Cindy Gallop is not afraid to ruffle a few feathers. Okay, let’s amend that—she’s not afraid to ruffle any feathers. (Gentle warning: straight talk and swear words ahead.)
She’s well known in the advertising world, where she was a formidable top executive, and well known in the wider world for Make Love Not Porn, which she launched in a four-minute 2009 TED talk.
MLNP is her campaign to have humans, and not the porn industry, shape the way we talk about sex and act in bed. (She founded it after she realized younger lovers were using porn as guides on how to have sex.) The actual site is a user-generated sex-video sharing platform. She went into detail in her 2011 book Make Love Not Porn: Technology’s Hardcore Impact on Human Behavior.
In polite parlance, you could say that she’s a change-maker, a no-nonsense advocate for getting rid of ideas and mores that don’t work anymore. Or, as she would say: “I like to blow shit up.”
So now, she’s taking that same ethos to aging.
Forget sex, let’s talk aging
As AARP’s ambassador to their campaign called Disrupt Aging, Gallop is trying to re-jigger the aging process so you don’t freak out any time a new wrinkle pops up around your eyes. Beyond that, she’s trying to get everyone—men, women and businesses—to stop undervaluing older folks once their AARP subscription lands on their doorstep with a resounding thwack.
To Gallop, who was born outside London, her new gig is simply an extension of the work she’s been doing forever.
“I’ve been combating ageism for years,” she says. “ I would never ever want to be young again. Life just gets better the older I get. The single best thing about being this age is that I don’t give a damn what people think. In my 20s and teens I was the subject of rampant insecurities.”
When AARP asked her advice on fighting ageism, she didn’t miss a beat: Challenge and change depictions of aging in advertising.
“Our industry is a very, very powerful force in shaping culture, along with movies, television, literature, and it’s ageist as fuck,” she says. “It does have tremendous impact on people’s attitudes and behaviors. There is a lot of discussion about how gender is depicted in advertising, how diversity is depicted.
But she sees little nuance in the way age is portrayed in advertising.
“If you look at how age has been depicted in advertising—at one end are beautiful blonde-haired, white-haired, blue-haired, gorgeous older people walking on the beach in the sunset with a golden Labrador,” she says.
At the other end are “ridiculously comical parodies and caricatures of older people.”
The irony, she notes, is that it’s the older folks who have discretionary income—but that’s hardly reflective in advertising.
The solution ? Hire older people to run the show.
“When you have older people creating the ads, approving the ads, directing the ads, producing the ads—problem solved,” she says. “Like when we have women creating, approving, directing the ads—problem solved as well. I know how badly our industry needs the experience and expertise of older people. Not least because experience and expertise is staggeringly cost- and time-efficient.”
So what can you do to #DisruptAging ? Here are a few of Gallop’s tips.
1. Scream your age from the top of the tallest building
Gallop is 59, which is “just the right age.”
“I tell everybody I’m 59 as frequently as possible,” she says. “I’ve done this for a year. My philosophy is the opposite of what you hear, that age is just a number. I disagree. Your age is a very special number. It’s the sum total of you.”
“You are the sum total of all of your life experiences, learning, insights, education to date,” she continues. “Your age is the expression of the tremendous value you have because of that. So, I’m encouraging everybody to say their age.”
She believes that ageism is so entrenched in our society that many people go into job applications already defeated.
“I say to people—do not do the thing the recruiters advise and take a few years out of your resume or hide your age,” she expounds. “Say your age, proclaim your experience, and say ‘I’m bloody brilliant at doing this because I have this many years of experience.’”
2. Talk about loss and death
The two things people don’t want to talk about are sex and death, Gallop says.
And just like sex, if you treat death as a taboo subject, it creates much more stigma.
“This is all part of getting older in a way that if normalize it and look at it as a natural part of what happens, then there is more comfort to that,” she says. “The grief is there, but it’s a natural part of what we’ll come to.
Interestingly, Gallop says, millennials are reinventing death.
“There are young funeral directors who are completely reinventing the way you approach death and also the way we approach grieving, like modernloss.com,” she notes.
3. Quit saying “for your age”
One way to disrupt aging: Stop adding the words “for your age” at the end of compliments or observations. As in, “You look great for your age.”
“No, I LOOK my age and I’m really happy to look my age,” Gallop says. “I love looking my age! Do not give friends or relatives birthday cards that make fun of age. I went to buy a birthday card for a friend. They all made fun of their age! I refuse to buy cards. I’ve reccomended to AARP that #DisruptAging partner with Hallmark.”
4. Live older
Gallop wildly objects to the Evian water advertising campaign with the tagline, “Live young.”
“The assumption is that everyone wants to live young,” she says, when we should say “Live OLDER.”
What’s so great about living older?
“When you are older you don’t give a fuck,” she says. “You are in a far better position to do what you want and not give a damn what people think. You know what you like, you know what your personal style is, your personal home décor, you have the confidence of having your own tastes.”
“There are so many great things about living older: Having more freedom, having more money and getting to travel and do all the things that younger people aspire to,” she says. “I want everyone to aspire to live older. I want older people to talk about the way they live, so that advertisers and brands will realize that the really aspirational lifestyle is OURS.”
5. Reinvent yourself
“I want to reinvent what older women should talk like, look like, fuck like,” she says.
As for the old saw that women turn invisible after 50, Gallop doesn’t buy it.
“I don’t feel invisible,” she says. “I don’t give a shit. I walk into an event where people don’t know who I am—men’s eyes slide over an older woman and they’re not interested in who you are. It’s enormously entertaining to me.”
Gallop also wishes employers would realize the economic aspect of her anti-ageism campaign. To her, the most egregious aspect of ageism is that companies and employers don’t realize their loss in not hiring and promoting older people.
“It’s a gaping hole in the American economy,” she says. “If this situation was completely reversed and companies embraced and begged for the talents and skills of older workers—OH MY GOD—would we see this country’s economy rebound in a staggering way.”
6. Make love!
Gallop wants you to know: Your sexuality only gets better and better the older you get.
“I consider myself more and more attractive and desirable the older I get,” she says. “I date younger men in their 20s, and I’ve never been told so many times how beautiful I am since I’ve been dating younger men.”
Gallop maintains that her casual relationships—built on trust and respect, she notes—last a lot longer than other people’s “serious” ones.
“We stay friends because we like each other,” she says. “I have never wanted marriage. or children. I’m not a relationship person. I date younger men for sex.”
7. Make friends of all ages
The future is cross-generational.
“The future is younger people and older people working together as equal partners on business challenges and work together,” she says. “Not only are the older very direct coaches and mentors for younger people, the two-way flow of ideas and inspiration—that’s the future of business.