Age: More than a number?

The green beauty community has a new bad word. The word? “Anti-aging”. In the last few months, some of my most beloved bloggers and creators, from Josh Rosebrook, to Sarita Coren, to Kristen Arnett have lambasted its use as an emotionally manipulative marketing tool. The feeling is that the word is designed to make women feel bad about themselves, all in service of selling more products – most of which don’t even deliver on those anti-aging promises. This claim is, of course, completely valid. We live in a youth-obsessed culture and despite the occasional use of badass ladies of a certain age in ad campaigns, the practice is still to photoshop dewy 20-somethings to sell creams to women 40-something and older and help them look less withered, barren and hag-like. It’s ageist and damaging and, most importantly, it’s crap. Age doesn’t make a woman any less sexy, vibrant, gorgeous or fun – just look at Helen Mirren, for goodness sakes! So I am completely onboard with reevaluating the term “anti-aging”. Here is the thing though: women are constantly bombarded with messages about what they should or should not be doing with their bodies and their lives. I don’t want to be the one to tell them that they must enjoy aging.

Age Hutton

Now, let’s make something clear: by “aging”, I do not mean getting older. Being older is AWESOME! For many of us, getting older means that we get smarter, cooler, more stylish and confident, better at sex, better informed, better at our jobs, just… Better. I love being in my late 30s and am actually excited for 40. Having discovered fitness later in life, I also feel stronger and more fit than ever. But you know what kind of sucks? Looking older. I think most people would agree that I don’t actually look my age and since I have discovered green beauty, my skin looks better than it has ever had, but I can’t help but notice the slight hollowing under my eyes, the incipient loss of firmness and those sneaky little lines. Then there is the way I suddenly started gaining weight around my midsection, unable to shift it, no matter the vegan detoxes or the sweatiest SoulCycle workouts. I am happy to be older. I just don’t want to look it.

I have endless admiration for women who see their wrinkles as the delicate records of every smile, every laugh and every tear. I think that Iris Apfel is a stunner and the divine Lauren Bacall looked glorious with her exquisite face lined with a lifetime of experience. I hope that I will have the courage to age with the same ease and grace as they have done. I just can’t promise that I will. One thing is clear to me, however: whether I choose to “age gracefully” or whether I one day opt for a discreet nip and tuck, my decision will bear no relevance on my integrity, intelligence or value. Maybe it’s my third-wave feminism showing, but I firmly believe that women have every right to do as they wish with their bodies and that it is not our place to judge them for it. Why should we, anyway? Is Cher any less of a legend because at least half of her body is decades younger than me? And then, of course, we all know that the Internet is dark and full of horrors. It is a fine line between encouraging a healthy attitude towards aging and mocking women who choose to alter their appearance in an effort to stave off the effects of time – just look at the “real women have curves” nonsense and the trolling of skinny women that is the unfortunate byproduct of the body acceptance movement.

Age Cher

 

Just so we are clear, I think there is plenty wrong with the way society forces women to conform to unrealistic beauty ideals, with the erasure of older women, with the judgment of women who dare to age visibly (at least before they enter their 70s or  80s) and those who dare to have visible plastic surgery. Plenty of ink has been spilled on the subject and plenty more will continue to be spilled by people far better equipped to do so than myself. Me? I’m here to talk about skincare. I want my skincare to make my skin look plumper, brighter, firmer, smoother, more resilient, more luminous. All of these adjectives are attributes of younger skin. I understand the struggle with nomenclature: we don’t want to say “anti-aging”, lest we imply that aging is bad; we can’t say “pro-youth” because… Well, because that’s just terrible, isn’t it? But really, this is what this skincare does and it’s why we use it: it helps us look younger.

Age Pat

If this pursuit of youth and beauty seems shallow, that’s partly because it is. I admire the women who live the lives of the spirit, who care not for the physical, who allow their inner light to shine brighter than the best highlighting cream. Yet I refuse to accept that this shallowness diminishes me. I do not care about my looks to distraction, but I do care. In fact, I think that most of us do and it should be ok to admit it. We should not be embarrassed about wanting the cream that keeps wrinkles at bay and stops sagging and we shouldn’t have to lie about getting Botox. It’s true that our faces tell our stories, but shouldn’t it be our choice how we tell them?

