‘While both sexes dread ageing, it is the woman who is expected to prevent it’.
I recently came across this quote by Efrat Tseëlon, and it reminded of a conversation I had with someone I barely know. I had just told this person that I am 37 years old, and the response couldn’t be more proof of how ageing is perceived and how women are supposed to desperately fight against it.
My interlocutor was surprised. She made every effort to tell me that I didn’t look 37 at all. Among other things, she said my ‘skincare routine must be amazing’ and that she wanted to look like me when she reached my – apparently very old – age. I know what you are thinking: she just wanted to compliment me, and I agree with that. I know how hard we are pushed to understand, from a very young age, the importance of our appearance, especially if we are women. But I couldn’t get that conversation out of my mind.
Around the same time, I posted a picture on my Instagram account to celebrate the anniversary of my move to London: it was the first ever picture I took when I got here, just a few hours after arriving in my new home. I was 28 when the picture was taken. Since then, many amazing things happened in my life, but all people could talk about was that I ‘looked exactly the same’. Apparently, I ‘hadn’t aged a bit’.
But I had. I don’t look like the woman in the picture. Ok, same smile, same hairstyle, same main features. But nine years make a difference. Anyone can clearly see that, but I was overwhelmed with all the comments (this was one of my most liked images on Instagram in 2017) of friends as well as people I only know from social media. Everyone was on a mission: denying that I was getting older, even though that was not the point of the photo.
And I’m only 37. I look 37 – I honestly don’t know why people that are younger than me are so surprised with that fact. I am what 37 should look like, and I don’t intend to look younger. I do have a skincare routine, but it is not at all ‘amazing’. I refuse to spend more than 10 minutes or £10 with it. I am not a superior human being: I do sometimes feel terrible about my appearance, and I have spent a lot of money on products that didn’t deliver what they promised. I am just trying to raise some questions about this obsession of ours. We want to live forever, but we don’t want to look like we are over 25, because we know that we are not valued if we do.
Our foreheads must be smooth, our hair must be soft, or lips must be full, our eyelashes must be long, our cheeks must be firm (and this is just the face, mind you). Angela King says that ‘the cosmetic industries capitalise on the fear of ageing by offering products endorsed by scientific language that claim to prevent or reduce the signs of ageing, which is discussed as though it were some kind of disease that is every woman’s responsibility to prevent’ (2004: 35).
Although I know that the beauty/ageing discourse is not something we can simply switch off after years and years (entire lives) of ‘learning’, I think that it is in our hands to at least start questioning it. I know we are more than our appearances, but we are our appearance as well, and what’s the harm in that?
Word, Heloisa Righetto