Our population is ageing and women over 50 will soon be the largest group. Older women play a vital role in our families, workplaces and communities.
Almost 50% of the Australian workforce is female and most carers and voluntary workers are women. Maintaining the health and wellbeing of older women brings benefits to the whole community! However, gender inequality and age discrimination affect the health of older women in Australia and worldwide.
Flesh after Fifty tackles gender and age discrimination in a new and innovative way. It is now well established that engagement with the arts can benefit both physical and mental health. The "arts ripple effect" describes the extensive reach of health benefits across the community. The arts provide an outlet for recreation and relaxation, self-reflection and enjoyment. For people with mental illness, arts programs can improve confidence, self-esteem and hope for the future1. For older adults, engagement with art improves mood and promotes positive ageing2. Like regular physical activity, regular engagement with the arts enhances health and wellbeing, increases happiness and resilience, and improves quality of life3. Art engagement promotes health by building new relationships, reducing isolation and increasing social support3. Participation in community arts projects increases sense of belonging, tolerance, trust and respect1,3. Arts contribute to public health by giving people the opportunity to interact with others, form friendships and share in positive experiences. The arts have the potential to bridge our worlds, harness the wisdom of our different views, engage our imagination to explore new ways of thinking, and create experiences that can be shared by all people in our community. Most importantly, the arts shape cultural norms and attitudes related to gender and gender equality.
Achieving health equity for older women means challenging negative views about ageing and recognising the strength and beauty of older bodies. In our society, most images of women’s bodies are distorted and digitally transformed. Beauty is strongly equated with youth and images of older women’s bodies are largely absent. Flesh after Fifty aims to shifts the narrative of ageing away from concepts of “loss” to recognising the “gains” of older age, including experience, confidence and growth. The project uses artworks to give new meaning and relevance for older women in our community. Flesh after Fifty will provoke discussion and reflection about what it means to be an older woman and reaches out to younger women with a new and more positive message about ageing. The project brings the voices of older women, bringing unique insights about the negative impact of gender inequality on health and wellbeing to inform policy and guide younger women as they too become older women.
Martha Hickey, March 2019
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