As I finish this post, I do not yet have an answer: how do we fight the ageism and the false marketing claims, the sexism and the ugly scrutiny and objectification of women, while not making women feel bad about wanting to look young? I may not yet have an answer, but I am grateful to the green beauty industry for starting the conversation and for creating the products that help me stay looking… Well, young.

*******

The images accompanying this post feature some of my favorite ageless beauties and some of my favorite anti-aging (sorry!) products. I have written about most of them, I will still write about some of the others. Photo credits: the Face of Fashion book (Laurent Hutton and Catherine Deneuve), The Gentlewoman Magazine (Pat Cleveland), Love Magazine (Cher).

23 responses to Age: More than a number?

  1. Irene

    Thank you for this well written and heartfelt post. I have been grappling with “anti-aging” for a bit, now and I am so relieved to read your narrative. We need to continue these conversations about the honor of getting older. It’s ok not to be ashamed of our changing bodies and our beautiful wrinkled faces. I bow to your courageous words.

  2. Yes to this discussion! We need to raise these points because there is no conclusion. It’s an ongoing process and I love how you presented it here. There are a few things going on. One is the media’s message that keeps us dissatisfied and buying their products. Two is how we have assimilated to the message. Three is that by asking not to say “anti-aging” we are still asking women to feel a certain way about themselves that’s positive–something that most of us can agree is hard to do. And four is how to navigate this confusion. To me, it’s always about the heart of the matter: perhaps had we not heard all those messages since we were little, we wouldn’t now have this desire to look young. So my feeling is, let’s redeem ourselves now, change the messages so that at the very least by osmosis our kids pick up on positive imprinting. I agree that changing our own mentality is hard–almost impossible (as I scrutinize every bump, line, and stray grey hair, Virgo that I am). I’m formulating a Theory of Negativity that’s pervasive in our world where the default is to see the cup half empty, not the thirst-quenching water in the remainder of the glass. I’m convinced that we can reach a tipping point and change that imprint. As you said, the green beauty movement is instrumental in making that happen. Other than that, let’s keep sharing posts like this! Thank you as always. I adore your blog and you! Xo

    • TheHermesHippie – Author

      Wait. Did I know that you’re a Virgo?! This explains… Well, everything, really, including the reason why I adore you so! 😁💃🏻 And I agree with you wholeheartedly: I didn’t delve into that aspect of it because I didn’t want to get tangled up in my own arguments (because, let’s face it, this post could have been a mile long and still not cover every salient point), but there is no doubt that our dissatisfaction with the visual markers of aging comes from societal messaging. There is no question that we wouldn’t fear our wrinkles if it weren’t for the intrinsic cultural baggage. And we should kid ourselves that it’s the product of our selfie-obsessed times. Youth has been the esthetic preference from the Sumerians to the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans and on thorough to the Youthquake. Still, the time is certainly right for challenging the paradigm, just as long as we do it thoughtfully and respectfully. Xx

  3. Whoops, error. My name is Elaine Springer ( see above ). And again, I feel if you are wanting to feel good about yourself & women at every age, I highly recommend Peter Freed’s book. “Prime: Reflections on Time and Beauty is a portrait book that features portraits and accompanying essays of women from the ages of 35 to 104. Published by American photographer and filmmaker Peter Freed, The Prime Book celebrates what it means to be a woman in her “prime” in modern-day America. Sometimes the subjects of the Prime Book are known in their own right, and other participants are unknown, noteworthy because their stories resonate with women across the country on a more personal level.” A portion of the proceeds goes to help, Women in Need.

  4. Elaine Springer

    I do not think there is anything to fight – personally I feel exercise, healthy food and clean beauty are wonderful – they have been working for me my whole life. Even though one may look younger, one is still the age they are. I think it is about feeling good and doing the best we can and helping others do the same.

  5. Beautifully written, Lola! Thank you for this. I love how honest you are and I agree – there is nothing wrong with wanting to look young. It’s about having this conversation and changing the verbiage and the message that aging is a bad thing.

    XO, Nora ❤️

  6. I lover this post and totally relate! It is almost taboo now to say you care about your looks and sometimes I act around others as if I don’t care, even though I do. Blogging is kind of a secret only my nearest and dearest know about, for the same reason, that beauty is deemed shallow. If that’s your whole world, sure. But I don’t see anything wrong with taking an active interest in it and acknowledging that it’s important to women…and NOT because it’s important to men, but because we value ourselves.

