Ageism Unveiled: Embracing Authentic Beauty in the Era of Anti-Aging

As a beauty writer focusing on skincare, I cannot count the number of times I have used the term “anti-aging” automatically in all my articles because it’s the most popular and commonly used word that is synonymous with describing fewer fine lines and wrinkles on smoother, brighter, and firmer skin—basically meaning younger-looking skin.

Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion on accepting aging because celebrities are speaking up about it. In an interview with Allure Magazine, actor Sarah Jessica Parker said, “I just don’t spend that much time [thinking about appearance].” Parker added that she is “not delusional” and aware that with age comes change.

Actor Anne Hathaway spoke with TODAY’s Sheinelle Jones and said, “I don’t think about age. To me, aging is another word for living.” It is refreshing to see celebrities speak of aging with optimism and acceptance. Still, the popularity of anti-aging products is growing exponentially because the global anti-aging market will hit $83.2 billion by 2027 (per Globe Newswire).

I attended a talk by Dr. Tracey Gendron on “Ageism” at the 2023 Gerontological Society of America (GSA) Annual Scientific Meeting in their Journalists in Aging Fellows Program. She made me question my personal views on aging and how I have been an ageist for decades.

In Gendron’s book “Ageism Unmasked: Exploring Age Bias And How To End It,” she describes ageism as “thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes” we have about people based on their age that can lead to stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. Fairy tales, visual and social media, and everyday conversations instill and ingrain ideas of ageism into all of us from a very early age. We view aging as a negative aspect of life and often associate it with older people, but the truth is we are aging from the moment we are born. We also assume that getting older means a state of decline rather than a time of growth, making most of us afraid to age- something none of us can avoid as long as we are alive.

Most people, including myself, have grown up believing that “young is beautiful” and old is not. I started my anti-aging skincare routine in my late teens because I saw products advertised in magazines that promised me a youthful glow, and I was hooked because I grew up believing that getting old was not great.

Attending Gendron’s talk and reading her book made me question my views and biases on aging. In the past couple of years, many magazines and dermatologists have taken a stand against the term “anti-aging” because, for decades, the media has been playing on our fears to sell their products while making us feel guilty and ashamed about our inevitable reality.

In the past few years, I have accepted that at 40, I am not going to have the skin I had at 20 or even 30, but I remain consistent with my skincare habits to maintain the health of my skin and prevent premature aging, but I cannot deny the fact that anti-aging product ads on magazines and social media do pique my interest. However, using skincare products makes me feel good about myself, so I don’t see myself not doing that, and it is a part of my job- but this topic has made me wonder what is a healthy habit to maintain the dignity of my skin versus what is an obsession to try to look like an unrealistic version of yourself.

I am glad that I learned more about ageism as I was contemplating cosmetic procedures, as many of my friends have gone that route, and they love the results. Most of them said they didn’t like the appearance of more lines on their foreheads and around their eyes, so they opted for Botox because fewer lines mean younger-looking skin.

Do I want Botox? Yes. Will I get Botox? I don’t know. After all, I am unsure if I want it because I will like my eyes with fewer crow’s feet when I smile or because I am reading about it a lot.

In a 2019 study, “Ageism and Health in Patients Undergoing Cosmetic Procedures,” over 30% cited age for daily discrimination, according to participant reports that consisted of 94% of women. Those who felt discriminated against on the basis of age also had “worse self-rated health, lower self-esteem, and greater anticipated age-based discrimination.”

I spoke with facial plastic surgeon Dr. Sarina Rajbhandari, and she said the most common cosmetic procedure in Kathmandu, Nepal, is rhinoplasty between the ages of 18 and 30. “Most patients come in because they spend too much time on social media where filters set up unrealistic expectations and people are too aware of their appearance,” she said.

Sometimes, Dr. Rajbhandari gets parents who bring their children or husbands who bring in their wives for surgery, and she turns them away. “You should never have any cosmetic procedure because someone else wants you to have one,” she added.

Legend Barbara Streisand spoke with Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” where she mentioned she received negativity regarding the appearance of her nose, and many people recommended she get a nose job. However, Streisand never felt the need to change her appearance because she didn’t want it to alter her voice and her ability to breathe, so she decided against it. She added, “I’ll just try to make it on my own and make it about who I was.” And, she is an icon.

Dr. Rajbhandari concluded, “It’s important for people to have realistic expectations so they do not get too carried away by what they see online.” Gendron’s book addressed the powerful impact advertising and marketing of products can have on people’s insecurities, promising them unrealistic results. We have seen plenty of paparazzi shots of celebrities where the cosmetic procedures didn’t produce the best results.

What I learned from this experience is how I had a very negative outlook on aging because of what I had seen, read, and learned growing up. The first step to accepting and respecting people of all ages is awareness and acknowledging the truth that we will age and change with time.

If what we choose to do with our appearance makes us feel good about ourselves and is not a result of guilt, shame, and embarrassment while embracing the transformation, I don’t believe it is bad. It is essential to take care of ourselves to continue living healthy and happy lives.

One of my favorite quotes from Gendron’s book is, “Now we know better, we can do better,” which is so true. Acknowledging my own biases is helping me change how I perceive aging, and I see my own aging (physical, emotional, and spiritual) as natural growth that should be celebrated rather than something I should be afraid of.

I accept there will be more fine lines and sunspots on my face in the coming years, but instead of hating it, I will see them as well-lived life while still ensuring I wear sunscreen every day. I think it is okay to want healthier-looking skin if it will make you happier, but I don’t want to alter my appearance because it is trending.

This article was written with the support of a journalism fellowship from The Gerontological Society of America, The Journalists Network on Generations, and The NIHCM Foundation.