This "historical" doll release showed Millenials what Gen X and Boomer women have been fighting for decades.
"I never thought of it this way, but it's true that dads are never persecuted for aging. There is so much pressure on women to stay and look young and I have fallen victim to it myself. Aging feels like failing at life sometimes. Especially with all the social media and filters for women on the apps, it feels like the second you start aging, the world throws you aside."
Ashley Erikson, 36, a Burbank, CA mom of two sons, community leader, and Feature Editor for My Burbank News shared her insight after she saw my reaction to a popular newspaper article featuring a 90s American Girl doll release. The article joked that the "historical" doll had accessories that were "artifacts" from the 90s and that the millennial girls who first owned American Girl dolls "should probably be using retinol creams by now." My response ignited a profound conversation among friends and followers. Here's what I wrote:
"Teaching two generations of girls and women about ageism against women. Stellar! Where are the boy toys that teach boys their millennial dads are ancient and should use skin creams? It's a miracle we made it this far in this oppressive polluted hellscape and I'm celebrating the fact that I'm still alive and in my PRIME, just the same as the men my age are. 🥂"
This wasn't the only article throwing jabs at aging millenial women. Several articles referred to the dolls and their accessories as "nostalgic gut punches," joking that the 90s decade is "ancient history," calling younger millenials "decrepit," and scraping the bottom of the creativity barrel, a flat out "you're old," repeated several times. As if! In 2023, millennials' ages range from 27 to 42. Considering the average life expectancy for women in the U.S. is around 77 years old, millennial women still have a lot of living to do, as do the older generations. No wonder women feel depressed and compelled to use expensive and sometimes harmful anti-aging treatments. They are being told they're "decrepit," when they still have 40+ years of life ahead of them.
Some millenials tweeted about feeling old and disrespected because the 90s dolls were in the "historical dolls" collection.
Many millennials balked at the idea that a company they once loved was now referring to their childhood as a "historical time period" and in the same category as the other historical doll releases, like those from the 1700s and 1920s. They've got a point. Where are the toys being marketed to young boys calling their dads' childhoods "historical?" This tongue-in-cheek dig was an interesting business choice for American Girl, considering millennial girls were their original client base. That means the founding of the American Girl doll company in 1986 is also "ancient history," and their original products are "artifacts." According to the media, the founder of American Girl had better stock up on some skin cream.
The media used this American Girl doll release to magnify and poke fun at womens' fear of aging. But they didn't examine why they have this fear and aversion to it in the first place. According to Forbes, "Research shows that women are the primary victims of age discrimination in hiring, which means that women are driven out of the workplace earlier than men and have a much more difficult time finding a way back." Add that to the fact that women of childbearing age are also afforded less opportunities due to the unequal balance of domestic responsibilities, and women have a significant disadvantage, young or old.
A Gen-X mom in her fifties, who wished to remain anonymous, sent me a private message about how she feels being an older mom. She lamented that being a mom who had her last child at 42 years old felt alienating because her child's friends' moms are all 10 years younger than her. She struggles with comparing herself to the younger moms. Social media filters and targeted ads telling her to stock up on anti-aging products don't help. "I find myself Googling fillers (as if filters weren't bad enough) and more invasive treatments...like everyone else, I want to like what I see in the mirror. It's tough sometimes."
Baby boomer women are also fed up with ageism. Mariann Aalda, actress and resident Age Anarchist for Women of Color Unite, an advocacy group for marginalized women working in the entertainment industry, enjoyed a thriving 30-year acting career and starred on the ABC soap, Edge of Night. But then, in her mid-fifties, her career came to a halt. Casting directors stopped calling. She was told by her agent to gain 50 pounds so she could do character acting. One of the many crowd favorites at her Ted Talk was her unapologetic declaration, "Boldness doesn't wither and brilliance doesn't tarnish just because you get old." Aalda asserts that being old is the natural consequence of living a long life, which is the idea, right? As a cancer survivor, she hungered for more life, for growing old rather than dying young. Racism, sexism, and ageism, Aalda says, "like with all words that end in 'ism,' the i.s.m. stands for 'I subscribe mentally.' But you can cancel your subscription!"
