The new Bachelorette, Clare Crawley, is making history when she begins her season of The Bachelorette: she's going to be the oldest Bachelorette in franchise history. Clare is currently 38 years old, about to turn 39, which puts her almost 7 years ahead of the previous oldest lead. It's a major step for a franchise desperately in need of a refresh.
The next-oldest Bachelorette was Rachel Lindsay, who was 32 during filming, followed by Trista Rehn (now Sutter), the very first Bachelorette who was 30 when she did the show. Other than them, every other bachelorette has been between the ages of 24 and 29 (Meredith Phillips, star of season 2, technically turned 30 during filming, but was 29 when cast).
We can hope that, perhaps, the lead skewing older might help alleviate some of the problems that have plagued recent seasons of both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. With such young leads (and contestants) in recent years, the show has resembled a bunch of college love triangles more than adults trying to find love. We all know that being on The Bachelor is not a "normal" dating experience: it's high-pressure, it's constantly being manipulated by producers, and it's also a literal competition. When you combine that pressure cooker of reality TV with a bunch of relatively young, inexperienced, and immature contestants and stars, you end up with way too much unnecessary drama.
Clare is in her late thirties and has had a lot of life (and love) experience already; since the lead often sets the tone for the season as a whole, it's hopeful that Clare can lead a season that's maybe a little more mature in the way that it handles the show's emotional roller coaster.
More importantly, though, it makes a major statement about cultural stereotypes about women, ageing, and desireability. Like most reality TV shows, The Bachelor and all its spin-offs tend to cast a runway-ready group of young, conventionally attractive people with a narrow range of body types and, more often than not, an equally narrow range of skin tones. We're programmed to believe a woman's desireability fades with age, and we don't see depictions of women near or over forty as sexual, romantic beings very often. So to put a woman nearing forty as the lead of the biggest "romance" reality show in the world? That's a big step.
We have yet to see what the age makeup of her contestants will be like, but it's entirely possible that we'll have men in their late 20s or early 30s vying for the heart of a woman who is turning 39 during filming. Pop culture so often depicts age differences in the opposite direction; it could be refreshing to see a woman like Clare positioned as the object of desire and romance for younger men as well as men her own age.
Of course, Clare's casting doesn't answer all of the criticisms leveled at Bachelor casting. She is, still, a conventionally attractive white woman with a penchant for fitness. There's still a huge lack of diversity in terms of race, body types, and sexuality on the Bachelor franchise as a whole. But by upending the usual cultural narratives about women and age, perhaps the franchise is moving — slowly, but moving — towards a future where the people on screen more accurately reflect the people watching at home.