In the media, women have been conditioned to believe that their appearance holds social value, status and success. Photograph credit: StoryBlocks
Some fight ageing with every fibre of their being, whilst others have recently decided to trade their natural looks for the new sweeping beauty aesthetic, the ‘Instagram face’.
Regardless of your viewpoint, age inevitably and naturally affects us all. We all age. This is an inescapable reality and fact that we have to live with and make peace with.
Society has taught us all to look at the fine lines on our face, fading youthfulness and grey hairs, tempting us with the best new skincare products, hair dye or night cream. This vicious cycle tends to be aimed more at women opposed to their male counterparts; targeting teenage girls, using their vulnerability and social anxieties to shape and encourage them to become solely focused on their outward appearances. In essence, to ensure teenage girls continuously buy their products. With promises of youthfulness and self-confidence with these products the beauty industry has become, according to a recent report from the retail analytics firm Edited, a $532 billion industry which is on a rapid upward trajectory.
Socially, the beauty and cosmetic industry has always thrived on issues concerning women’s ageing; the emphasis usually on equating less wrinkles with a promised increase in happiness and self-esteem… essentially, selling more products.
This has led to increasing stress amongst women trapped in the cycle of equating success with a youthful appearance; ultimately basing self-worth exclusively on your looks is unrealistic and unattainable. In contrast to women, biologically the male gaze tends to be based on age. Studies show that men tend to find the peak attractiveness of women to be restricted from late teen to early twenties. Yet, the same study showed men’s attractiveness to women was not reduced to a few years but stayed consistent as they grew older together. Could the perception of wrinkled men in the media as more ‘mature’, more ‘experienced’, ‘growing sexier with age’ be to blame? In contrast, women of ages 16-25 are what the media and modelling agencies heavily rely on. This further enforces greater pressure on women to retain their teenage looks throughout their thirties, forties and even fifties.
So, is the gracefulness of ageing constricted to gender? Unfortunately, in the media this tends to be the case. As women age, they become haggard. As men age, they become dignified…
Men’s increase in age seems to go hand-in-hand with an excel in career. With their multiplying wrinkles comes a growth in respect, money, and applause. Women’s grotesque ageing signs, however, proves enough to signify their expiration date.
Miriam O’Reilly, ex-tv presenter of Country-file, admitted BBC producers offered her black hair dye to cover up her grey roots. She subsequently went on to win a case against them for age discrimination. This was also the case for BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce, who previously announced, “I don’t want my grey hairs to show whilst I’m reading the news.” Therefore, Bruce’s hair dye is a career essential.
“There comes a point – especially if you’re a woman – when your career just falls off a cliff.”
Fiona Bruce, BBC1 Newsreader, 2012 interview
Endlessly being forced to search for past youthfulness – Botox, ageing creams, fitness regimes and dietary supplements are what colours their identity. Women are desperately being sold this idea that youthful appearance will bring validation and security.
In today’s population of young women, the effects of ageism and scrutinised outward image is clearly taking its toll. One of the most influential social media icons has landmarked what Instagram has become today, helping to brand the new term ‘Instagram face’.
This new wave of beauty culture has formed from the growing influence of beauty bloggers and reality TV stars. However, the typical ‘Instagram face’ can be mostly credited to reality star, social media influencer and cosmetics line owner, Kylie Jenner.
This trend isn’t just assumption. Multiple studies have shown that women who are in their late teens and early twenties are already choosing non-surgical treatments to achieve the pristine non-wrinkled image of perfection.
Comparable social media influencers include the likes of reality star Megan Barton-Hanson from ITV’s Love Island as well as reality stars from MTV’s Geordie Shore: Holly Hagan, Charlotte Crosby, Marnie Simpson. Using their social media platforms as a source of income for paid advertisements, this social world is at the centre of their everyday lives. All of these stars have undergone nonsurgical treatments, bringing about a more widely accepted view of fillers from their millions of followers.
Love Island’s Megan Barton-Hanson has revealed that she has had her ears pinned back, a nose job, two boob jobs, lip fillers, jawline fillers and veneers. In a Channel 4 documentary that aired earlier this year, she stated that although cosmetic work “change[s] the outside shell,” ultimately “you’re still dealing with the insecurities and self-esteem issues as before…chucking money isn’t gonna fix that.” This demonstrates how fillers may eventually make us more insecure.
“I just don’t want girls to have unrealistic expectations like I did…it didn’t fix anything.”
Megan Barton Hansen, August 2019 Channel 4 Docs
In a 2002 interview, actress Meryl Streep voiced her concern over the constant prejudices against women in her industry: “the attention to how you look is cruel and unrealistic,” and subsequently women end up ‘devaluing themselves’. Although it is difficult to ignore the constant stream of consumeristic bombardment that particularly target ageing women, getting older should be embraced, not feared.
However, on the same footing there is a flipped perspective that you can choose to see. This is one where women are empowered and confident enough to take control of their own bodies and lifestyle decisions. If choosing to reduce the appearance of their wrinkles, slowing down the ageing process is their own choice – more power to them. In the current climate where women’s value is ranked by their body type, facial features or body hair decisions, women can choose to employ this to their advantage. By using the restrictions of the patriarchal male gaze to your advantage, this can be just as empowering. In performing an increased version of femininity whether that’s for yourself, your confidence, for increased level of basic respect by employers, job opportunities, men or even other women, that’s completely up to you and shouldn’t be judged.
There’s a quote I read recently that said, “When you’re feeling insecure about a particular body part, ask yourself who’s profiting off my insecurities?” This can usually distinguish whether the reason you feel insecure is legitimate or whether it’s just distorted idealism being sold to you from a company. You may realise you’re not actually insecure about yourself but being compelled to be. So, whatever decision you choose to make about your appearance in the future, ask yourself why you are making it. This can leave you feeling more empowered and confident about your choice, not more insecure. You may choose to tune out next time you see an influencer endorsing another beauty product or retract your attention from the next ageist advert. Or you may choose to use this vicious consumerist cycle to your own advantage, which can feel just as liberating as the latter.
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