Women are stuck between the natural biological process of getting older and a society that deems aging to be a sin punishable by invisibility and fewer opportunities. So they've turned to the booming anti-aging industry, which profits off the impossible situation in which women find themselves. Vox cited data from Euromonitor International that shows the anti-aging market skyrocketed from $3.9 billion in 2016 to $4.9 billion in 2021 in the United States. Globally, the anti-aging market made $37 billion from women in 2021. Imagine how the financial scales would tip if women used that money to invest in real estate, businesses, or retirement. This market is set up to separate women from their money and capitalize on our insecurities about getting older. Our finances are already negatively impacted by the gender pay gap. According to The Pew Research Center, in 2022, Hispanic women earned only 65% as much as White men, Black women earned 70% as much, and White women earned 83% as much. Additionally, women are tasked with more free domestic labor at home while working full-time jobs, which only ages us faster.
What's even more alarming, is the fact that women pressure each other to get anti-aging treatments. Ashley Erikson pointed this out when she said, "I feel like a lot of the pressure to fight aging comes from other women and not men. My husband doesn’t care and I don’t ever feel insecure around men about it. But when I’m surrounded by women who talk about it and focus on it, that’s when I doubt myself. My feed is filled with women constantly trying to fix things that aren’t broken. Just now my Instagram feed was all ads about a stomach cream to make your skin flatter, diet plans, and eyelash growing serum." Not only are generations of women feeding this industry, but they are also passing these unattainable beauty standards down to their children.
As a mom of young boys, Erikson shared her concerns: "I worry about our children, especially our boys who are growing up in this social media age when they are learning about the opposite sex through tik tok videos and Instagram reels. Absorbing a false idea of what women look like and how we age. The same way porn is a false reality of sex. It perpetuates a cycle of dysmorphia in the younger generation and I’m scared to see what the future holds for them in the next twenty years. Reality dating shows show women in their early twenties with breast augmentations and fillers just to prevent aging, even though it’s decades away from them. The question is…why are we so afraid of it? What do we lose when gravity and wrinkles take its natural course? What do we really think will change in our lives if we don’t fight against the fate of our faces?"
Until we change the underlying sexism and ageism, the truth is women have a lot to lose if they let gravity and wrinkles take their natural course. They are pressured into making unhealthy decisions for their bodies. Women getting Botox procedures are injecting the botulinum toxin, one of the most toxic poisons, into their faces to paralyze their muscles and reduce wrinkles. There is a long list of potential harmful side-effects, but many women are willing to risk it to hold onto a more youthful appearance (no judgment to these women, it's hard to age in a society that punishes women for growing old). Women are desperate to avoid becoming obsolete in a world that yanks away career opportunities and makes us all but disappear if we're over 50. However, if we get too much work done, we are also criticized. Madonna recently experienced this harsh criticism after her appearance at the Grammys this year. Her statement on Instagram called out the ageist remarks people made about her face:
"Once again I am caught in the glare of ageism and misogyny that permeates the world we live in. A world that refuses to celebrate women past the age of 45 And feels the need to punish her If she continues to be strong willed, hard-working and adventurous."
Women are continuing to fight back and call out ageism across generational lines. Mariann Aalda is on the front lines of that fight. "If you don't want to be invisible, then find a way to shine!" At almost 75 years old, her voice is full of vitality and vigor. Women are outgrowing the artifacts of ageism the same way they outgrew those dolls. It's time to relegate to "ancient" history the era that made women feel inferior and invisible for going through the most natural process in the world and something that literally all living things do. In a landscape of equality and equity for all ages, women would laugh at the notion that their childhoods were deemed "ancient history." What would happen if women enhanced their power and fought ageism in the professional world by investing in women-owned businesses rather than dumping their money into the anti-aging industry? It's possible to boldly and brilliantly make true history and declare unapologetically that getting older is our biological birthright, and we can shine at any age.