Lopez, who turned 50 last year, rocketed across the stage during her performance. The singer mashed up some of her most famous songs, including Jenny From the Block, Ain’t It Funny and Get Right, and at one point performed some challenging choreography on a pole with crowds of backup dancers at her feet.
In fact, on Monday, a columnist for the New York Times wrote that the performance was “an in-your-face demonstration of a woman glorying in her own physicality and a dare to anyone who might render judgment based on a number.”
The fixation with Lopez’s age stems from assumptions people make about women over the age of 50, said registered psychotherapist Renee Raymond.
“While there are tons of women over the age of 50 in society, the media doesn’t often portray them as attractive, desirable and still very physically active,” she told Global News.
“Just looking at daytime TV commercials for a few minutes, we can see that a good handful of them are geared towards women and ‘fighting the signs of aging.'”
Ageism is ‘condoned’
People develop schemas, or “cognitive frameworks,” to help them understand the world, said Raymond.
“For example, social schemas which are typically marketed towards us about 20-year-olds may be that they are carefree, friendship-focused, often make mistakes and are at the peak of physical fitness and beauty,” she said.
“We wouldn’t bat our eyes if we saw a 20-something wearing a midriff shirt or dying their hair blue. We may, however, find ourselves surprised to see someone like Jennifer Lopez, a 50-year-old woman who doesn’t look like what many people’s schema of a 50-year-old woman is, look like she did perform at the Super Bowl.”
Dr. Sonia Kang, a social psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto, said that age is one of the “fundamental social categories,” similar to race and sex.
“This means that the human brain prioritizes this information and values it highly,” she said. “When we meet someone for the first time, we categorize their race, sex and age automatically and without having to think about it.”
It’s normal to notice someone’s age, said Kang, but it becomes a problem when we attach a negative evaluation to certain age groups.
“This type of ageism is pervasive and, unfortunately, relatively condoned in our society,” she said.
“People are pretty quick to notice and call out racism and sexism, but agesim often runs rampant.”
It’s worse for women
Although men struggle with the same stereotypes, they’re more often a problem for women.
“We don’t typically see the same level of shock as we do with women,” Raymond said.
“As a society, we are not nearly as surprised when we see middle-aged and older men being active and doing what is typically viewed as youthful activities because we see representation of it in the media.”
This often happens with physical appearance. Images of a mature man, said Raymond, can represent power or respect, while a mature woman may be shuffled out of the spotlight “because they no longer fit our schema of what it means to be attractive.”
“As men age, they are often stereotyped positively for their ‘experience’ and ‘wisdom,’ while women are penalized because of their perceived frailty and cognitive decline.”
Society is ‘youth-obsessed’
Society places a huge value on youth, said Kang, and the billion-dollar anti-aging industry is proof.
“People are scared of aging and have low expectations for health, appearance and competence,” she said.
“The scary thing is that people who have negative expectations about aging tend to have worse outcomes when they themselves are older.”
Sociologist Lyndsay Green isn’t surprised by the obsession with age and the limitations placed on women like Jennifer Lopez.
“We are using age as a proxy for talent, energy, commitment, charisma,” she said. Green was excited to see Lopez featured at the halftime show because she proved that age doesn’t matter.
“Every minute, people are making ageist decisions and losing out on talent. This is happening to men as well as women and to people of all ages,” said Green.
“Age-blind hiring needs to be the norm. We can’t afford to underutilize our resources as a country and in our communities. We all need to examine our own prejudices.”