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Where Have All the Old Men Gone?

 

It’s hard to find images of men over-50 in men’s magazines.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, B.C., Canada) examined depictions of older males in five widely read North American male-oriented magazines:

  • Esquire
  • GQ
  • Maxim
  • Men’s Health, and
  • Men’s Journal

They also looked at Zoomer magazine, the only Canadian magazine aimed specifically at older people.

The study found few ads and interest stories in the magazines included men in their 50s with the exception of Zoomer.

Zoomer magazine relied primarily on images of older adults in both interest stories and advertisements. The bulk of these images were of youthful older men accompanied by older women or younger individuals.

Details of the study appeared online in the Journal of Aging Studies (December 2014).

Ideal older man

Across all six magazines, when older men were present, they were shown in a favourable light.

Mainly they were depicted in two ways:

  • as experienced and powerful members of society, or
  • as healthy and happy unknown individuals.

Powerful and experienced

Powerful and experienced males were largely represented by older celebrities.

These men were featured in interest stories and touted for their professional success and civic contributions. For instance, actors and politicians appeared frequently in Esquire and GQ magazines. And sports stars were prominent in Men’s Health magazine.

Interestingly, researchers found powerful and experienced older men were less likely to appear in ads, but when they did, they usually promoted clothing, shoes and eyewear.

Healthy and happy

The second positive portrayal of aging masculinity showed depictions of healthy and happy older males who were physically active, sexually engaged and savvy consumers of health-promoting products.

Indeed, 74 per cent of depictions in Men’s Journal and 56 per cent in Zoomer showed older men who were fit, strong and sexually active. Most of the images and interest stories featured unknown working professionals.

In Men’s Health magazine, older individuals promoted California almonds as a way to stay happy and free from heart disease.

Men’s Journal featured a recurring ad for Amidren, a dietary supplement to help men over age 35 "to live at their peak" and stave off the harmful effects of age.

Zoomer was the only magazine to include older men in the roles of activists.

Ageism

Men’s magazines offer us an idealized version of male masculinity that is associated with:

  • power
  • wealth
  • celebrity status
  • health
  • independence
  • active sexuality, and
  • youthfulness.

The authors say their findings reflect widespread ageism in society, and highlights our profound anxiety about age.

Men in these magazines may be chronologically old, but their success and good health ensure that they aren’t socially and culturally classed as old.

These interest stories and advertisements offer limited pathways to fruitful aging, and are out of reach of the majority of older readers. More importantly perhaps, they can impact negatively on how older men see themselves.