Having recently celebrated my 33rd birthday, I started thinking about ageing. Of course, I’m still a spring chicken at 33 (ahem), but it’s a sad fact that increasing numbers of young people in our society are worried about wrinkles, grey hairs, sagging skin, and the rest.
“A report Older Women- the Forgotten Demographic discovered that most marketing and advertising activity by skincare brands is focused on women under 30.” – Anti-ageing: the key trend in skincare today
It’s seen as a huge compliment to tell an older person they look younger – especially women – with an emphasis on the need for them to remain young and slim to be attractive. Men can seem to pull off ageing a little easier – pair some grey hair with a beard and you’ve got the wise philosopher look. ‘Having some work done’ is becoming more acceptable and expected of older women, but why are we so obsessed with turning back the clock?
“In 2013, anti-ageing products accounted for 41.6 percent of the facial skin care market in the UK.” – www.statista.com
Youth in all forms is deemed as beautiful in our society and older people unfortunately are almost seen as a separate entity – ‘the older generation’ – sub-par humans who are past their use by date, lingering around waiting to die. What we forget is that death is all part of our human experience, yet we don’t really talk about that. It’s seen as morbid and depressing, and old people are reminders that death is always there waiting for us.
“Gerascophobia is an abnormal or persistent fear of growing old or ageing. Symptoms include the fear of the future and the fear of needing to rely on others to do daily functions. Many also fear they will not play an active role in society when they get older.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerascophobia
I won’t pretend that ageing isn’t scary. It is; the fear of the unknown is always scary. But I try to remind myself that being afraid of it is like fearing puberty: it’s a natural part of life which I survived perfectly well (…just about). Grey hair and wrinkled skin should be a sign of having lived life, having experienced and learnt things, but too often it’s seen as gross and unattractive. Older people are airbrushed out of our sight so we can live in a blissfully unaware state, in the same world where every woman is 5”11 and a size 6, pretending that being young and beautiful is the key to success and happiness.
This tendency in Western society – judging people’s worth on how attractive they are – devalues and dehumanizes many groups of people, including older people, so it is understandable why we might grow to feel useless as we make our journey into old age. When the body is honoured more than the mind, it must be hard to mourn the loss of youth and embrace the final stage of life. We are all going to get old though, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. People can try to fake youth, but inevitably we will die. We’re a bunch of ape-descendants on a spinning ball in space with heavily disputed ideas of what happens when we die, so no wonder we’re apprehensive.
I know this is meant to be a body image column, but you get a lot of universal pondering thrown in for free with me. It does get more cheery later, I promise.
Tibetan Buddhists embrace death. They see the body purely as a vessel, so they don’t care about it when they die – in fact they used to get chopped up and fed to birds! They live on in reincarnation, which is dependent on how much karma they have created before their death. This is of course just one of many beliefs based on religion, but who are we mere living humans ones to judge which is true? We haven’t a clue until it happens. It’s kind of exciting when you think about it.
Back to body image. Many people are willing to go to great lengths to fake their youth and attractiveness. It often even seems more acceptable to have plastic surgery to try to look healthier, than actually being healthier.
“Recent findings by the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons identified a range of factors driving aspirations for cosmetic surgery: 53% of those who have had surgery believe celebrity cosmetic treatments had made it more aspirational, and 45% felt there was social pressure to consider it.” – Is cosmetic surgery the new acceptable face of womanhood?
The media regularly shows us unrealistic standards of beauty featuring young people, but what about the older celebrities and the ‘bit of work’ they’ve had done? This demonstrates an even less attainable look, not only from plastic surgery but also from airbrushing.
Young people are more vulnerable and susceptible to believe things they see in the media and feel the pressure to conform. But, older women still struggle with disordered eating in the battle to ‘keep their figure.’
“Nearly three-quarters of a sample of women over the age of 50 were trying to lose weight and reported using the following extreme behaviours in the previous 5 years: diet pills, excessive exercise, diuretics, laxatives, and vomiting (Gagne et al., 2012).” – Ageing, anxiety, and appearance: Exploring the body image of women in midlife
It saddens me to think that women who have been in their own bodies for so long still haven’t been able to make peace with them.
In my experience, I’ve found I’ve become more accepting of myself the older I get. It’s like a slow realisation that I have to make the best of what I’ve got. If I was still 22 would I be happier? If I was a stone lighter, or if I had plastic surgery? No, I wouldn’t be happier. It’s not like we suddenly find ourselves in a state of nirvana if we’re a certain shape, size or age. We are humans; we’re happy and we’re sad at times, which is the blessing of being an emotional creature. How would we know what happiness is without experiencing the sadness? I learnt about myself through different experiences, so the thought of being 20 years older is exciting – all that extra knowledge and self-awareness!
Who knows what kind of journey into old age we are each going to have. Many people who look at old age positively are healthy into their 90’s. Slapping on creams, pulling at skin, nipping and tucking and the rest, won’t stop the process – it’s only faking healthiness. How about we just try to live a relatively healthy life instead, enjoy ourselves and embrace our wisdom?
I’ll leave you with a quote from Iris Apfel – a 94 year old fashion designer:
“I don’t see anything so wrong with a wrinkle. It’s kind of like a badge of courage.”
– Iris Apfel (There’s a great documentary about her called ‘Iris’ on Netflix)
Author. Blogger. Screenwriter. Feminist. Likes cooking, yoga and cinema but not all at the same time.