What’s Our Gripe with Ageing?

What’s Our Gripe with Ageing?
The beauty and wellness space is finally seeing a surge in age-positivity. At least, that’s what I’ve heard. But what does this actually look like? Models over the ripe-old age of 40, Instagram accounts dedicated to letting grey hair grow out on people under 50, unaltered photographic campaigns (of highly attractive young people), and many an adage on the benefits of ageing, shouted from marketing rooftops (because I believe we still need convincing!)

Do I sound like a bitter and jaded (old) woman? I’m not, but I am painfully aware of how much farther we have to come within the beauty industry, as well as on an individual level, in order to feel not just at peace with aging, but genuinely happy with it. I don’t love the posturing at age-positivity in marketing. I am aware that at a year shy of 40 myself, my attempts to solve the issues of ageism in beauty marketing could come across as implausible. I do however want to bring them to the (sometimes harsh) reality of daylight.

The campaigns and social media accounts that ‘unbox’ the realities of aging, combining both its inherent highs and lows, are the ones that to me truly seek and inspire community, change, critical thinking, and joy.

I’m loving Paulina Porizkova’s Instagram account (@paulinaporizkov) --despite her obvious beauty (which in all fairness she can’t really help!), she intelligently discusses societal norms regarding the aging woman and recounts her own evolution from supermodel to older model, actress, writer, mother, friend, lover, and so much more. Without Botox or fillers or surgical interventions, I find it shockingly refreshing to see what a 56 year old’s skin looks like, and it draws attention to how few celebrities in her cohort are following suit. As previously mentioned, most women (of any age) cannot relate to her abs nor to her bone structure, but we can relate to her fine lines and expressions, and her dedication to so much more than physical appearance. I’ve never been a proponent of having models or celebrities as inspiration for what can be physically achievable, but somehow when we see someone categorically ‘beautiful’ ageing normally, it feels like permission.

Likewise, clean makeup artist Kristen Arnett (@kristenarnettbeauty) dedicates much of her career to beautifying women over 40 through practical makeup application tips that don’t ignore the changes we see in the mirror, but rather emphasize our best qualities (and I don’t mean shading the less desirable ones with contour). She gently but matter-of-factly describes why we might need more colour or glow back in our faces past a certain age, or why we might need to apply another layer of moisturizer. She allows for an honest discussion of the power of inner monologue, releasing versions of ourselves that no longer serve us, learning the confidence in how to take a good photo of yourself, all while genuinely appreciating the power that comes with aging, not trying in vain to fight it.

By contrast, those that shout slogans like “We’ve still got it!” and “Life begins after 40!” feel disingenuous, or overcompensating. Is that judgment my own inexperience showing?? I still, incredulously, receive direct messages to my inbox with the subject line “WHY YOU SHOULD GET A FACELIFT”, or skincare brands stating, “age 25-30 is when you should begin to use an anti-aging cream.” The latter is perhaps so deep-seated in our beauty brains that initially I could even agree! But after dismantling the guilt-ridden language of words like ‘should’, and remembering that fiscal sales are the core of these campaigns, I can easily come to the conclusion that by creating a ‘problem’ at age 25, the beauty industry has a captive audience to ‘fix’ for an average of 50 more years!

I can tell you through my own experience and through listening to my clientele over the last two decades, that the physical aspects of aging are not all embraced equally as the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. It’s not fun seeing the features you have seen your entire life begin to look different, and to have society tell you they are unattractive. But it is freeing and fun to care so much less about the things you cannot control, and value the beauty of life in so many new ways that have nothing to do with physical pert-ness. For my clients, I don’t want to diminish the perceived struggle of ageing by blasting it with a slogan that tells us aging is so amazing, or worse, that there is a solution to it! The failed anthropologist in me wonders whether we are not meant to be as vibrant and in love with our images as we are in our youth? Is there something biological at play wherein what naturally degrades our symmetry, suppleness, and high functioning cells is also meant to fade us to the background, leaving space and stage for natural selection and propagation of our species? Of course if this is true, it must also be true that our spiritual selves have more to learn as a result of this shift, that bring us to new life revelations and certainly a new level of understanding about what true beauty really is.

The only ‘answer’ to the aging journey that I can think of is seeing more of it. Being exposed to images of women with facial lines, skin laxity, and an infectious grin. The more we see, the more we accept and normalize. We can talk about it too-- a girlfriend and I cried laughing on the phone over a conversation on our newfound late 30’s frizzy hair texture. It was much healthier to acknowledge it as a union and with a good dose of oxytocin, than to silently fret or spend $100 on a new hair product. And heads up, beauty world--we don’t need this representation as a gesture of social justice nor do we want a trending hashtag. We all age and need to be happier about it. We can’t fall for the promises of reversing signs of aging. We don’t need to qualify women’s worth or beauty by her age anymore. We simply need to begin to see a lot more aging, and not just in our own mirrors!