Fight signs of aging, reverse signs of aging, how to cure aging, turn back time. With all the advertising targeted at aging, you have to pause and think, is getting old a disease? What is inherently wrong with aging?
This whole narrative that aging is something you have to eliminate at all cost, makes it feel like something you have to fight hard to eradicate, something you don’t want to be associated with. And if you feel that way, you are not alone. Research identifies a faulty premise of the anti-aging industry: that aging is a disease requiring technological intervention.
And if you think that's a problem, it’s bigger!
Aging has associated with it the added burden of stigma and shame. It not only feels like you're doing something wrong by aging, it is now something we are ashamed about.
Are you asking the same question I am?
How did we get here?
Who stands to benefit from us feeling this way?
What are the messages and attitudes that are fuelling the narrative?
Beginning in the half of the nineteenth century, there has been growing interest in the use of treatment that purportedly delay or reverse the aging process; however, starting in earlier religions and cultures, there has always being the obsession for youth and immortality.
In our world as we know it today, there is an unhealthy obsession with youth and beauty; we have placed looking young on a pedestal and whether consciously or unconsciously, we seductively participate in the worship of our younger looking selves. One of the best compliments you can give a woman is, "she looks young for her age".
And it’s sad to say that even I am guilty of this youth worship. I relish the compliment when I go for a parents evening at my daughter's school (who is 11) and I'm asked if I'm her sister - never mind that I'm a grown ass lady of thirty-something! When I hear those kinds of compliments, my insides go something like “way to go you hot mama!!
What Women are really Concerned About
There is no denying that women (and men of course, but the burden of youth is heavily weighted on women) are concerned about old age; however the boom of anti-aging products provides superficial relief for our concerns and capitalises on our fears.
What women are really concerned about old age are the attitudes associated with aging. We are concerned about the isolation, feeling invisible, walking into a room and nobody acknowledges you for the smart, thoughtful person you are because you are now considered “old”, the feeling of not being needed, the memory loss, we fear being alone and unable to support ourselves financially.
So along comes the anti-aging movement; along with the faulty premise that aging is a disease, coupled with the exultation that youth is the ultimate achievement capitalises on our fears and drives a subtle and not-so subtle campaign that aging is the be-all-end-all.
This movement drives a message that feels like aging is a crime and even though it’s out of your control, you find yourself guilty of a heinous crime against other humans and the “gods of the land”.
It Goes on..
From one media campaign to another we find ourselves incredibly influenced to fill, nip, tuck and in other less invasive ways use creams that attempt to defy the signs of aging. They claim to remove the wrinkles, and creases that so innocently attempt to tell the stories of our journey on the earth.
With so much emphasis on youth and the attitude towards old age; which every now and again brings it’s younger cousin – ageism (prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person's age) for the ride, it is no wonder we attempt to stamp out any evidence that supports the idea that we are going past our “best before” date. It’s no wonder there is stigma and shame surrounding aging.
If you think I’m advocating fire and brimstone for the beauty industry. Heck no! I’m thankful to the beauty industry because when they get it right, they support us in looking our best.
The point here is, our unhealthy obsession with youth and beauty has to be reality checked.
This obsession and the capitalisation on our fears is fuelling a multi billion dollar industry which has no forecast of slowing down.
According to a report by Research and Markets, the global market for anti-aging products and services is expected to grow from $281.6 billion in 2015 to $331.3 billion in 2020.
And as long as these markets stand to benefit from our feeling inadequate and shame about aging, there will always be the campaign to keep us feeling exactly that, increasing the already suffocating pressure we feel to conform to societal ideals.
Where’s The Balance and What You Need to Know?
Aging is not a disease and we are not any less beautiful, smart or fun because we are aging.
So where do we draw the line in the sand and say enough?
By doing the following:
Change Your Perspective
We have to change how we see aging. It’s not a disease or an uncomfortable aspect of living. It’s a blessing. And yes, we may not be huge fans of the loss of balance that comes with old age or the other attributes we fear, but the truth?
