It is no longer fashionable to be anti-ageing: it has been rebadged as “pro-skin”, by the founder of American skincare brand Drunk Elephant and “anti-wrinkles” by Neutrogena. A new vocabulary of renewal, regeneration, plumpness and “glow” now dominates the language of the beauty industry, the ethos of body-positivity finally inching its way up to the top.
It falls into a familiar category: stuff you know is basically tripe, but you can’t really object to because what went before it was worse. Still, the principle is that any visible sign of ageing is a disgusting thing in a woman, whether that is a wrinkle or the overall dulling effect of having seen too much life. But it is no longer acceptable to age-shame a woman, since time marches past us all. Instead, she must be draped in diaphanous euphemism. Age-shaming, incidentally, I have decided is worse than fat-shaming, since not only does it locate a woman’s worth entirely in her appearance, spur self-hatred and then instrumentalise it for profit, it also rejects any value in experience, thereby writing off the female as a social entity. This is why the Neal’s Yard “age well” campaign is novel: it doesn’t just reject the lexicon of anti-ageing, but the principle that a woman’s priority should be to deny her wisdom rather than flaunt it. But then I would say that, being old.
Is it in any way preferable for the term “anti-ageing” to become taboo while all its apparatus remains intact? Take the creams that 68% of a spurious 10-person sample agreed made a “visible difference”, the Neutrogena products that dare not say “anti-ageing” still say “anti-wrinkles”, accompanied by ads with pictures of a 41-year-old, a 46-year-old and a 51-year-old (Kerry Washington , Jennifer Garner and Nicole Kidman , so bizarrely flawless that the area between their core features looks like CGI. Or does it just resituate the discomfort back with the consumer?
If fear of mortality is universal, then attempting to erase its reminders is reasonable. It is not a feminist’s duty to look like a tea-towel that got stuck at the back of a tumble dryer. It is where vanity is marshalled by commerce that it becomes oppressive and disproportionate. Anti-ageing is an OK word and an OK pursuit, so long as you don’t buy into products at all; make face masks out of white wine and bathe in the excretions of a donkey, like Cleopatra, who was oppressed by nobody (discuss).
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