Friday, November 30, 2007

Beauty Digest: Are You Afraid of Aging? Do You Prefer to Believe that Aging is “Optional”?

There were several interesting articles addressing the issues of aging in November and December beauty magazines. Amelia McDonell-Parry wrote an article titled “Age-Orexia” (Marie Claire, UK Nov.2007) which focused on the recent trend for young people between 18 and 34 to resort to invasive cosmetic procedures including fillers, Botox, liposuction etc. in order to prevent signs of aging or to enhance their looks. Alison Admond, Harper’s Bazar creative/fashion director, expresses her views on Botox and states her desire to “try never to resort to the face-freezing charms of Botox” in an article “Saying No to Botox” (Harper’s Bazar, Nov. 2007). Marie-Luise Wenzlawski writes about the new trends in Botox industry “Botox for Breakfast” or so-to-say “Botox to Go” (Myself, Germ. Dec 2007). Nora Ephron expresses her feelings about aging and dealing with observing those signs of aging in the article “Throat Never Lies” (Cosmopolitan, Germ. Nov.07).

The thought that I see going through all of these aging related articles is the growing fear of aging among women, and unhealthy perception of the process of aging due to the contemporary beauty standards. Aging is viewed as a disease that can and should be treated and “prevented”. Young people who are only in their early 20s are afraid of aging, get obsessed with retaining their youth as long as possible and try to prevent any signs of aging before they happen. They turn to the popular cosmetic procedures such as Botox injections or fillers. This trend is growing not only in the USA but in the UK as well. Amelia McDonell-Parry quotes data from American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPs): “more than half a million Americans aged 19 to 34 had non-surgical cosmetic procedures in 2006. Younger patients accounted for 317.000 doses of injectable facial fillers…An additional 8.000 Botox treatments were administered to people under 18”. As for the UK according to approximate estimations, Britons spend 225m GBP (appr.465m USD) a year on cosmetic surgery and other anti-aging procedures and a quarter of those treatments is for people aged between 19 and 34. (Marie Claire, UK Nov.2007)

Is this an unhealthy trend or just a natural development due to the progress in the modern world? Why is this happening? What are the reasons for this trend and the obsession with Botox?

Alison Admond from Harper’s Bazar thinks women resort to Botox and get addicted to it because of “their level of self-esteem”. She writes that she knows gorgeous
women “who think so little of themselves that they become obsessed with looking younger. Their self-image becomes distorted from the reality… The inevitable comparisons follow, and self-criticism takes over, unless you are strong.” Alison speaks about her daughter being one of the main reasons why she doesn’t want to have Botox injections. She wants her daughter to have a template of natural ageing like Alsion had in her beautifully and elegantly aging mother. She writes about the “incredible and unrealistic pressure to look perfect” by the society. However the author does not think that media, beauty magazines in particular, featuring young women with perfect youthful skin is the source for those unhealthy comparisons and distorted self-image. “It’s important to remember that we photograph these girls because they’re beautiful, because they make the clothes look the very best they will ever will – not to force the comparisons of age.” Yes, of course this is very logical, for example, nobody wanted young teenage girls to start obsessing with model looks. However many did fall into extreme dieting and finally developed anorexia. The thing is because you think “these girls” are beautiful and because you fill the pages with their images, we receive the visual message of what is the beauty standard and form our perception of it. It is very natural for people to desire to possess the values that are perceived by the society as important, favorable and successful. It is also very natural to form one’s perceptions on certain aspects of life based on the society’s perceptions on these aspects, otherwise there would have been anarchism and chaos in the world.

I agree it is really helpful to have strong self-esteem and clear independent vision so that you can separate yourself from the world looking at you from the glossy glamour pages. But it is just not possible for everyone to shut out those visual messages and form independent perception and values. Also this statement that one can be “strong” and not start to do associations and comparisons seems to me contradictory and conflicting. So, on the one hand, we should follow the fashion featured on the pages of magazines and accept it as the current standard for beautiful looks, but at the same time we should ignore and shut out the images of young girls who are actually modeling those trends.

Of course obsession with looking forever young is not only due to the images in glamour magazines. Sources for this obsession involve role-models from Hollywood who are openly having surgeries and who start to resort to cosmetic procedures at younger age now. Another aspect supporting the trend is how socially acceptable cosmetic procedures are and the way that invasive procedures are pitched to women by experts like something completely normal, easy treatment that will give you the looks of your dream. I am not advocating the other extreme to feature wrinkled aged people only, but wouldn’t it be healthier to have a balanced visualization of a human face and more images featuring women older than 25 with some signs of aging.

Women are afraid of aging because of society’s negative views on it. Nora Ephron describes her aging related negative emotions in the article “Throat Never Lies”. She writes that at certain point of her life she started to avoid looking in the mirror, and now tries to do it as seldom as possible. (Cosmopolitan, Germ. Nov.07.) It is obviously quite hard and it seems at times painful for her to deal with the signs of aging that she has developed and is developing. Is the same going to happen to me? Because I do have fears of looking one day into the mirror and seeing those feared signs of aging. I do hate the unfavorable light in the bathroom and I do think I look best in dimmed evening light. How can I develop healthy perception of aging when everyone around me says aging is bad and you have to fight it. And again I don’t want to go to extremes and I do not have anything against anti-aging cosmetics and beauty treatments such as peelings, massages, acupuncture etc. I don’t think we need to just stop taking care of our skin and do our best to delay those premature sign of aging. However I don’t want to obsess about it and focus on retaining something that I will inevitably loose.

Right now it seems like the trend of looking forever young and Botox obsession will continue to gain momentum. Trying to imagine what will happen, I think that eventually Botox will become like a normal anti-disease injection that most of us will get around our 20s. Then the much feared frozen Botox face will not only become accepted by society but actually will be the must-have look.

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