A pioneering project in which older women explored their experience of ageing through art provided the impetus for a campaign challenging ageism and sexism through a range of policy and school-based initiatives.

Impacts

  • Research findings were cited by the 2013 Commission on Older Women and in evidence submitted to the 2012 All-Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image
  • Sheffield City Council's Strategy for an Ageing Population and Birmingham Policy Commission 'Healthy Ageing in the 21st Century' (2013) were influenced by the findings
  • The Charter Against Ageism and Sexism in the Media (ChASM) was launched in 2013, calling for the media to better represent the diversity, complexity and potential of women aged 50 and over
  • The 'Look at Me!' exhibition of older women's artwork attracted positive public response, with 88 per cent of those surveyed after the exhibition wanting to see more representations of ordinary older women publicly displayed. Selected images were invited to locations such as the Royal College of Art, and now on permanent display at Age UK Sheffield and Swansea University
  • Altered attitudes to their own ageing and improved wellbeing were among the profound effects felt by some of the women who took part in the 'Look at Me!' project
  • Ageism awareness 'Act Your Age' workshops were held in a Sheffield school, promoting positive perceptions of ageing.

"When I came in here I thought it was the end - now I've done [the project] I know that's not true." (Extra-care housing resident from Sheffield, a participant on the 'Look at Me!' project)

About the research

When, as Dr Lorna Warren points out, the scariest costume famous German supermodel Heidi Klum could think of to wear for her Halloween party was that of an old, wrinkled woman, then the power of ageism and sexism is clearly undiminished.

Following an innovative research project under the New Dynamics of Ageing programme, Dr Warren is now using the channels of policy and education to challenge the way older people are represented in society. Such a challenge is urgently needed due to the growing and pervasive influence of a huge global 'anti-ageing' industry, she insists.

In Dr Warren's art-based project 'Look at Me! Images of Women and Ageing', a group of 41 women from Sheffield aged 43-96 created 'untraditional' images of themselves which were then exhibited in several venues in the UK. "These are some fabulous images which really challenge people’s views on how older people are represented in public and the media," she points out. "But, on their own, they clearly won't change the world."

To help generate that change, Dr Warren and colleagues are currently introducing workshops that explore age-based stereotypes in schools, with a view to include ageism in Personal Social Health and Economic (PSHE) education. To raise greater public and policy attention to these issues, Dr Warren last year co-launched a Charter against Ageism and Sexism (ChASM), developed in collaboration with the New Dynamics of Ageing programme, Women Ageing and Media, Women in Journalism and the National Union of Journalists.

"Through this combination of participatory arts projects, intergenerational learning on age awareness and a challenging charter, we have begun a crucial three-pronged attack to shift stereotyped and negative perceptions which we know shape the social value, opportunities and resources assigned to women as they age," she explains.

Dr Lorna Warren was awarded second prize in the ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize 2014 for Outstanding Impact in Society. See more details about the Celebrating Impact Prize winners 2014.