I’ve been meaning to write this post for the past 2 months, so I realize that you may have already gone over these articles, but I’m gonna throw my two cents out there anyway — sorry, suckers.
In November, there was a flurry on news sites about the grandpa who models for his granddaughter’s web shop in China. There was commentary ranging from “Does anyone else find this creepy?” to “Just when I thought I’ve seen and heard it all, something like this comes along” to “You go gramps!”
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of comments were generally supportive of grandpa’s modeling career, but I couldn’t help but wonder: to what extent is the encouragement primarily a result of the almost comical edge that the “modeling photos” have?
I mean, these wigs!
CBC notes that Liu Xianping (grandpa) “has got the “it-model” look down pat; lean physique, chic gamine haircut, a sassy stance and coltish legs displayed in a pair of thigh-high stockings.” Yes, it’s true: Liu does have some of the pre-reqs for being a successful model.
But when you look at these pictures, you don’t necessary see Liu as a model; you see him as an audacious grandpa who tossed social norms aside, and rocked it. At the same time, however, Liu’s story has more entertainment value than it does any indication of serious social change. Thing is, Liu is not an “exception to the rule” — he’s just an awesome outlier, a one-off. People ate his story up because it was cool, fun, and unexpected.
If grandpas or grandmas started seriously modeling for webshops around the world tomorrow, you can be sure there would be an influx of non-supportive commentary — perhaps even of disgust.
In July, American Apparel launched a campaign using an “Advanced model” named Jacky. Jacky is not a professional model — AA reps approached her on the street. When the campaign went live, again commentary ranged from “She’s beautiful” to “Ew, this is gross” — but from what I gathered personally, most people were not gung-ho about seeing Jacky’s legs spread wide.
But why the hell not? Why did Jacky get more negative criticism than Liu? Is it a double standard? Probably — there is much more pressure on females to conform to society’s ideals of beauty. And our society idolizes youth. What happens to supermodels after they hit 40, anyway?
Is it that Jacky’s campaign is more “provocative” than Liu’s? But what’s wrong with American Apparel doing what they do best (sexualizing individuals)?
Our society likes to conveniently forget that adults — especially older adults — are sexual beings. We celebrate the sexual freedoms that the women on Sex and the City enjoy, but we never want to think about our grandparents getting it on in nursing homes.
But this brings me back to the public’s responses to Liu and Jacky’s campaigns. Liu’s campaign is not sexual in any sense: it just looks like a silly grandpa having some fun. The result? General amusement. In contrast, Jacky’s photos seem to cross the line on society’s ideas of appropriateness, which led to social policing.
Society’s glorification of youth is understandable. After all, youth is the time for growth and when our bodies are full of promise and vitality. But I think our notions of beauty are too constrictive — we shouldn’t be condemning the older generation for continuing to feel secure of themselves and of their bodies. We should be proud of them, and we should aspire to be as comfortable and feel as attractive as they do when we reach their age.
Because you know what? Jacky’s fucking gorgeous and I’m glad she knows it.