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#ILookMyAge: The Antidote To Tiktok's Age Filter

Yet again, social media is obsessed with another ageist filter. Since Kylie Jenner used Tiktok’s ‘Age Filter’ – a new AI filter that ‘ages’ you – Titktok has been bombarded with users sharing what they will supposedly look like when they are older.

Now if you’re not on Tiktok, you might be inclined to just dismiss this as another frivolous trend. But it speaks to several much bigger points.

1.     The importance of diverse representation around ageing

According to PetaPixle:

“The filter uses the latest machine technology to map out a TikTok user's face and accurately simulates features like wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, jowls, and eye bags to predict what that person might look like as they age”

In other words the filter uses stereotypical hallmarks of what ageing looks like. Of course, with age we do get wrinkles etc – it’s perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of. But equally we all age differently (genetics, ethnicity, lifestyle,  health, experiences etc all play a role), and instead this filter applies a blanket, one-fits-all, approach.

If we truly want to end ageism, we must stop presenting ageing as a monolith, and show that there is no right or wrong way to age. We need representation.

We launched #ILookMyAge in June to disrupt these exact narrow-minded perceptions around what age looks like. The point of the campaign is to celebrate the beauty, individuality and diversity of ageing – exactly the opposite to what the Age Filter does.

With Barbie mania gripping the world, it’s a great example of the power – and importance – of representation. Once upon a time Barbie was just tall, slim, blonde and white – dictating beauty standards to little girls around the world. But in more recent years, Barbie has evolved and become more diverse and inclusive; a point the new film – and its marketing – has been very persistent in portraying.

As lead actress Margot Robbie put it:

"I don't think I would have wanted to attempt to make a [non-diverse] Barbie film. I don't think you should say, 'This is the one version of what Barbie is, and that's what women should aspire to be and look like and act like.'"

Because representation matters. Now imagine if there were more age-inclusive and positive Barbies too… how powerful would that be? Which brings me onto…

2. The importance of educating ALL ages on ageism

Unsurprisingly, most of those who’ve used the AI filter have been left somewhat unimpressed. Not because it’s not technically good AI – but rather because of what their ‘aged’ selves look like, fearful of when one day it might became a reality. As Kylie Jenner put it ‘ ‘I don’t like it… I don’t like it at all, no, no” 

At present, Tiktok’s primary audience is Gen Z and Millennials: nearly ¾ of every user (71%) are aged between 18 to 34; and 27% are under 13 – 17. i.e. the core audience of these filters – and the ageist narratives they are peddling – are younger generations. 

Not only are these filters encouraging these highly impressionable younger users (note – the majority of Tiktok users are also female) to fear ageing, but they are also further warping their already heavily engrained ageist perceptions around age and the reality of being older.
Journalist Georgina Aspinall highlighted this in her Grazia article on the trend:

“It’s not just older women that are affected by the ageism [of these age filter trends], it’s all of the kids that see this kind of commentary and don’t yet have the ability to grasp why it’s problematic.”

The only way to combat this – other than ban these sorts of filters – is through actively encouraging younger people to engage in the conversation around ageing. We need to be educating them on ageism from an early age and showing that everything doesn’t just decline with age.

What’s been particularly encouraging is how many younger women have been inspired by the #ILookMyAge campaign. It’s a refreshing antidote to the damaging message the Age Filter is spreading, because the internet is being flooded with images of ‘older’ women globally who are disrupting stereotypes around what it looks like to get older, and wearing ageing as a badge of honour.

3.  AI isn’t the ultimate answer

Artificial Intelligence has got a lot of the creative world worried, and understandably so. In the case of photography, a lot of photographers, models, MUAs, and other imagery adjacent roles, are fearful that AI will render their jobs obsolete. But I’m more optimistic – certainly when it comes to creatives in the ageing / anti-ageism / pro-ageing space.

Because AI is created through algorithms. Algorithms can only create from what they have been told. They can’t be innovative. They can’t be authentic. And they can’t push boundaries. So when it comes to age related imagery, AI cannot change and create new narratives around ageing. And whilst stereotypes and generalisations around ageing prevails, that is what will inform the algorithms.

Case example: I used an AI online resource to create an image, using the words ‘woman over 50 fashion’. This was the result: 

A smorsgabord of the tokenistic stereotypes of 50+ women we see throughout media: Caucasian woman? Check. Grey hair, short, coiffed hair? Check. Classic styling? Check. A woman who is more likely in her 70s or 80s than 50s? Check. (all points highlighted in our survey for ‘Ending The Age of Invisibility’)

Of course, this was a free tool and there are more sophisticated AI’s out there, plus there are artists using AI to create more diverse imagery. In particular, there’s an account on instagram which specialises in using AI to create more diverse, contemporary images of older people:

But even these have limitations. Yes they're certainly more diverse, colourful and bold which is wonderful. But the images aren’t authentic; they feel cold, lack energy, the models have the same figures and 'look', and the clothes follow that same stereotypical ‘funky’ and ‘eccentric’ aesthetic. 

This is why creating and publicly sharing real, authentic imagery is still so important. Whether that’s in the form of professional imagery – such as our  50+ women stock imagery project we created with charity Centre For Ageing Better – or sharing one’s own pics and selfies through campaigns like #IlookMyAge - these are the visuals that disrupt, challenge, and change attitudes – not an algorithm generated tools.

Despite the filter having be used over 5 million times already, what is encouraging is that there has been some public backlash by journalists and in the media, calling it out for what it is: ageist. So perhaps the silver lining of all of this is that the filter is undermining itself. But it’s also worth noting that whilst there have been loads of main stream articles about that filter, there havn’t been many about #Ilookmyage (despite 4.5million+ views and thousands taking part globally)… it’s just as important to counterpoint these articles about the negative impacts of the filter, with positive, encouraging messages that prove we are moving in the right direction and the narrative is changing. Thank you to Laura Jackel writing for Mama Mia AULaxmi Todiwan writing for Women's Web, and Marketing Beat, for sharing the positive impact of this campaign.

And if you havn’t yet joined #ILookMyAge – please do. Every single person is invited to take part, and every single post matters. Because, unlike this age filter, #ILookMyAge isn’t a trend; it’s a movement. And the more we continue to amplify this message, the more we can drown out the ageist ones, and inspire everyone everywhere of all ages to embrace ageing for what it is: a privilege, not a punishment.


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