On Anti-Aging: Is Being Old Not Pretty or Something?

Because what else am I supposed to think with a stance like "anti-aging."
Publish date:
March 4, 2016
anti-aging, marketing

I should start this by saying, I cannot think about anti-aging without the immortal words of Lana Del Rey singing, “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautifulllllll?” This should indicate how seriously I take the concept of anti-aging. This also might be because I’m not really what I’d consider “old.”

Recently, I had the weird experience of having a stranger point out the fine lines around my eyes, just, like, super-casually. Sure, they're something that I notice, but I don’t really think other people do, unless they’re mere inches from my face. The stranger in question repped a Korean skincare brand (and was standing at least 10 feet away from me in a room with fluorescent lighting), so I wasn’t wholly offended since the only people who’ve openly and casually pointed out any nuanced physical imperfections on me have been Korean women — it’s what they do.

To be true, I can’t really talk about anti-aging without recognizing a bit of genetic privilege of my slowly aging Asian bod. The same genetics that make it impossible for me to imbibe without turning alarmingly red, also contain the naturally occurring pheomelanin in my skin to protect it from UV harm better than those more melanin-deprived. Generally, the darker the skin the better it ages (also the oilier, so thank your oily stars).

I’m probably the most skincare-obsessed I’ve ever been in my life of nearing 30 years, mostly because my skin has improved a lot since I started actually caring about it and not just going with whatever products had the best marketing or the lowest price tag. With all the exploring and research that comes with being skincare-obsessed, it’s never been clearer to me that the agenda of pretty much all skincare products that aren’t trying to de-pimple your face or shoo away your pigmentation are trying to help get you some of that sweet sweet "youthful" and "radiant” teenage skin.

Sure, looking healthy and youthfully radiant or radiantly youthful is great. I love it. It makes me wonder, though: is the entire point of beauty/skincare to appear younger? I consider myself young, even in this current age where “millennial” loosely translates to “not quite an adult yet” even though by all lawful accounts I am an ADULT and should I besmirch my record as an upstanding citizen, I will surely go to prison as an adult no matter the youthful radiance I've achieved.

More and more, I find myself reaching for anti-aging products, not because I’m literally trying to stop aging but because they seem to actually contain the types of ingredients I want to put on my skin — which is to say that they’re generally of the nourishing, hydrating, repairing, and protecting variety. These are all things I would assume a person would want to do to their skin, regardless of their age.

Why, then, does it require a promise of anti-aging to sell?

The "anti" generally would indicate some sort of political stance, but in the beauty industry "anti-aging" is used so often that honestly, I doubt most of us think twice about the phrase. But what if an anti-aging product read, “Don’t leave the house looking old!”? It would pretty much be borderline negging. The people would not STAND for it! I mean, why else would looking old be a bad thing were it not for the implication that it diminishes our desirability as women? It makes me feel a bit alienated peering into my medicine cabinet stocked with passive-aggressively age-hating products now.

Since the success of a beauty product or brand relies much more on marketing and packaging than the strength or efficacy of its formula (though that certainly helps), this tells me that “anti-aging” must be the magic word that gets people to part with their money in exchange for a promise or fantasy. Marketing jargon becomes the authority when people aren’t willing to put in the research to choose a beauty product for themselves. To sell a product on the strength of the copy on its packaging — people get what anti-aging generally means so it’s an easy go-to. I would go out on a limb here and say that consumers are smart enough to also understand basic concepts like, protection, hydration and repair. Conversely, wouldn’t tagging something as "anti-aging" potentially shut out a younger crowd with much more dispensable income?

Which begs the question: who spends more money on beauty products — young women having fun and exploring ways to care for and express themselves, or older women trying to turn back the clock and reverse signs of their true age? The narrative could just as easily be positive and inclusive rather than preying on fear and insecurity. Misery and insecurity must be that much more lucrative, it seems. If you doubt this, compare the price tag on anti-aging products and general skincare.

Honestly, this wouldn’t really be a second thought to me, were it not for these continuously mixed messaging that comes with being a part of the age bracket of “young adult” that gives my generation the slack of an extra decade to “figure themselves out” while also being subtly told that, as women, we’re not getting any younger so put this stuff on your face to take care of those crows'-feet while you're leaning in and being a boss bitch and having it all, etc, etc.

At this rate, I’m either going to be a withered warrior with the patriarchy and corporate America firmly underfoot, or else I’m going to be an elastin-hoarding siren with a blog-to-book deal and two closets. If this sounds absurd, it is. Women are not their looks vs. their endeavors. Those things are not mutually exclusive.

We may not have beards to cleverly hide our wrinkles while also making us appear learned and wizardly. We do have the benefit of being tits-deep in an age where transparency is welcome and there are more and more platforms for calling bullshit on otherwise collectively accepted social norms. So why NOT start questioning these implications that aging should be a concern? (I probably don’t have to point this out, but let’s consider that anti-aging isn’t really a concern in men’s grooming products.) Taking care of your overall health, inward and outward, should be the concern.

Short of witchcraft and other miscellaneous sorcery, you cannot stop aging anymore than you can stop time. But you don’t have to freak out when you get your first wrinkle, or when someone you just met casually name-drops the fine lines around your eyes when you smile. Smiling is good — I'm not going to stop doing it no matter what Kanye says or no matter how the evidence of that expression hangs out around my eyes these days.

I, will, however use eye cream twice a day and wear sunscreen everyday because I wholeheartedly enjoy taking care of my face and feeling my best. I just don't want to have to feel like as I get older, those same habits somehow become a sentence, chaining me to expensive products and procedures.Helen Mirren put it in great perspective — that is to say that as a woman past 70 years old who publicly gives no fucks about the fact that she's of a certain age — she admits that she thinks she looked better when she was younger, but the grace of aging is all about perspective: "But that is the great thing about getting older, I hope, is that you lose the incredible insecurity of youth.”