Freya Harrod explores why contemporary society is so averse to ageing – what has prompted this and why are cosmetic surgery procedures now seen as go-to ways of solving the problem?
After a private Dolce & Gabanna after-party in Milan during February, images of Kim Kardashian in attendance posing with other influencers were posted, and followers were quick to compare how the star’s skin appeared in her images compared to others’. Although she still, of course, looked fantastic, the difference raised discourse on social media regarding ageing and how we seem to resent and hide the physical manifestation of our age. It’s completely natural to show signs of ageing, and when a woman of only 42 years feels the necessity of disguising the tiniest wrinkles and texture, it seems a very poor reflection of our wider reception to ageing. Not only did the images reveal Kim’s erasure of signs of ageing from her edited social media output, but also the extent of the plastic surgery and Botox that the star has had done over the years to help prevent changes to her skin.
Across social media there has been a steady increase in interest surrounding plastic surgery and Botox, a trend that we certainly all know Kim Kardashian has been a crucial catalyst of. Yet it seems that recently this trend has begun to move distinctly towards anti-ageing procedures, with many Doctors, practitioners, influencers, and celebrities endorsing or revealing their use of Botox to reduce fine lines in the skin.
There has even been a vast raise in preventative Botox, with women as young as 21 already stigmatising and fearing ageing, using filler to try and combat the signs before it has even begun. We are all relatively familiar now with the extensive pressures on women to upkeep a natural effortless beauty, which is often seen as something inherent to femininity. It seems that women’s natural faces have become demonised and resented by society. Yet, witnessing extremely young women, who should be years away from stressing about wrinkles and ageing, become obsessed with preventing any sign of the passage of time from showing on their skin should be setting off huge red flags for all of us on how destructive discourses surrounding ageing on social media can be for young people.
We are constantly being fed through social media, magazines and marketing that we should, as women and as a society, “age gracefully”. Ironically enough, once again, it is often celebrities who have undergone vast amounts of Botox and surgery and have financial access to the best dieticians, aestheticians, and lifestyle coaches, who are the ones we idolise for their seemingly effortless physical youth. TikTok beauty filters, which already constantly affirm the belief that our skin is not smooth enough, that we don’t have a good enough bone structure, or that our under-eyes are too dark, now have evolved into de-ageing us.
What good can this do any of us? The system of antagonising women for ageing benefits nobody except the companies who sell us supposedly magical products and services which will allegedly save us from the abominable titles of “unattractive” or “old”. God forbid you look your own age. The paradox of it all is that no matter how much money and stress and time we invest into combatting wrinkles, texture, grey hairs and sagging, we are fighting against something that will never stop. You will never stop ageing; injecting Botox into the skin might reduce the appearance of fine lines for a while, but it will never stop them. And those who we idolize are, most often, at constant war with their own appearances too.
Although we typically see stigmatisation of ageing when it comes to women, men are definitely not immune to the internalisation of this toxic beauty expectation. Founder of Venmo, Bryan Johnson, has spent an estimated amount of over $2 million in just a year on procedures, tests and health products, with the intention of not only stopping his ageing, but reversing it. Johnson’s aim is to try and return his body to the state of physical health it was in when he was just a young man, including his organs and muscles, not just his skin.
So, why do we hate the idea of ageing so much? It extends beyond just one reason, for sure, but it’s not hard to guess a few of them. In part, it’s because we have been taught to value the social asset of our youth and attractiveness so much by society. It is also partially because of a condemnation of the concept of being ‘old’. It really is in the name of ageing “gracefully” – maybe it could be argued to be a simple lexical choice, but I think there is something calculated and careful about the specific choice of “graceful”. Coming with this title is the implication that to age naturally is to age clumsily, lazily or even grotesquely. As if, by opting to live your life unconcerned by the obsession with face creams and expensive injections and procedures, you have somehow failed in being elegant and self-respecting. Existing, and living a long and full life, is condemned unless you can do so with skin as smooth as a teenager. Social media would suggest it simply isn’t that hard to spend your life obsessively avoiding the sun and wasting thousands on unnecessary products, provided it means you can get the social acceptance of not looking like you’ve actually lived.
It can be easy to feel exempt from this issue if you haven’t experienced it yourself. But most of us have had at least one moment by now that gives you a pulse of this anxiety. Maybe you just happened to notice one fine line on your forehead, and it sent you spiraling. How can this happen at the age of 19, 20, 21? Is this the start of it, having to watch wrinkles and lines accrue for the rest of your life? Most of us have heard a Mother, Aunt or friend talk negatively about their own personal issues with their own skin, desperately warning us to make the most of being young.
So, how do we learn to accept ageing and the changing of our body and face with time? Although it’s not nearly this simple, we must try as a society to put less value into our face and appearance, and more into the qualities and traits which truly represent us. “Ageing gracefully”, in its essence, was never about retaining a youthful look. Originally it was about accepting our skin and selves however they look, as after a life well lived and loved, the last thing we should be interested in is how many wrinkles are on our forehead.
As famous actress Audrey Hepburn said on the issue,
“I’d never worry about age if I knew I could go on being loved and have the possibility to love”.Audrey Hepburn
Articled Edited by: Rebecca Pearson – Deputy Editor
Header Designed by: Sarim Mangi – Head of Design