Surely, you can only be an advocate for anti-ageing if you don’t value life?
And yet, anti-ageing is a common phrase in the beauty industry, especially for women.
The media is constantly urging women to focus on slowing down the ageing process, filling them with fear that ageing will make them either ugly or invisible and most of us, myself included, have been poisoned with this ideology.
We spend a small fortune on products claiming to keep our skin youthful, to override the effects of menopause and keep youthful figures. This, of course, is the point. If we’re roused to fight against ageing then we’re going to do whatever we can to arm ourselves against it and this makes for huge profits for a manipulative capitalist industry. So what if the goal is impossible? So what if it’s unnatural and even harmful? So what if it files away at our sense of self-worth? So long as someone, somewhere is profiting from it, right?
Aside from all this, it‘s the lie that infuriates me most. It’s the glossing over of truth, because, ageing is a privilege! We don’t all get to do it. Ok, maybe we could do without our bodies becoming slower and health issues becoming more frequent, but we can adjust to this. It’s a price most of us are happy to pay for longer lives and more time spent chasing dreams, holding our loved ones close and breathing in that beautiful thing we call life.
Why is it that we are so easily convinced to ward off ageing? To proudly pursue anti-ageing treatments?
The beauty industry fuel it, but they probably didn’t start it.
The Bitter Ageing Woman Trope
Storytelling is powerful. It shapes society and develops characters that either follow or end up forming stereotypes in real life. For hundreds of years, storytelling has been used to share experiences, to teach and to report. Yet, women have not always come out of this particularly well.
Let’s take the classic fairytales. Typically, there are two leading female characters. One is young, beautiful, kind and almost annoyingly naive. The other is older, mean, envious, sharp, arguably intelligent and almost always suffering from the turmoil of inevitable fading beauty.
The first woman is the heroine, of course - the aspirational one. The second is a warning and it's become a trope. The classic evil stepmother, wicked witch, jealous older woman. These stories have been told for years and years and these classic fairy tale characters have been adopted into TV series and films where older female characters compete with the younger ones and jealousy prevents them from forming a positive relationship.
This setup is pretty convenient though, isn’t it? I mean, in a patriarchal world, it’s far better for women to compete with one another than for them to be competing with men. Age is just one very simple means of dividing women.
It’s also important to note that the young beautiful girl trope is equally damaging. It’s seen decades of young girls aspiring to be beautiful and pleasing to their detriment and can be partially blamed for establishing unrealistic ideals that lead to unhealthy body image and low self-esteem.
Inevitably, by the end of the story, the older woman gets punished for her vanity, which should be an argument against resisting the ageing process really. And yet, it's somehow insinuated that her fading beauty is her fault. As if it comes from within, or as if it was a result of her resistance to conform to other aspects of femininity. After all, she is ambitious, clever, assertive and independent so I suppose she had to have her beauty taken from her because, as society so often warns women - we can't have it all.
When we look through the depiction of post-menopausal women throughout history, it’s no wonder we have an automated urge to resist these tropes and it's little wonder that the beauty industry has chosen to capitalise on this.
Health, Beauty And Ageing
Health and beauty will always be linked. We are programmed to be attracted to healthy people. It’s a basic human survival instinct fuelled by our inherent natural need to preserve the future of humankind (no pressure). Therefore, healthier people tend to be perceived as beautiful and that means they are generally younger.
As we age, our skin dries out, we lose elasticity and our former range of motion. We ache more because our muscles and bones are older and we’ve also been subject to all manner of toxins, pollution, processed foods and habits which have taken their toll on our bodies. Even those of us who stay fit or have even focused more on our health in later years can expect to feel the natural process of ageing in the body, and therefore our appearance.
Resistance isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I have so much admiration for those who decide to take up yoga, or sports or adopt a healthier diet as they approach middle-age. This is about staying as healthy as we can to combat issues which may come for us as we get older, and that’s just smart. It‘s also hard work so snaps for anyone trying to keep their bodies young in healthy, natural ways.
I’m not anti-cosmetic surgery either if it‘s really going to help anyone feel better about themselves - each to their own. It is up to every individual to decide the right prescription for self-care, so long as they’re not harming themselves mentally or physically in the process.
Yet, ageing can be, and is also, beautiful. Wrinkles, the widening of the hips, the loosening of the skin and the sun spots and discolouration we are marked with as the years pass are the signs of a life lived (and still being lived).
