#nomakeupselfie: Where are the older women?

Photo: sunshine city (Creative Commons)

Social media has experienced another one of its phenomena over the past couple of weeks – the #nomakeupselfie. Thousands upon thousands of women have been posting photos of themselves on Facebook without make-up. Initially aiming to raise awareness of cancer, this movement, if it can be called that, has led to donations in their millions for the UK’s cancer charities.

It feels like this activity has reached its peak and is beginning to quieten down, with the inevitable analysis taking place about how it happened, how charities jumped on it, and whether it was truly a force for good. But there seems to be one question that no-one has yet asked in all of this: where were the older women?

Certainly, in my experience of the #nomakeupselfie, I did not see any older women. The oldest selfie that appeared on my Facebook feed was from a woman in her forties. Why was it that a campaign emerged to raise awareness of a disease that predominantly affects older people without any involvement from them?

The obvious answer to that would be that older women are not on Facebook. That’s true to some extent. According to some statistics, people aged 65+ represent just 3% of Facebook users in the UK. But given that there are over 36 million UK Facebook users, that means there are still one million older people on Facebook. And the trend in America is that this age group is the fastest growing on Facebook – an 80% increase in the last three years. Surely at least a small proportion of these women would have taken part in such a campaign.

Digging deeper, the answer could lie in smartphone usage. Taking a selfie is easy for those who can take a photo on their phone and immediately upload to their social media profiles. But take-up of smartphones is also incredibly low among older people, with just 3% of older people having one according to Ofcom, compared to 66% among 16-24 year olds. Perhaps the mechanism of a selfie is simply inaccessible to older women.

But this possibility is questionable given that tablets are becoming increasing popular among older people. It is estimated that 3.9 million people over the age of 55 own a tablet, representing 26% of this age group.

Of course, there are likely to be generational reasons behind the lack of older women. If lots of very young women are seen taking part, maybe older women feel it is not for them. Maybe it is simply that older women might wear less make-up.

Whatever the reason, it seems unfortunate that older women were either unable or unwilling (or both) to get involved with an initiative that looked to make a difference in an area that affects them. Was there more that could have been done by the selfie-takers or the charities that jumped on the craze to involve a wider age demographic and therefore increase its reach and impact?

Surely we should not just accept that older women are not interested in raising awareness of cancer or giving to those charities that fund research or support cancer patients and their families. Indeed, we can expect that many older women are driving fundraising in their local communities.

In which case, we need to find ways to involve older women (and men) more when these social media campaigns explode out of nowhere. Younger men were able and encouraged to get involved by wearing make-up or very little at all in their selfies. Why were older women not encouraged to take part?

Imagine how powerful the #oldieselfie could be…

Find out about how local Age UK’s in your area are helping to get older people on the internet

2 thoughts on “#nomakeupselfie: Where are the older women?”

  1. i for one didnt take part for one reason. frequently i have new photos taken wghenever i go out on a trip out.car drive etc and wear something new. initially to see what it looks like on me. i then use it as a profile pic. i never ever wear make up now. at 71 i dont need it and even in the past rarely bothered..this means that everyone on my facebook has seen me countless times with no make up on at all.
    lots of older women dont wear makeup. for varying reasons. so possibly the above is the reason for that age group not doing selfies.

    1. I agree that this is probably a major factor for some older women not getting involved. The same is true for men but there was an adapted version of the #nomakeupselfie for that group to get involved.

      My point is that it is a shame that given how cancer affects older people more than most, that there was not an opportunity or encouragement for them to contribute to an important awareness and fundraising initiative.

      Of course, part of this is that it was a wholly organic grassroots action that was entirely driven by the people themselves who were involved. I just think that it was a missed opportunity not to harness the considerable collective voice of older women in something like this.

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