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How the beauty industry exploits our fear of ageing

Increased accessibility to procedures is escalating ageism, where every last wrinkle needs to be ironed to a degree where we look less human and more cyborg

The beauty industry operates on the qualms of controlling ageing rather than embracing it 
The beauty industry operates on the qualms of controlling ageing rather than embracing it  (iStock )

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“Have you got your booster?” I asked the aesthetician microneedling my face. “Well, I’m not into injectables yet, but I feel like I need a tiny little booster for the undereye,” he said, pointing to an imaginary dark circle. “Tell me you’re a beauty addict without telling me you’re a beauty addict,” I laughed, informing him that I was referring to the covid vaccine. 

Also Read: Skin smooth enough for social media could burn you

That instance reminded me of what American businesswoman Aerin Lauder said in an interview years ago, beauty provides instant gratification. 

Think about how light you felt after a haircut, or how deeply satisfying it is to get your nails done. Beauty is therapy and whether you’re into it or not, everyone wants to look their best. The only downside is that the better you look, the more you fear losing it. Small wonder then that the beauty industry, which helps you look good, also exploits the ultimate fear of ageing. Today, this feeling of insecurity is heightened than ever before because even in this ultra-woke world with no room for prejudice, ageism is still vastly acceptable.

In 2019, a procedure was invented to delay menopause by 20 years. Though a similar procedure is already used to preserve the fertility of girls undergoing cancer treatment, when used to delay menopause, it has the potential to be used primarily for aesthetic purposes. Menopause, for many, sounds like the death knell for beauty. But does beauty really die or does it simply shift form? Are we only deeply attached to only one type of beautiful: young, thin, sexual and fertile?

As someone in her 40s, I get it. I’m always on the look-out out for a cream to zap away the wrinkles around my eyes and dread the day my skin will start sagging. I do daily massages, use expensive skincare, and get the occasional derma-facial to keep my skin smooth, poreless and, I hate to say it, youthful. The problem is compounded when preventative cosmetic procedures are increasingly marketed to younger demographics, creating a fear of something, which isn’t even close to happening yet. If age anxiety is now hitting people in their 20s, then people my age don’t stand a chance.

There’s a reason phrases such as “pro-age” never gained traction. Because in gerascophobic society committed to being frozen in time, nobody is actually pro-ageing. I prefer “anti-ageing”. It's a more honest phrase, a clear reflection of the times we live in.

It’s not as if the fear of ageing is something new. Fear itself is the most primal of emotions, responsible for survival and human evolution. In the current context, it’s responsible for the advancements in beauty technology. Today, there are lasers to zap imperfections, stem cells and PRP to boost  skin’s own healing factors, energy devices to tighten and tone, and injectables to lift and add volume. I love that skincare has become the leading segment in the beauty business as opposed to makeup, the former market leader. Among other things, this also shows that the ritual itself is also an act of self-care, which is the second-most pleasurable aspect of beauty, after results.

The problem isn’t the products or procedures but the fear that results in dysmorphia. I’ve lost count of the number of times doctors have suggested Botox for the lines around my eyes. “But can’t it sometimes make the eyelid droop?” I ask. “Sometimes…yes, but we can add a little bit extra to balance them out.” Ditto for filler that can sometimes migrate from the injection site. It’s because of these reasons that I’m on the fence about injectables, even though the side-effects are said to be rare.

But everyone should do what they want to do to feel their best, be it lunchtime facials, injectables or plastic surgery. The irony is that increased accessibility to procedures is escalating ageism, where every last wrinkle needs to be ironed to a degree where we look less human and more cyborg. And it’s not that less wrinkles make you look significantly younger. Because youth isn’t just about an unlined face, but an intangible combination of freshness, innocence, unrefinement, a different energy that cannot be duplicated.

I read a meme on Instagram the other day that said, “The reason men age better than women is because they’re allowed to grow older.” It made me think of a conversation with a 60-year-old sitting next to me in a salon. She had (what looked like) burns on her arms and legs. Turned out, they weren’t burns but an allergy from hair colour. “But what can I do, my husband doesn’t want me to go grey,” she shrugged, as the stylist retouched her roots.

Ultimately, beauty needs to be a personal choice that comes from a place of love instead of fear. It should be an indulgence that bolsters and celebrates our best assets. But beauty is also a double-edged sword that can make you feel amazing and insecure at the same time. So be careful who you turn to for advice. Personally, I avoid doctors, hairstylists or beauty experts who only point out imperfections to exploit insecurities. Fear internalizes ageism. It makes us panic and take bad decisions such as overspending, overdoing injectables and extreme plastic surgery. Fear makes us forget the brakes and keeps our feet firmly on the accelerator pedal. Because beauty isn’t just about finding the best skincare or the perfect procedure, but also about knowing when to stop.

Also read: How to protect your hair and skin from pollution

Vasudha Rai is a beauty journalist and author of Glow: Indian Foods, Recipes And Rituals For Beauty, Inside & Out and Ritual: Daily Practices for Wellness, Beauty & Bliss.

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