I am weeks away from my twentieth birthday and I recently found myself opting for ‘anti-ageing’ hand cream. Last weekend whilst shopping for cosmetics in Boots I fell prey to the advertising that made me feel and believe that buying this product was a duty to myself and the admirable glow of my young skin I should be doing whatever I can to preserve. What was I doing?! Sitting here now peering at the pretty purple tube covered in images of lavender and promises of ‘soft’ and ‘taut’ skin and I feel complete disappointment. I am disappointed that the pressure to defy age is something I entertained. I am angry, because that isn’t a pressure I feel has any warranty in the way we live our lives, at all.
Ageing is something not everybody gets to experience, wrinkles, lines, grey hairs, and sagging skin are not ugly and concealable. They are all quite beautiful signifiers of experience and life. The life that for some people comes to an end too soon. We cannot defy nature, and if we can, well I don’t necessarily want to. I want to explore this issue of (lets call it) ‘graceful ageing’ deeper. I want to try and make sense of why ageing has become the enemy. As twenty somethings we are the ones that can do something to redefine what it is to age. We are the ones who can decide not to fall prey to the cultural anxiety represented by the anti-ageing products that are thrust in our currently line free faces.
I have recently been reading Cameron Diaz’s book The Body Book and my little moment in Boots reminded me of something she suggested about ageing. Cameron Diaz puts forth an argument that “women don’t allow women to age gracefully.” Her words contain a lot of unfortunate truth. Why did I consider anti-ageing hand cream? And if it was because of the promise of taught skin, then why at twenty years of age am I already feeling pressured or being targeted to reverse or prevent the ageing process? It is a truly frightening industry. Anxieties about ageing are constantly exploited by cosmetic companies and fuel the billion dollar industry. The US marketing company Transparency Market published figures last year that forecasted the anti-ageing industry to reach a worth of 191.7 billion dollars by 2019. It is not fair that so much money can be extracted from unnecessary fear. Age is treated like a preventable illness, buy any given cream or undergo Botox and you can really ‘help yourself’ lighten the effects of ageing. They actually use this phrase ‘effects of ageing’ like it is some disease with devastating symptoms.
It is a horrifying problem that these anxieties about age are being installed in the young. Some cosmetic companies work with the intention that such anxieties should grow more intense with every advertising ploy. Meryl Streep is an example of a woman who has the undeniable pressure to defy age placed upon her being in the notoriously glamorous film and entertainment industry. However, she is also someone who offers the most invaluable advice about ageing, that in fact, forms the very basis of my own suggestions about attitudes. Meryl Streep suggests “you have to embrace getting older.” I interpret this as embracing the present as well as the future. Every day we are getting older. Every day we should embrace the things that make us look older, the laughter that will eventually appear as lines. The dancing and socialising that will exhaust our muscles and bones. Meryl Streep and Cameron Diaz are also examples of how self care can make ageing enjoyable.
Cameron Diaz also stresses in her book that water is vital to maintaining and promoting the health of our skin and organs. No where does she champion it as wrinkle reducing, she doesn’t care. Her focus is on the function of her skin and organs. Like ageing, water is life. Perhaps we should ignore the anti-ageing hype. Instead we should approach ageing as something to nurture. Feed our bodies nutrition, our minds knowledge and laughter, and gulp down as much water as possible. Rather than adhering to the ‘anti-ageing’ ideology perhaps we should embrace ageing as a fact. Rather than saying “I am going to be healthy, exercise often, and drink lots of water because I want to look 21 forever” we should re-word and re-define our approach to ageing with something along the lines of “I am going to enjoy my youth, but I am also going to enjoy getting older. I am going to be healthy in order to prolong my life. I will experience the blessing of the ageing process.”
Cameron Diaz also stressed that the alternative, the ONLY alternative to ageing, is death. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take wrinkles over death please! Obviously some of the anxiety and dread about ageing is rightly due to the increased risk of illness and health declines. However that is a different article for another time, I am addressing purely the aesthetic aspect. Whether you are 20, 40, or 50 etc. your ageing appearance alone cannot and should not prevent you from doing anything. Personally I am looking upon ageing not as something that has to happen, but as something I hope happens. I want to see my hair turn grey, and my skin wrinkle because not only will that be evidence that I have been granted many years of life but as obvious as it sounds, it means I am not dead. I refuse to look upon my old self as something less worthy or beautiful. Right now my hair is blonde and that is a colour, when it is grey, that will also be a colour. The cultural anxieties attached to the colour of my hair are fears I refuse to entertain.
I want to leave you with a poem, I have selected is Audrey Heller’s ‘Ageing Gracefully’. If my stressing of a need to be optimistic and even cherish ageing. If the absolute necessity to enjoy our youth and live as well as we can in out young bodies hasn’t translated, hopefully Heller will help me out.
“As women, there comes a time, we cannot dress as we did before. As we get older, things change and what we’re wearing, isn’t appropriate anymore. Not wanting to appear ridiculous we have to be more selective, when choosing, what to wear. It goes without saying, the next thing to be done, is rearrange our hair. The color of our skin will take on a lighter tone. Makeup should be used sparingly and blended well, very carefully. Short skirts are out and mid length, is in. Never wear clothes too tight, or reveal a lot of skin. Whatever you choose, the colors should be warm and flattering, they’re the best for you. Keep away from all bright colors, they will never do. Don’t let these changes get to you or tear you apart. Remember, you’re getting better and getting better, is an art!”
Sarah Wood, Online Features Columnist