Are magazines finally breaking free from ageism?

These women have great stories to tell. And we’re here for them.

Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue is always an anticipated one. Published once a year, it’s the only issue where models and celebrities—not sports personalities—are on the cover.

This year’s edition came as a surprise. Martha Stewart, at 81 years old, is one of four covers. The reactions have ranged from “She’s 81?” to “Wow, she’s gorgeous!” and “Did she have work done?”

Known to anyone who ever turned on their TV in the 1990s, Stewart is the Queen of Domestic Arts, an empire-building entrepreneur, and also a convicted felon (for insider trading). Her 30-minute cooking show Martha Stewart Living, where she always quipped, “It’s a good thing,” was a global hit and allowed her to build an empire of her own brand of home products.

Martha Stewart at 81
Martha Stewart, 81, says being on the cover of SI was a challenge.

In an interview with Today, Stewart said Sports Illustrated called her in November and told her the photo shoot would happen at the end of January, so she had only two months to be ready. Stewart did Pilates every other day and refrained from eating pasta and bread.

“To be on the cover at my age was a challenge and I think I met the challenge,” she said.

For decades, media has reinforced ageism, shunned people after a certain age, and unwittingly led everyone else to think that age was relevant where it wasn’t.

To critics that speculated she must have had plastic surgery done or the photos were Photoshopped, Stewart told Variety, “I’ve had absolutely no plastic surgery whatsoever. I have very healthy, good hair. I drink green juice every day. I take my vitamins. I eat very healthfully. I have very good skin doctors. I’m very careful in the sun. I wear hats and I wear sunblock every single day.”

She said the  photos weren’t heavily retouched either, that “they’re incredibly accurate,” and that she was pleased there wasn’t much airbrushing done.

Maye Musk
Model and Elon Musk’s mom, Maye Musk, then 74, was on the cover of SI’s Swimsuit Issue in 2022.

This isn’t exactly new for SI. Before Stewart, its oldest cover model for the Swimsuit Issue was 74-year-old Maye Musk, mother of Elon Musk, in 2022. Musk is a model whose career spans 50 years. SI photographed her in the jungles and lagoons of Belize.

Now 75, Musk is also on the cover of May’s InStyle Greece, this time wearing a black gown.  

Maye Musk at In Style

Maye Musk, 75, on the cover of this month’s InStyle Greece.

Vogue Philippines, Vogue UK

Vogue Philippines’ April issue with 106-year-old tattoo artist Apo Whang-Od on the cover was a brilliant choice. It wasn’t an ordinary issue either, it was the magazine’s Beauty Issue. On so many levels it was a stroke of genius. Photographed by Artu Nepomuceno and profiled by Audrey Carpio, it became a global sensation for all the right reasons.

Vogue Philippines managing editor Jacs Sampayan tells Mantle Magazine that their April issue is “enjoying worldwide success.”

It was picked up by Vogue Germany and Vogue Italia, and other titles owned by its parent company Conde Nast, like Allure and Conde Nast Travel.  

Before Apo Whang-Od, Vogue’s oldest cover was Dame Judi Dench who appeared in British Vogue’s June 2020 issue. Oscar award-winning actor Dench was then 85 years old. She was photographed by Nick Knight in March just before the Covid-19 lockdowns were imposed.

Apo Whang-Od on the cover of Vogue Philippines
Apo Whang-Od on the cover of Vogue Philippines’ Beauty Issue in April became a worldwide sensation. Photo by Artu Nepomuceno.

British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful wrote on Instagram when the magazine came out, “I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see Dame Judi Dench, the unassailable queen of stage and screen, starring on her first Vogue cover at the age of 85.”

The beginning of the end of ageism?

In 2010, a website listed the May covers of magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar and W Magazine, noting that they featured “sophisticated, older women” on their covers. At 37 years old, Gwyneth Paltrow is the youngest of these mature cover models,” the website said.

Thirty-seven! Back then she was considered too old to be on the cover—but hey, let’s make an exception because she’s a Hollywood A-lister.

The topic of ageism needs a longer conversation, especially in the Philippines where employers think they’re well within their rights and reason to hire only people under 30 for jobs that can be done by anyone above 30. It has nothing to do with qualifications and everything to do with discrimination, looks, stereotypes and prejudice.  

Dame Judi Dench on the cover of British Vogue
Oscar award-winning actor Dame Judi Dench on the cover of British Vogue in June 2020.

For decades, media has reinforced ageism, shunned people after a certain age, and unwittingly led everyone else to think that age was relevant where it wasn’t. But, for now, let’s celebrate these magazines, which have traditionally resisted putting anyone “mature” on their cover, because they just did.

It’s a step in the right direction. Martha Stewart, Apo Whang-Od, Maye Musk and Judi Dench in the past three years have proven that they can carry the weight of giant titles.

These women have stories to tell. And we’re here to listen eagerly.

Editor in chief

The new lifestyle.