The green beauty community has a new dirty 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.
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.
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.
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).