Why must we try to defy aging?
Women are in a constant battle to hold onto their youth. But why do we do this? I speak to two expert dermatologists to find out.
Aging is a natural part of life. Gravity will pull our faces and bodies relentlessly to the earth along the course of our lives. But as we age, many of us want to look and feel our best. For many women, this means exploring anti-aging treatments that can help to reverse or prevent the signs of aging. From cosmetic procedures to beauty products, the market for anti-aging treatments has absolutely exploded in recent years. Women face a great deal of pressure to maintain a youthful appearance, and this pressure has only increased with the invention of social media.
Traditionally, anti-aging adverts were splashed across women’s magazines, on the outside of buses, and in the windows of pharmacies, but now this insidious marketing has crept even further into our lives. From Instagram influencers to YouTube beauty gurus, social media is saturated with images of women who seem to defy the laws of aging. Even as a young (ish) 24-year-old, I am not immune to it. I find myself ogling at girls on Instagram with perfect, bronzed, smooth skin, and then wondering if the lines on my forehead are a sign of premature aging. I religiously slather on sunscreen and have spent more than I care to admit on tiny bottles of retinol. Yet, I know deep down that my skin will succumb to the all-powerful pull of earth’s gravity, and there isn’t really much I can do about it.
So why do women seek out anti-aging treatments? Why do they try to delay the inevitable? And what does the psychology behind these decisions tell us about our society? I spoke to two medical experts to try to glean an insight into the world of anti-aging procedures for women.
Nicola Belson, from Lumiere MediSpa in Headington, Oxford, spoke about how she has seen an increase in clients after the pandemic. During COVID-19, we all became aware of the phrase “Zoom face”, and it seems it has affected women in particular.
‘They’ve noticed their faces on the camera. I think that them looking at themselves, and picking up on things, things that are very natural and nothing to be worried about! But they’re more conscious of it and want to look better on camera.’
She went on to say how the clinic tries to give the women that come in a boost of self-confidence about their appearance. ‘It’s not necessarily about [them] wanting to look younger, but they just want their skin to look brighter. And that in itself helps people to have more self-confidence, and when people feel more confident in how they look, I feel it has an impact of other life choices. They may think “Yes, I will go to that gym class”, or ‘I will go and meet that person”.’
It’s important to note that aging is often seen as a negative process in our culture. Women are often subject to immense pressure to maintain a youthful, glowing and blemish-free complexion. This pressure can come from a variety of sources, including media and advertising, social norms, and our own personal values. Social media is rife with images of people with perfect skin, and it seems normal to see women over 40, or even 50, with no wrinkles or grey hairs.
‘Instagram filters have a lot to answer for.’
These perfected images create unrealistic expectations for women who view them, and people may feel that they need to look like these young and flawless beings to be considered attractive. ‘Instagram filters have a lot to answer for,’ Belson added. ‘Acne sufferers in particular are closest to my heart. When they see an image on social media of a perfect complexion, which is probably filtered, that’s not nice. It makes them think that their skin is worse than they expected.’
In many cases, women can feel that their appearance is closely tied to their sense of self-worth and fear that aging will diminish their value in society. ‘Socially, there is a lot of pressure on people from all angles, whether it be academically, physically, or financially. I think younger people do feel a bit more pressure,’ Belson expressed, ‘Social media does impact them a lot.’
‘Socially, there is a lot of pressure on people from all angles, whether it be academically, physically, or financially.’
For some, seeking out anti-aging treatments is a way of taking control of their appearance and defying societal expectations. By using these treatments and undergoing procedures, they can maintain their youthful complexion and feel more confident in their own skin. This can be especially important for women who feel that their appearance is closely tied to their professional success or personal relationships. Lucy Phillips, who works at Kaizen Medical Clinic in Southampton, spoke about the pressure she feels as a Dermatologist. ‘We are our own walking billboards. I don’t want to promote bad practices, like overfilled faces.’
Around the menopause, many women unexpectedly notice a change in their skin. Phillips explained how she mainly sees peri- and post-menopausal women at Kaizen Medical as changes in the face happen rapidly during that period. ‘They say “Oh, it’s crept up on me”, or ‘“I didn’t realise I looked like that”.’ Suddenly, it seems, we feel the face we see in the mirror is no longer our own. Procedures to reverse time, even just a little, can help women to come to terms with that life transition, and take back a little bit of control in their lives.
However, there is also a darker side to the mindset behind getting anti-aging treatments. Some women feel pressure to conform to an idealized standard of beauty, which can be impossible to achieve without the help of cosmetic procedures. Sometimes, this pressure can lead to a harmful obsession with appearance and a distorted self-image. ‘We do have conversations about expectations,’ Belson explained, ‘After all, it is natural and OK to age.’
Ultimately, all this suggests that our culture places a great deal of emphasis on youth and beauty, particularly for women. This pressure can be both empowering and damaging, depending on how we respond to it. While anti-aging treatments can be a really useful tool for women who want to maintain their appearance and self-confidence, they can also be a reflection of our society's unhealthy obsession with appearance. Regardless of the motivation, aging is a natural part of our lives, and we should endeavour to value individuals for who they are, rather than how they look.