Inner ageing vs. outer ageing: a cultural tension
There’s a stark contrast in society around ageing. On the one hand, more people are celebrating the psychological changes we experience as we age. From Julia Fox’s comments around ‘Ageing being in’ through to TikTok creators claiming life gets better as we age. There’s (seemingly) a cultural shift away from dreading aging, to embracing it.
However, aesthetically, sales of non-surgical procedures like Botox are booming, particularly amongst Millennials and older Gen Z, as preventative ‘anti-wrinkle’ measures¹.
There’s therefore a very real tension between inner ageing vs. outer ageing. We’re looking forward to the confidence and independence that ageing brings, but we’re still chasing the mainstream desire to look young on the outside.
Anti-ageing masquerading as ‘health’
The beauty industry has traditionally waged a war on ageing. Battle language like ‘anti-ageing’ ‘anti-wrinkle’ adorned lotions and potions. Clocks were illustrated on-packaging to suggest ‘turning back time’. We’re sold the myth of the fountain of youth.
Now, these signifiers are residual. Not only do they perpetuate the problematic ideology that ‘being young is better’, but they’re also too vague for today’s consumer. Consumers want to know what ‘anti-ageing’ means. Will it inject moisture? Smooth the skin? Make our skin appear dewier? And most importantly, how will it do that? What are the ingredients used to do it? No ‘magic’ serums, please.
Now, beauty products imply more youthful-looking skin. For example, ‘Absolute Collagen’ wraps ideas of youthfulness with being healthy: “Our hair, nails and even our joints are made up of lots of collagen, keeping us strong and our skin plump and hydrated”².
‘Plump’ and ‘hydrated’ are synonymous with being young. Ultimately, we’re sold the same vision but using different language. We aren’t imposing war on our skin – taking away wrinkles but instead we’re injecting it with goodness, to look more youthful.
Youth is still the goal
A potential problem arising out of this narrative is that ‘healthy’ skin is still synonymous with ‘wrinkle-free’ or ‘younger-looking’, no matter how it’s packaged up.
A more interesting idea to explore for the future is – what does healthy but visibly aged skin look like? Can those things co-exist? Now, there’s a perception healthy skin is plump, moisturised, smooth, ‘glowy’… Is it possible we can separate ‘youth’ with ‘health’?
There’s a similar debate happening in fitness culture, where we’re unravelling the connection between ‘health’ with ‘slimness’. There are more conversations now around larger bodies also being healthy bodies.
Toward an age-inclusive future
To reference back to Julia Fox’s comments around ageing being ‘in’… It’s superficial language to suggest it’s ‘in’ because that suggests it can fall ‘out’. It’s certainly empowering to see so many examples of ageism being tackled in culture; but it shouldn’t be spoken of as a trend – because this suggests temporality.
What would be more productive is to embrace not only emotional / attitudinal signifiers of ageing, but visual ones too – beyond stylishly dying our hair grey! Perhaps conversation will open to address aged skin also being healthy skin – but I don’t think we’re there yet.