This will shock you: The women portrayed in ladymags don't reflect their readership. In this case, when it comes to age.
A gerontologist at the University of Georgia analyzed the December 2007 issues of eight women's magazines, and compared the figures with the actual readership. Per MSNBC:
An analysis of editorial and advertising images reveals that despite proportions of older readers ranging as high as 23 percent, fashion magazines portray women over 40 sparingly, if at all. Even in magazines geared toward aging baby boomers, the images collectively present a thin, youthful, wrinkle-free ideal that's impossible to maintain later in life. Now experts are saying the ideal threatens to cause older women to abandon their sexuality.
Not that we know what "abandon their sexuality" means (Anna wonders whether it's like leaving it on a bus), but the rest of the article is about eating disorders and the desexualization of older women.
We made this handy bar chart from the results. Are we allowed to pity the sad 9 percent who read Cosmo after the age of 50? Unless it's for comic relief.
As you can see, Elle has the greatest gap between the ages it shows and the readers it has. Which is interesting, because the last few times I picked it up, it seemed the beauty column could just be subheadlined, "New frontiers in plastic surgery." (Still, it's the most ambitious ladymag editorially, which we assume older ladies can appreciate as well as anyone else.)
Of course, these magazines are also edited by women over 40, except for W, which is edited by a 51-year-old man, and InStyle, whose editor-in-chief is a 37-year-old man. Glamour's editor is 44, Vogue's 61, Cosmo's 59, Essence's in her mid-forties, Elle's around 50, Harper's Bazaar's 53. I'll assume that if you asked them why they hire teenaged models and feature twenty- and thirtysomething actresses almost exclusively, and they were inclined to be honest, they would say that people like looking at images of youth and its presumed synonym, beauty. Mortality is scary, guys! Also, it sells more eye cream.