Until a few years ago, Melbourne mother of two Lou Forbes made fun of her kids for the time they spent on Instagram.
But as she approached 50, she was drawn to the increasingly popular social media platform after she contemplated going grey.
“I’d been dying my hair since, I think, about the age of 15 or 16 and I was starting to get sick of it and it was costing a lot,” Lou says.
“It took me three goes and I looked to Instagram for inspiration to spur me on and get me through.”
Lou started her Instagram account @silversista soon after, and said she was blown away by the response she received from her first posts.
People were saying, oh, thank you so much and congratulations, it’s wonderful to see our sector of the society represented.”
The 51-year-old actor said she was surprised by how much she enjoyed engaging with the medium and the positive feedback gave her confidence to continue.
She progressed from posting headshots from behind to artistic nudes.
“With that confidence, I started experimenting with the photos and say, ‘Hey kids, take a photo of mum’, or organising my own shoots.”
Lou said she joined Instagram to look for inspiration, and suddenly she was inspiring others.
“Supposedly, I was becoming one of the inspirations for other people, and I didn’t know what to do with it in the beginning,” she says.
“I think there’s a great sisterhood and the camaraderie and the support to make a statement about women our age not being invisible – that we are positive, that we’re still allowed to be sexy and we don’t have to be stereotyped to be sitting in a corner knitting booties.”
When Lesley Crawford wanted to learn about Instagram, she decided to embark on a project: She decided to buy no new clothes for a year, and document it daily.
“That was my Instagram tutorial,” Lesley says.
Her age has never felt relevant – it’s just a state of mind, she says.
I forget that I’m 66. Age has never really been that important to me.”
Her account, @lesleyhasmanyhats, now has more than 7,000 followers.
Older Australians control most of the wealth
In 2019, advertising giant WPP conducted an online survey of 2500 Australians aged 50 to 79.
The results suggest Australians over 50 spend 27 hours a week on the internet, and three-quarters regularly research and buy products online.
Nearly 95 per cent of respondents over 50 said they did not like the way organisations and marketers communicated to them.
Lou says women over 50 don’t want to be misrepresented, and companies are doing themselves a disservice by not representing their true market in their media and advertising.
Gill Walker, who runs a communications consultancy in Melbourne helping companies market to the over-50 market, says older women are commonly made to feel invisible.
But, she says, with 75 per cent of wealth in Australia managed by those over 45, it makes business sense for companies to target older Australians.
“When we talk to them, they feel as though they’ve become invisible and that what they’ve achieved in life isn’t recognised, [nor] that they still have a lot to contribute,” she says.
“We find the, sort of, two camps.
“There’s the people that love the old audience and do quite well.
“Then there’s the mass marketers who exclude the old audience and very rarely would they put faces of older people in their advertising and their promotions.”
But there’s been a shift in the right direction in the past decade, she says.
We now are seeing a few celebrities celebrating their grey hair.”
“We’re seeing celebrities that play roles, and documentaries and dramas where the female is successful and smart and clever, not a dowdy, old, frumpy granny.”
‘Stop mucking with your face’
Sydney-based antique jewellery dealer Sarah Jane Adams has attracted a huge following since she first posted to Instagram five years ago.
The 64-year-old has two Instagram profiles — one related to her business @saramaijewels, and a personal account @mywrinklesaremystripes.
She says the first account, which has 187,000 followers, was set up as a platform to talk about her antique jewellery and the inspiration behind it, rather than to sell it.
I don’t actually believe in branding. I don’t believe in marketing.”
“I don’t believe in selling sh-t to the masses as an antique jewellery dealer.”
Her personal account, which has more than 25,000 followers, was created in response to somebody trying to sell her a “particular type of wonder cream” for her face.
She found it offensive.
“I thought, now I’m actually really happy with my wrinkles and my stripes and my white hair and my ageing body.”
Sarah Jane knows many people and companies primarily see Instagram as a marketing tool.
But she sees the platform’s potential power in helping women of all ages accept themselves as they are.
“My ultimate message is one that’s come to me later, which is to really help empower women – not all old women, but women of all ages – to accept themselves.
“Stop mucking with your face. Stop doing this stuff which basically makes you all look the same.
“Look after yourself as best you can. Keep yourself healthy. Keep yourself fresh. Live life to the max and just enjoy life.”