Does female beauty have an expiry date?
That’s the question posed by a County Down actress whose online rant criticising casting companies for using “sexist and ageist” language has been viewed more than 150,000 times since she tweeted on Wednesday.
‘No’, overwhelmingly, was the response.
Niamh McGrady was inspired to tweet after being invited to audition for a part in an advertisement, for which a casting director requested a woman “in her late 30s, still attractive”.
McGrady, who has appeared in The Fall and Holby City, has since been praised for her comical assault on the entertainment industry.
Her farcical video delivered a serious message about the antiquated attitudes of some casting agents.
“In her late 30s, still attractive? What’s she doing, drinking unicorn tears?,” she asked.
“It’s just that one word – still. And I’m taking real exception to it. What have we been doing? Why is it still acceptable to be ageist?
“This language is so normalised that nobody notices it’s there. I just find it really insulting and it’s feeding into the idea that after 40, women are on the scrapheap.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme on Friday, Ms McGrady suggested male actors have more longevity than their female colleagues.
“Women are basically disappearing off our screens around the age of 40, while men are carrying on and on and the women that are cast to play their partners stay somewhere in the late 20s to mid 30s bracket.”
She criticised “this idea that women are only valued by youth and once they become a certain age, it’s almost incredible that she’s ‘still’ attractive”.
Commenting on the fact that the character in the advertisement was a mother, she added: “So…once you become a mother you’re ‘still’ attractive rather than just being attractive? Attractiveness is completely subjective.”
‘Onslaught of messages’
McGrady said such language continues to be “endemic” in her industry, adding that the underlying messages can be “very subliminal”.
“People watching TV commercials, they won’t see what’s going on behind the scenes to get that to the screen.
“You’ve got to be super-slim and have a thigh gap, wear makeup, don’t wear makeup, wear your hair this way or don’t wear your hair that way. It’s an onslaught of messaging all the time that we have to live up to and compare yourself to.
“When you’re an actress, it’s even more acute, because we’re reading [these kind of messages] on a page before we even go into the room and it’s very unrealistic and very unfair.”
Although the casting director in question was also a woman, McGrady insisted that this was “neither here nor there”.
“[Despite] what’s being going on in the industry with #MeToo and the campaign for 50/50 representation, we still have a long way to go.”
The Castlewellan-born actress said: “No one is sitting in an office thinking: ‘How can we offend women today?’, it’s the fact that this language is so accepted that it’s invisible.”
Among those who tweeted messages of support were actresses Faye Ripley and Bronagh Waugh.
Several men also responded, insisting that the attitudes of the entertainment industry were out-of-sync with how they viewed female beauty.
Writer Laurence Doherty described the casting brief as “staggering”.
“Who in their right mind STILL writes like that? For the record, my wife is 46 and the most beautiful woman in the world. Inside and out,” he wrote.
In Wednesday’s post, McGrady ironically ended her rant by saying: “This idea of still attractive in her late 30s? Oh well, in a couple of years she might as well be dead!”