Reading time: 6min.

by Emily Lipscomb

Anti-aging: A universally accepted nonsense

The proliferation of anti-ageing cosmetics is rampant and unyielding. Age and appearance have become irreversibly interwoven concepts; the ‘challenge 25’ rule has become a source of flattery, and to be told one looks “good for their age” is a commonly iterated compliment. Social norms have dictated the abhorrence of grey hair and wrinkles, artificially denaturalising the most natural process of the lifecycle. The industry that promotes these anti- products (anti-wrinkle, anti-grey, anti-age spots, etc.) has neglected to recognise that we simply cannot ‘anti-age’. During childhood, our understanding of the linearity of age is basic and comprehensive, so why do we relentlessly defy our own ageing during later years?

There is a widespread fear of ageing. Newfound efforts to prolong life are abundant, yet they are arising within a paradoxical setting: longevity is desired, but old age is avoided. Such age-defying campaigns are oppressive, priming the elderly for decline, marginalisation and reduced esteem when they are unable to conform to ‘agelessness’. The aged body provides a catalyst for ageist discrimination, provoking feelings of revulsion, disdain and avoidance. The media has propagated the conception that we must age ‘prettily’, disguising the true biological process. The move towards agelessness is a bizarre contradiction: we go to endless effort to conceal a universal truth.

Furthermore, the issue is inherently gendered: anti-ageing messages are predominantly broadcasted to women. Whilst this may simply be another facet of the female-centric cosmetics industry, there does appear to be innate gender bias within perceptions of ageing. You need not delve deep to reveal the double standard: I recently caught sight of a greetings card, mocking that “men age like fine wine, women age like milk”. Female physicality is integral to sexist discrimination, and thus depictions of the aged female body present a compounded form of intersectional prejudice.

Why are we so consumed with the concept of ‘anti-ageing’? Perhaps it is a capitalist legacy. Capitalism dictates that citizen respect is earned through contribution to the economy; in old age, when labour contribution turns to resource withdrawal, our status and esteem drastically plummets. Ensuring a younger outward appearance therefore artificially conjures a perception of labour capacity and capitalist value, retaining our prior respect. Or maybe it is a product of the universal dread of passing. Resisting superficial ageing can create a false security that life is being lengthened; without the appearance of ageing, perhaps the process is postponed?

Despite being aware of the impossibility of actual ‘anti-ageing’, society continues to emotionally, and financially, buy into the anti-ageing industry. Convictions that assert the superiority of youthfulness should not go unchallenged; they reproduce and internalise perceptions about the repugnance of ageing (an aggravated stereotype in the context of older women). As a society, we must recognise the dignity, respect and wisdom which age embodies, rather than relentlessly counterattacking the natural process. The next time you glance over these cosmetics, think twice about the motivation and impact of age concealment: do not feel obliged to accept the ‘anti-ageing’ nonsense.