Can you be beautiful as you age? The media says ‘No!’

Published: March 28, 2014
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This over-simplified, exploitive and misleading sense of beauty is creating unhappy souls and bodies. Beauty is acceptance; if you accept and act your age, then there is nothing more beautiful than that. PHOTO: KASHIF/FILE

This over-simplified, exploitive and misleading sense of beauty is creating unhappy souls and bodies. Beauty is acceptance; if you accept and act your age, then there is nothing more beautiful than that. This over-simplified, exploitive and misleading sense of beauty is creating unhappy souls and bodies. Beauty is acceptance; if you accept and act your age, then there is nothing more beautiful than that. PHOTO: KASHIF/FILE This over-simplified, exploitive and misleading sense of beauty is creating unhappy souls and bodies. Beauty is acceptance; if you accept and act your age, then there is nothing more beautiful than that. PHOTO: AFP

Beauty has always been tantamount to youth but the frenzy of confining beauty to the fleeting time zone of youth is a recent phenomenon. Media and the cosmetic industry have played a great role in weaving and reinforcing this youth-centric narrative of beauty.

Beauty is youth

An anti-ageing cream heralds,

“Look up to ten years younger.”

And that too at the age of 32!

The catch here is that the woman is 32-years-old and the gravest matter of concern for her is the growing indifference of her man due to her dull skin. The irony is that the man, no less than a Greek god, is unaffected by the process of ageing and is still the centre of attention.

It’s annoying how this ad trivialises the sanctity of a relationship by connecting it with the fickle idea of beauty and youth rather than love, association and trust. If a relationship is in need of a ‘beauty potion’ to survive, I am afraid the bond is already doomed.

Although another anti-ageing product’s ‘regenerist’ ad is thematically better since it shows the concern of women regarding fading beauty, independent of any urge to appease their male counterparts, the tagline is stinging nevertheless,

“Start young, stay young.”

There’s a strange sense of urgency that resonates from it even when you are still young.

Anti-ageing campaigns and celebrities

Many of these products are endorsed by celebrities which makes their fan following extremely vulnerable to the message. After all, celebrities hold immense power of creating enduring impressions on people.

Interestingly, Kangna Ranaut has recently turned down the offer to endorse a fairness product and Jennifer Lawrence has criticised the show Fashion Police for teaching the younger generation “all the wrong moral values”.

It’s high time for other celebrities to realise the responsibility that comes with the great power of fame.

Is ageing as bad as they say?

The marketing diction of these products is highly suggestive. The most popular title is ‘anti-ageing’. The etymology of anti is ‘against, opposed to, opposed of, instead’ and mostly denotes negatives like anti –war, anti-biotic and the like.

While speaking about the increasing emphasis on the link between youth and beauty, my 30-year-old friend aptly remarked,

“Ageing is normal; anti is not. Going against age is not just a denial of the female self but also of being human.”

This is not to say that all beauty and personal care brands tout the message of youth and beauty going hand-in-hand. A progressive message that distinguishes it from other beauty products, this particular brand promotes ‘real beauty’ by saying,

“Building positive self-esteem and inspiring women to reach their full potential.”

The positivity in their ad campaign is quite refreshing. The ads are always shot in bright lighting and depict happy, regular women of all ages and sizes discussing basic skin care. It is a rare example of responsible and healthy marketing.

Dr Faiza, who works in the Psychiatric Department at the Jinnah Hospital said,

“The pressure faced by the modern, young woman is immense. She has to raise perfect children, be an immaculate homemaker, excel at work, stay updated on fashion trends and to make it worse, she has to always look younger. This fixation with a youth-centric concept of beauty makes them easy prey to anti-ageing cosmetics. The media banks on women’s strong need for approval and attention.”

Social media makes it worse

In addition to traditional media, social media also plays a role in increasing people’s focus on physical appearance.

According to Aisha, a 38-year-old successful professional,

“Facebook always keeps me on my toes. The greatest compliment from a reconnected acquaintance is ‘you have not changed much and certainly don’t look like a mother of two!’ Anti-ageing cosmetics make my skin firm and young – or so I feel. Maybe it’s the placebo effect but as long as it seems to work, I am happy!”

Do you use anti-ageing products?

Interestingly, most of the ‘ageing’ women I spoke to about these products, denied the usage or importance of anti-ageing cosmetics but Dr Awais from the Sheikh Zayd Hospital had a different story to tell,

“The constant projection on the media of an ageing woman being dull and neglected has degraded the self-image of the modern woman. Most middle-aged women now don’t feel confident about their appearance and rely on these products in order to feel better. It triggers a vicious cycle of emotional dependence, eventually leading to surgical procedures.”

The overwhelming presence of anti-ageing cosmetics in the market confirms his claim.

Unfortunately, this over-simplified, exploitive and misleading perception of beauty is creating unhappy people. Beauty is acceptance; if you accept and act your age, there is nothing more beautiful than that. Ageing brings with it a sense of liberation. It emancipates you from the social pressures of looking and feeling a certain way. Castle, a character from a Star World’s series Castle once rightly said to his mother,

“You have traded youth for wisdom.”

Ageing is certainly not a disease which needs to stopped or worked against like an anti-ageing formula based product enticingly states, “corrects wrinkles”; rather, it is a natural phenomenon. However, these products create an illusion of youth based on denial and conflict.

Ageing is inevitable but to age with health and memories is worth cherishing and celebrating more than the ‘illusion’ of youth.

Fatima Majeed

Fatima Majeed

An avid reader, freelance writer and home-maker.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.