–Kakali Das |
Women are constantly being bombarded with signals telling them to get the ‘youthful glow’ and ‘defy’ signs of ageing. But if looking older is inevitably what happens to everyone, why do we try so hard to stop it? Since ancient times, people have sought elixirs, herbal powders and fountains of youth to extend the strength and vitality of young age. But the obsession with women specifically, wanting to ‘look’ young can be traced back to Victorian England. Victorian physicians, influenced by classical thinking, promoted the theory that women age faster than men. And popular literature at the time reinforced the notion that appearing old was undesirable. Authors like Charles Dickens and Henry James portrayed women in their 40s and 50s as miserable ‘hags’ who were physically decaying. Because old age was consistently portrayed was horrible, the fear of appearing old became entrenched in women. In the year 1889, the first commercial product was invented to cover the appearance of wrinkles. By the early 20th century, a separate anti-ageing skincare industry emerged with cosmetic creams at the forefront. Throughout the 20th century, this anti-ageing industry only grew bigger and bigger, employing a range of advertising scare tactics that primarily sold the fear of looking old to women as old as 22!
Today many anti-ageing products like gold facial creams and retinoid are marketed to women on the basis that they will scientifically reverse the process of ageing, all bolstered by medical-soundingclaims like ‘DNA repair’, ‘stem cell treatment’ and ‘collagen boosting’. In reality, these so-called cosmeceuticals are barely regulated in most countries, and so they aren’t put through any rigorous testing or research. Even though most women know that these claims are suspect, the fear of looking old is so strong and rampant that in a recent survey, up to 66% women admitted that they would still purchase these products ‘in case they turn out to be effective’. Hence, this 250-billion-dollar industry is unapologetically flourishing day by day.
This is where the preoccupation with ageing gets weird. In a recent American survey, one in five women said that they were stressed about their wrinkles even before the age of twenty-four. Heads of beauty brands in India talked about a similar trend in the country and said that their target market for these products has changed from the 35-40 bracket, to women in their 20s. Studies show that social media and the growth of influencer culture have a lot to do with these demographic shifts in who is buying and using anti-ageing products. But the problem is bigger than that. Society has ingrained in women two very dangerous notions – that their value is tied to their beauty, and their beauty is tied to their youth. And so we find ourselves in this absurd situation we’re in now, where young women who actually embody the supposed ideal of youth are so panicked about losing it that they spend ridiculous amount of money on products trying to preserve it.
Consuming a balanced diet – plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and keeping oneself hydrated – with the incorporation of sufficient amount of exercise daily not only boosts the functionality of our body, but keeps us young holistically. Thus, instead of focusing on applying these baseless products on the outside, it’s important we purify and detox our body from the inside. I do religiously believe the fact that whatever goes inside, reflects outside. Our skin glows with the consumption of food healthily and with awareness, and shrinks otherwise.
But there’s a much better way to be ‘anti-ageing’ – to reject the notion that it is a problem at all. Growing older is a ubiquitous human experience, and looking older will eventually happen to everyone. Growing older brings with it, confidence, wisdom, true comfort with oneself, and the knowledge that youth is not central to happiness. So let’s reject these negative associations with ageing, and embrace a future where our older-looking faces represent the beauty and vitality of compassion, self-love, and kindness to ourselves.