Do you want to hear it?
We get to grow old! And that is a blessing. And yes let those lines and the greying and the sagging be evidence of how blessed you have been to still be here. My sister passed in her thirties and I would give anything to compare wrinkles with her today.
The sad truth about buying into the narrative that aging is a disease is that we give away our power to another and we relinquish control so that other people have the final say about our happiness and the standards our lives should be measured by.
And what’s worse, we pass on this faulty narrative to our daughters and perpetuate the cycle.
Every time you buy into the narrative that you have to erase, eradicate or nip and tuck, you give power to a system that says you are inadequate as you are. One that promotes the message that you’ll only be love, appreciated honoured or valued if you look a certain way.
Changing How We Talk About It
When next you compliment another woman, instead of saying something in the lines of “you look lovely for your age”, compliment her looks without a reference to her age.
And when you see another woman, really see her, not for her looks or age but for who she is. Her contributions and personality.
When we begin to see people for who they are without prefixes or suffixes. We will begin to shift the conversation surrounding aging.
And it's good to know that Allure Magazine will no longer use the term anti-aging. Yup! That's how we begin to change the conversation.
Changing Our Actions
When next you go beauty shopping, buy products that do not use language that attempts to deny you are less than you are because of your age.
Should you go ahead and throw away your anti-aging products. Girl! No! But now you know better, so when next you need to shop, patronise those products that support you in being your best without making you feel inadequate as a result of your age.
I love what Ashton Applewhite said in her article in the New York Times: Working to Disarm Women’s Anti-Aging Demon
Join forces against ageism the way we mobilised against sexism in the 1960s and ‘70s. For movements to have power, their members have to embrace the thing that is stigmatised, whether it’s being black, loving someone of the same sex, or growing old. That means moving from denying aging to accepting it, and even to embracing it”.
Reality check the messages that make you feel inadequate because of your age. Where have these messages come from? Who stands to benefit?
The irony is that we have been enlisted for a battle we didn’t sign up for. A battle that we are unaware of the agenda of the leaders. What we truly want is that despite our age, the wrinkles, the skin that isn’t as youthful as our prime, what we really want is to be seen, to be valued, to be loved, to matter.
What we are really saying is that aging doesn’t rob me of my personality. I’m still the fun, intelligent, beautiful woman I’ve always been. I may not look the same but who I am is still intact. The law of gravity may have laid hold of my face and grabbed the body parts which once merrily said hello to your eyes in my younger days. But I’m still me through and through.
Thanks to the Huffington Post, I’ll leave you with this excerpt of how one woman views aging:
"I've had gray hair since I was in my early 30's. I learned early on to not get my self-esteem or my sense of beauty from my exterior but from my heart and my passions and my engagement in life. The happiest people I know are the most fulfilled.
They have a sense of passion and purpose and are surrounded by people they love. Very rarely do I hear 'oh, I'm so happy because I am the same weight I was in high school.' The message I like to share is don't count on your looks because they change.
Discover an inner source of energy and fulfilment that has everything to do with your heart and soul and very little to do with your exterior. One thing for sure in life is that your exterior is going to change. I believe strongly in feeling beautiful without the knife. For me, wrinkles are ... they are a map of my life. I have four children. I have a husband of 28 years. I've enjoyed my life." - Iris Krasnow, 61
I remember some years ago volunteering for a HIV/AIDS initiative UNICEF in Nigeria. I was a peer educator and part of my responsibility was to create awareness of the HIV/AIDS virus thereby reducing stigma and educating those infected and affected about how to get help.
To do this we enlisted the help of the media, held town hall meetings, went into villages and spoke to students.
Today if we are going to see change in the way society views aging we need to create awareness and start conversations and be open.
This is my step. Share this article with as many women and men you know and let’s move the conversation further.
To your beautiful aging self!!
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My aim is to shed light on the issues that affect women, equipping her to be confident, happy and successful.
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