a) Creative director of Droga5, Ariella Gogol (2017) crafted an advertising campaign for CoverGirl with the tagline “I am what I make up”. In one ad, Maye Musk is featured alongside the “Simply Ageless” makeup line that is marketed to women wishing to fight the “signs of aging” (Simply ageless makeup, n.d.). Her age is openly stated as “69 Years Young”.
There can be no mistake that this ad challenges age stereotypes. At 69 then, Musk is “the oldest spokesperson for CoverGirl” (Cao, 2020). Her white hair acts as a visual anchor and testament to her age. Her smile belies any notion of ageism, in an ad aimed to curb geriatric undertones (Baum, 2018). Musk’s feature dismantles the age barrier in a modelling industry dominated by younger individuals (Singer, 2018).
Additionally, Droga5’s campaign for CoverGirl further challenges stereotypes of women by touching on social narratives such as race, ethnicity, and traditional notions of beauty (COVERGIRL, n.d.). Beyond age, Musk’s CoverGirl ad represents how ethnicity can also be woven into the modern femininist and beauty narratives. Models now are no longer just a white girl from the western hemisphere even if the ad presents Musk as one. Despite an industry hinged upon a model’s aesthetics, viewers need to unpack the layers within the ad. Musk may be considered ethnically white, yet she is not purely so.
Thus, the ad also challenges the stereotypes of ethnicity in the modelling industry by showcasing a Canadian-South African as one. For others who know of Musk and details from her childhood, the takeaway is different. Musk spent her childhood growing up in South Africa and eventually settled down in Canada. This knowledge provides crucial context. It further bolsters CoverGirl’s effort at challenging the ethnic barriers in the modelling industry (Milkie, 1999).
Next, Musk’s caption casts her as an individual who does not follow rules. In this regard, the campaign strives to empower women and depicts them as individuals in control of their lives. Musk retains her agency and individuality. She is not a powerless woman. She is what she makes herself up to be. Hence, the ad greatly challenges negative gender stereotypes of women (Piper, 2019).
Put together, Musk’s ad proudly frames her aged face while sporting a tagline that is flexible enough to accommodate the viewer’s interpretation. It should be sufficiently clear that the ad is making a statement for women who have been sidelined in mainstream narratives while empowering them through makeup. Having a 69 year old Canadian-South African model allows CoverGirl to upend traditional notions of age and beauty in a youth-fuelled modelling industry while combating the negative stereotypes of elderly people at the same time (Cohen, 2001). The ad challenges multiple narratives of age, ethnicity, and even gender to a large extent.
b) Here, we should note that CoverGirl “celebrates authenticity, diversity and self-expression through makeup” (About Us, n.d.). It is reasonable to think that these brand principles are transmitted through the “I am what I make up” tagline which by itself is a clever play on words. Musk is free to ‘make’ herself ‘up’, and use makeup as a means to express herself. We should note that the texts and visuals interact and build upon each other to craft layered meanings. Musk’s stated age and her visible facial wrinkles amplify the campaign’s tagline. The values that Musk stands for align with CoverGirl’s brand principles to some level.
The ad works effectively when the viewer takes in every aspect of the advertisement. This must all be done to comprehend how monumental it is for Musk to be chosen by CoverGirl as a model, especially when the modelling industry prioritises youth and slender bodies by perpetuating them in the media (MacCallum & Widdows, 2016, Digital Images and Body Image). Yet, there exists another takeaway from the ad: If the Simply Ageless product line supports women fighting the signs of aging, it would appear to go against the campaign’s messaging for women to embrace their true selves; Truly embracing themselves would mean accepting the changes that come with aging.
Next, Musk’s age is clearly discerned but her ethnicity is not effectively communicated across; She would be considered white and partake in its privilege (Milkie, 1999). On the other hand, viewers who know Musk can understand the brilliance of CoverGirl employing her as a model. She is after all not “purely white” and to deny her mixed heritage is to close one’s mind to unconventional ethnic representation. Nevertheless, the ad does not break new ground by casting Musk since she modeled since her teenage years (Wilson, 2020).
Ultimately, CoverGirl should be lauded for their attempt to drive non-mainstream narratives (Jefferson, 2018). Unfortunately, the ad carries mixed messages and is thus effective only to some extent.
About us. (n.d.). CoverGirl. https://www.covergirl.com/en_us/about-us.html
Baum, C. (2018, September 14). The ugly truth about ageism: it’s a prejudice targeting our future selves. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/sep/14/the-ugly-truth-about-ageism-its-a-prejudice-targeting-our-future-selves
Cao, S. (2020, January 7). At 71, Elon Musk’s model mom, Maye Musk, is at her peak as a style icon. Observer. https://observer.com/2020/01/elon-musk-mother-maye-model-dietician-interview-book-women-self-help/
Cohen, E. S. (2001). The complex nature of ageism. The Gerontologist, 41(5), 576–577. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/41.5.576
COVERGIRL | I am what I make up. (n.d.). Droga5. https://droga5.com/work/covergirl/
Gogol, A. (2020). COVERGIRL. Ariella Gogol. http://www.ariellagogol.com/#/covergirl/
Jefferson, R. S. (2018, February 27). Fashion industry and advertisers adjust to reality of senior buying power with older models. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/robinseatonjefferson/2018/02/27/fashion-industry-and-advertisers-adjust-to-reality-of-senior-buying-power-with-older-models/#57f2694e713d
MacCallum, F., & Widdows, H. (2016). Altered images: Understanding the influence of unrealistic images and beauty aspirations. Health Care Analysis, 26(3), 235–245. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10728-016-0327-1
Milkie, M. A. (1999, June). Social comparisons, reflected appraisals, and mass media: The impact of pervasive beauty images on black and white girls’ self-concepts. Social Psychology Quarterly, 62(2), 190. https://doi.org/10.2307/2695857
Piper, N. (2019, June 21). Gendered Labor and Inequality in the Asian Context. International Sociological Association, 9(2). https://globaldialogue.isa-sociology.org/gendered-labor-and-inequality-in-the-asian-context/
Simply ageless makeup for mature skin. (n.d.). CoverGirl. https://www.covergirl.com/en_us/collection-makeup/simply-ageless/
Singer, M. (2018, August 16). Why the fashion world needs to commit to an 18+ modeling standard. Vogue. https://www.vogue.com/article/why-fashion-needs-to-commit-to-age-appropiate-modeling-standard-vogue-september-2018
Wilson, E. (2020, September 7). Meet Maye Musk, mother of tech billionaire Elon Musk, and is also a 72-year-old model. Tatler Singapore. https://sg.asiatatler.com/society/maye-musk-model-author-interview