on the covers of American Vogue- did editors decide not to scare off Americans with a photo of amorous elderly? This is further explored in Courtney Everts-Mykytyn’s article, where the writer argues against America’s view on aging as a cost to society, where age is when beauty is lost and dependency on others is gained. Such efforts to combat the symptoms of “biological aging” aim to treat an elderly population from “pain, decrepitude, and undesirability” (Everts Mykytyn 21). Such drastic transformations in the anti-aging medical field, as discussed by Mykytyn, could possible change the definition of “elderly” as the age of mortality is raised. If so, we just might see more photos such as Ford’s on american newsstands within this generation’s lifetime.
This photo brings to mind the ideas presented in the course, as well as the readings of Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Barbara Meyerhoff in how Americans as a whole live with aging and the aged. Nancy Scheper-Hughes discusses the place of aging and death in the American imaginary, an insecurity “fueled by a sense of loss of control over the dying process” (Scheper-Hughes 317), in a land where cosmetic surgery and transplants help us to cheat aging, and where the aged are sent to remain unseen in nursing homes. Her idea of the “P.C Body” is figured in wellness advertisements (such as gym and health foods) and is organized around ideas of socially compatible, socially desirable bodies- white, tan, toned, active, and above all- young. The P.C. Body forms a sociocultural conjunction on the bodies we should have and the bodies we should prevent from having (Alley 2/20/2013). This photo works against the notion of the politically correct body in its obvious depiction of wrinkled, unfit elderly-bodied models. Anthropologist Barbara Meyerhoff , who wrote on the politics of elderly Jewish life in a Southern California neighborhood, known as “the Center”. These people viewed themselves, despite surviving such great hardships like the holocaust and readjusting to American life, as burdens to both the state and to their relatives. Despite the inevitability of aging and the dependency on aid it fosters, Americans consider the old as a burden- a helpless and demanding group. Meyerhoff argues that “in our culture today, we do not have this same natural attentiveness to and empathy with the elderly [as with children], in part because they are not among us, and no doubt they are not among us because we do not want to recognize the inevitability of our own future decline and dependence” (Meyerhoff 19). In simpler words, Americans choose to be ignorant of the elderly and their futures as elderly, which brings forth guilt and further neglect, resulting in blatant agism and youth worship.
Courtney Everts-Mykytyn, “Anti-Aging Medicine: Predictions, Moral Obligations, and Biomedical Interventions” (2006)
Barabara Meyerhoff, Number Our Days (1978/1980) [excerpt]
Nancy Scheper-Hughes, “Death and Dying in Anxious America” (2009)