When 52-year-old Athena Uslander used to peruse fashion magazines, she didn’t see anyone who looked like her on the pages. The glossy photos, even in ads marketing products to women her age, were of tall, thin, usually blonde models in their 20s and 30s.
Now when Uslander opens those same magazines, she is quite often greeted by her own image. Her photo, and those of 17 other women whom otherwise might not get a second look, is gracing hundreds of print ads, billboards and advertising displays as part of Dove’s campaign that features women over the age of 50.
“They are in every drugstore everywhere. My son and I literally ran into [a photo of me] in Walgreens,” laughed Uslander.
Uslander is part of Dove’s new pro-age campaign, which the company says is aimed at changing attitudes about aging. In a study commissioned by Unilever, Dove’s parent company, researchers found that “nearly six in 10 women globally believe that while men over 50 are viewed as distinguished, women over 50 are viewed as over the hill or past their prime.”
The pro-age ads are a part of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, which is probably best remembered for the much talked about billboards of “normal-sized” women photographed in white underwear.
“It’s a good cause and I’m proud to be a part of it,” Uslander said. “I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t. Yes, we’re selling something, but we’re doing it honestly.”
While Uslander can see the still images of the ad campaign, she won’t be seeing the commercial she filmed with three other women on American television. The networks have refused to air the ad. It is a controversial spot because Uslander and the other women are nude. The ad is being aired in London and Canada, but to view it in United States, people will need to visit www.doveproage.com.
Uslander, like all the other women in the pro-age campaign, is not, nor ever has been a model. She went to the audition on a whim. By day, Uslander owns and operates Athena’s Silverland Desserts on Desplaines Avenue in Forest Park.
“I was sitting in the bakery office and a friend called me asking if I was over 50,” Uslander said. “She said they were doing a casting downtown in the west loop.”
At first Uslander hesitated, but her friend encouraged her.
“It was a slow day and I thought ‘What the heck, I’ve got nothing to lose,'” she said.
When she arrived at the audition, she was asked if she had her bikini. “I don’t even own one!” Uslander said. So she had to audition in her underwear.
That was in October of 2006, and when she didn’t hear anything back, she assumed nothing came of it. Six months after auditioning, Uslander was at a trade show in New York promoting her signature brownies from her bakery when she received the call.
Not being a model, Uslander said that posing was a challenge. While Annie Liebovitz shot several of the photos, Uslander was filmed by New York photographer Richard Phibbs.
The compelling ad campaign has sparked a great deal of interest. Uslander has participated in more than 50 interviews including appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show, the Today Show and Entertainment Tonight.
“The experience-all the attention has been a little overwhelming,” Uslander said. “I have been contacted by people I haven’t heard from in over 20 years.”
Uslander is married with three children ranging in age from 14 to 23. Her family has been very supportive, even with all of the traveling.
Uslander’s bakery, which moved to Forest Park in 1994, will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year.