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Coming of Age

At 81, Pinup Girl Martha Stewart is stirring perceptions about Age Bias.

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Martha Stewart via Sports Illustrated
Sunday Morning / June 4, 2023

Martha Stewart, 81, hit newsstands Friday on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Since 1964, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue has featured female fashion models, athletes, and celebrities wearing sexy swimwear in exotic locales around the world. The highly coveted cover photograph is considered the arbiter of supermodel succession, and this year the distinction went to the oldest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover model in history.

Sports Illustrated describes Stewart as an influencer, rightly. The doyenne of homemaking chronicled a Connecticut catering business into a book called “Entertaining” in 1982 that expanded into a cottage industry in her name including a magazine, two television series, and a diversified media and merchandising empire called Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. According to Forbes, she became the first self-made female billionaire in the United States in 2000 when she took MSLO public. "I am so thrilled to be on the cover of the @SI_Swimsuit issue,” Stewart writes on Instagram. “I hope this cover inspires you to challenge yourself to try new things no matter what stage of life you are in.”

Stewart is savvy to acknowledge her multi-generational customer, workforce and consumer around the world. In fact, 10,000 people turn 65 everyday, and there are as many people turning 80 as there are babies being born each day. As this media maven knows first hand, Ageism refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) towards them all.

Age Wise

The term “Ageism” first appeared in Robert Neal Butler’s opus Human Aging. He was the first to clarify that dementia was a disease rather than a corollary of age.

Shocked by attitudes toward the elderly and their diseases by many professors at Columbia Medical School, Butler went on to study Ageism at the National Institute of Mental Health. He studied three interconnected areas including the aging process, discriminatory practices, and institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes. Butler (1927–2010) was the Director of the American Institute of Aging, and won a Pulitzer Prize for Why Survive? Being Old in America.

However, a newer conceptual analysis of Ageism has emerged by psychologists Iversen, Larsen, & Solem who’re defining Ageism on the full spectrum and lifecycle of a multi-generational world. They observe more broadly;

Ageism is defined as a negative or positive stereotype; prejudice and/or discrimination against any person on the basis of their chronological age; or an implicit or explicit expression of the same on a micro, meso or macro-level.

Blind Spot

A few weeks ago, we engaged Martha Stewart’s Comms Team at MSLO about her forthcoming cover and requested permission to join a press junket via Zoom. We reached out via email.

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Martha Stewart via Sports Illustrated

They replied to our email with voicemail, to which we responded by copying a retinue of MSLO contacts into a confusing group correspondence. Our clumsy introduction sheds light on a challenge that is common in today’s workforce: learning how to collaborate with and appreciate the unique preferences, habits, and behaviors of a multi-generational workforce.

When we fundamentally can’t relate to someone due to generational gaps, we often resort to blaming solvable problems on stereotypes that are, as sweeping generalizations, impractical. For the first time in modern history, five generations now comprise the US and UK workforce. According to the Pew Research Center, each has a preferred communication style. They include;

The Silent Generation (1928-45) prefer in-person communications subsidized by handwritten notes, cards and letters; 2%

The Baby Boomers (1946-64) prefer in-person communications subsidized by phone and e-mail; 25%

Generation X (1965-80) prefer e-mail, text, and videoconferencing; 33%

Generation Y (1981-96) use text, videoconferencing, and FaceTime; 35%

Generation Z (1997-2009) prefer to communicate almost exclusively in FaceTime, and IM’s via and Social Media; 5%

However, to predetermine personal characteristics based on one’s age or generation is called Age Bias. While we rely on stereotypes to characterize a group, we can risk imputing a personal experience.

Breaking the Code

In reality, each generation entered the workforce under wildly different economic and cultural circumstance, shaping their sense of purpose, preferences, and principles for success.

While print, radio, film, televisions, computers, the Internet and social media all drove the messages and mores of their time, it’s worth qualifying that each individual is ultimately unique. Oprah Winfrey observes, “You have to meet people where they are.”

A virtual magazine, for example, might put a premium on flexible work and prefer, even require collaborating digitally across their international newsroom. On the other hand, a maven of hospitality, a product of the Great Depression, may very well prefer conventional routines, traditional interviews, kind notes with full and complete sentences.

Exploring those inroads together is important for those with a story to tell (like Martha) and those who really want to get their story straight (like us).

Potluck Dinner

Stewart says, “I never pay attention to age, race or gender. There are just too many other more important things to consider.”

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Martha Stewart, Snoop Dogg 2022

Multi-generational collabs are the now and Martha adds, “When you're through changing, you’re through.”

Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party spoke to precisely that with a secret every primetime hostess and ex-convict knows from experience: A pinch of compliance and a dash of compromise reduce the need for place cards in the chow hall.

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