  7. wonderful post, as always, Lola! I totally relate to your feelings on aging. I don’t think aging is a bad thing, but I also don’t think aging is “required” to equate sagging, dry skin or wrinkles if we don’t want it to. I think we should all have the freedom and space to decide for ourselves. I would never want to make anyone feel bad about themselves by the language I use in a post. I don’t see aging as bad nor do I think “anti-aging” is a bad thing, but I can see how others might feel it’s against aging. At the same time, “anti-aging” in terms of skin can be a great thing. It equates healthier skin, overall, especially if the products used are naturally made and while healthier might sometimes mean more “youthful,” it’s not exactly a direct translation, you know? Also, as a lover of skin and beauty products, I know I won’t be giving them up any day soon lol. Thanks for this thoughtful post. It definitely gave me a lot to think on.

  8. Carol

    Thank you for writing such a respectful piece about this, all too often we get emotionally charged on these terms. For me personally, I do not have issue with “anti-aging” as a category for my skincare products because they serve as markers in the same way that “Anti-Acne” and “Brightening” products are. I don’t think it is sending a message that says aging sucks but rather what the products aim to do. On the flip side, if we were to take away this term, I would spend way more term analyzing products to figure out if they do what I need which is often a broad anti-aging product. And to be honest, I would not feel better about myself if I went into a store and had to say I was looking for products for “sagging skin, wrinkles, loss of elasticity”, I’d be much more comfortable just covering it all with anti-aging.

  9. Glad I finally got around to reading this! (old ladies are very busy) Great post. I’ve been thinking about this issue, and wanting to publish something on the topic, for a LONG time. Probably since I first heard a 30-something (or younger!) talk about embracing their aging process, about how anti-aging is such a terrible marketing term and how awesome it is getting older – and seeming to guilt me about my own feelings regarding aging. My first thoughts on the topic went something like this:

    “Fuck you, you fetal stem cell, for telling me how I should feel. I want to look how I want to look, and not because any company told me so. I have agency over my own body and mind – and I’d prefer to have my jowls back where they used to be, thank you very much. If anyone can come up with a clean product to help me look a way that makes me happy, I will pay them ridiculous amounts of money. This is my decision and you don’t get to make me feel bad about it. And, let’s see how this embracing shit is going for you when you’re my age.”

    I may have been holding these feelings in too long.

    Not my intent to offend with the language, but at 47, mama says what she means, and this is an emotionally charged issue. Having zero fucks left to give is one of the MANY positive things that come with aging. ; )

  10. Bev

    I enjoy reading your blog and your well-written reviews and thoughts. I agree with those who are not offended by the term anti-aging. To me it simply helps explain what the products says, but it’s not saying aging is bad. Sometimes it does feel to me that the green beauty community can get overly sensitive and argumentative about stuff. The foul language in the above comment just proves my point:) There are lots of studies looking at the diets of people who live to their 90’s and beyond. The reality is that we are living longer, so what is wrong with trying to eat our best and keep our skin and bodies looking our best? If a product is treating signs of aging, will calling the product a “healthy-aging” product really make that big of a difference? If someone chooses to wear makeup to cover up blemishes or aging skin, or chooses to color their grey hair, that is their choice, but it’s still all about hiding the aging process in some way and trying to look their best. So calling an anti-aging product by another name doesn’t really matter to me, the intent in using the product is all the same. Might as well call it like it is.

      • Bev

        Thanks for your comment! The cynical side of me was just thinking, this is beginning to smell like a marketing ploy to me. Whichever company comes up with the best new phrase to gratify our egos that we are aging beautifully, will get an increase in sales.

      • TheHermesHippie – Author

        Ha! Well, I don’t know. I think a lot of people genuinely care about the message and really want to change the conversation about beauty (Josh Rosebrook is certainly one of them). On the other hand, at the end of the day, green beauty is still a business, so product needs to be sold, however you name it. Still, I like that the brands I support don’t feel it necessary to make me feel like a hag and a crone for me to buy their product 😉

  11. Rebecca Bailey

    For the record, I appreciate your thoughtful responses to comments. 😘

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