Perhaps menopause has something to do with the negative perceptions of ageing. After all, menopause is so often viewed as the female body's way of winding things up. Starting with reproductive abilities. During perimenopause, our bodies change and our chemical makeup alters too which can send us down an emotional rollercoaster. We’re primed for the anti-ageing propaganda then, aren’t we? We’re ready to receive any promise that this train can be stopped or, at least, slowed down. Yet, once through this, a new existence awaits. One that should not be perceived as an ending but rather another beginning.
Our bodies change during perimenopause for a great many reasons but among them, it does so to prepare us for our older years. It’s an adjustment designed to make it easier for women to stay healthy for longer, by collapsing the functions no longer needed so that our bodies can concentrate on living rather than procreating. Perhaps it is thanks to menopause that women tend to live longer than men. Perhaps it is a mercy. Something designed to keep us healthy for longer because…well…we still got shit to do!
What Happens To Our Skin As We Age Anyway?
Time to deal with the anti-ageing message we get mostly from skincare brands. Why skincare anyway? Why not an anti-ageing message to promote the fitness of the body or mental agility? Or a better diet?
To be fair, the skin is also the largest organ in the human body and the one we see the most of and so it’s a pretty big deal. It’s bound to bear the physical signs of ageing and, admittedly, difficult to ignore.
Collagen is one of the many things that buggers off as we get older. Science doesn't seem to know why. Perhaps it’s one of those early-to-the-party, first-to-leave types that slip out the back door when things start to get messy. Very wise, but rather self-righteous. Anyway, before collagen decides to vacate the premises it gifts our skin with elasticity. It helps the skin stay plump, to heal itself and it smooths texture by minimising pores. So, as our collagen levels reduce the skin becomes more vulnerable and, in many ways, weaker. It can begin to sag and pores can become more visible. There is no cure for this as such. Botox can be used as a short-term fix and you can take collagen supplements but there is an argument as to whether these are absorbed in a way that can truly replace lost self-produced collagen. We also lose elastin which can cause our skin to wrinkle and sag.
Can We Slow Down The Skin’s Ageing Process?
When the beauty industry refers to premature ageing, I have to admit, I’m not sure I know what it’s talking about. We begin to see signs of ageing in our skin in our 30s which is relatively young. So when exactly is a premature time to begin ageing?
There are two reasons why the skin ages. The first is natural. As explained above, intrinsic ageing is a natural process where our bodies start producing less collagen and elastin. The second is due to environmental factors including air pollution, sun exposure, bad diet and other damaging substances such as alcohol use and smoking. To a certain extent, we can lessen the effects on our skin by adopting healthier lifestyles and this should always be the priority solution if you’re attempting to improve the appearance of your skin. Apart from being natural and better for you in more ways than just appearance, you’re more likely to see real results from your efforts.
In terms of combatting the natural effects of ageing on your skin, this is a little more tricky. You need to trick your skin into working a bit harder for a bit longer. The beauty industry generally avoids this approach by instead urging you to invest in treatments and products that ‘combat’ your skin’s natural ageing process. Rather than guide your skin, these methods aim to take over responsibility which sounds great, except science is no match for mother nature. As a result, every so-called ‘fix’ is, inevitably, short-term.
So, what do I do?
I lean on mother nature. I use her natural magical ingredients in their raw form to inspire and encourage my skin to keep plump and vibrant. You won’t find anti-ageing creams in my collection because I despise the term. My Eternal collection is for pro-ageing because I believe in embracing the ageing process and all the wonderful things it has to offer.
This is not to say I surrender to it. Like most women, I want to look the way I feel and wish to stay looking vibrant and healthy for as long as possible and the appearance of my skin plays a role in this. Still, I know reaching for heavily processed chemical is waging war with my body, not helping it. So my skin creams and my facial cleaners are all-natural and packed with mother nature’s most splendid ingredients that encourage, not displace, the skin’s oils and pack in extra moisture to quench its thirst. As our skin ages, it is not ugly or offensive. It just needs more care and tenderness. Good sleep, a healthy diet and plenty of water will go a long way too.
As a society so fixated on youth, anti-ageing is more than a term, it’s a call to arms that ignites panic. When we panic we inevitably cause more harm. We thrust numerous harsh and complex products on our skin and end up locked in a never-ending battle which is not good for our skin, our self-esteem or our bank balance. I urge you to tend to your skin, as it loses its natural defences, with care and devotion, which means respecting it and honouring it. Hell, it means accepting it too!
Anti-ageing is an awful term when you really think about it. Let’s reject it. Let’s see it for the manipulative, cynical, ugly message that it is and choose to celebrate ageing instead. I said it in the opening of this article but it needs to be said again - Ageing is a privilege. Let’s treat it as such, and let’s help our bodies and skin through the process instead of waging war against our beautiful and divine soul vessels.