A new initiative, Expose Ageism (#exposeageism), encourages spa, beauty and wellness businesses to eliminate negative messaging about growing older. Nancy Griffin, a PR professional with more than 30 years’ experience in the spa, beauty and wellness industries and the host of the Glowing Older podcast, created the initiative, through which businesses pledge to eliminate ageist attitudes in their marketing and operations.
Griffin’s initiative uses the World Health Organization’s definition of ageism: “Ageism refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) towards others or oneself based on age.”
In terms of marketing, Griffin, 58, says phrases that promote youth as the goal of those industries, such as “forever youthful,” “turn back the clock” and “anti-aging” are a form of age discrimination. More appropriate terminology, she says, includes such phrasing as “aging well,” “positive aging” and “pro aging.”
Related to operations, she says businesses in this industry should be conscious of such needs of older employees as enhanced ergonomics and flexible hours, and that hiring professionals should understand the value an experienced employee can bring to an organization.
Although #exposeageism is experiencing a groundswell of new members—as of this writing, in mid-June, 35 companies and 15 individuals had taken the pledge to scrub the “anti-aging” message from their company culture since #exposeageism launched in March —it isn’t always an easy sell. Griffin has been accused by some business of using cancel culture to attack their bottom line. Not every business she has approached has joined. Yet, she is optimistic that this nascent movement will grow and contribute to a new approach to marketing.
For this interview, Griffin met with MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief, Karen Menehan, to talk about how she intends to help combat age discrimination in the spa, beauty and wellness industries, and how massage therapists can support #exposeageism.
Karen Menehan: How does ageism affect people?
Nancy Griffin: A lot of people don’t know that negative perceptions of aging actually hurt you physically and take years off your life and life off your years. Research [by Yale researcher Becca Levy] shows that negative perceptions of aging can take seven-and-a-half years off your life.
Now, I think we could say part of that is stress, right? It’s societal ageism. Perceptions of people as being incompetent and not valuable directly affect our health in a detrimental way. Ageism is basically discrimination against older people.
KM: Doesn’t everyone want to look and feel and look youthful?
NG: At a certain point you can’t. I’m not going to look like I looked 30 years ago. Part of my being in a happy place is that I have to have that amount of acceptance. I spend my money in the wellness industry on massage. Acupuncture is another place I pour my money into. Organic food and supplements are another place I spend money on.
So, it’s like I’m spending money on youthfulness, but by building my chi and my stamina and my immunity and my endurance.
If somebody wants to do Botox or wants to go under the knife and they feel better about themselves and that gives them the vitality they want, then bless them.
Some people are going to look at me and say that I look 10 years older than I am because I haven’t kept coloring my hair. But it’s like that’s part of what we have to say is OK. I’ve just decided I’m OK the way I am.
KM: What you just said about building stamina and immunity sounds like a good fit with the spa industry.
NG: The roots of spa are eating well and getting out in nature and exercising, and managing stress.
As a comparison, 20 years ago we weren’t having the conversation about what we were putting on our bodies and how it gets absorbed into our bodies and how we were harming our clients and our therapists. Similarly, now, we know that ageism and these negative perceptions of aging are doing harm—so our industry can do better.
KM: What is the point, to a business, of changing its messaging?
NG: People are saying, “It’s about time.” It’s about time you recognize people over 45. It’s about time you recognize that you need to treat menopause as real. This idea of an older adult is our target market.
I mean, in every way, from every touchpoint, whether it’s marketing to prospects or it’s on the table with clients or pre- and post-session with clients, or it’s doing email marketing—you’re starting to see way more content on topics like menopause, on topics like aging well, on topics like caregivers.
So if you’re providing content or doing email marketing then I would definitely say, consider the older adult in all of that.
A primary part of that is your language, how you present what you offer. If you included #exposeageism in your diversity, equity and inclusion policy, that means you have to really walk the talk with it internally and take a look at some of your internal policies and how you promote.
KM: Baby Boomers are ages 59 to 77, and the oldest members of Gen X are now 58. What is the role of massage as our society ages?
NG: With the power of touch, I think we’re going to start to see a wave. At the luxury level, at the assisted living level, especially the people who have had massages regularly, they’re going to want their massage [as they age]. Whether they get it through an on-demand service that comes with their own table, whether there’s a room in a community, people are going to want massage.
KM: Both spas and massage practices often use stock images of very young women getting a massage. Is that type of imagery something you think needs to change?
NG: If you’re worried that you don’t look young and all these societal images are coming at you that you feel you need to look younger to be OK, then that is actually the opposite of wellness.
Visit exposeageism.com to join the initiative and take the pledge.
About the Author
Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor-in-chief – print and digital. Her articles for this publication include “This is How Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Practices Make Business Better,” one of the articles in the August 2021 issue of MASSAGE Magazine, a first-place winner of the national 2022 Folio Eddies Award for editorial excellence.