Nothing to do with Shakespeare and in fact a bit of a rant!
In my job I often get asked for a medical expert to give their opinion of some anti-ageing or age-repairing product. But really the medical experts I work with are more interested in makeing people healthier not younger.
Age is inevitable, so why deny the visible signs of it? Yes, we all have vanities – mine is my hair. I’ve had beautiful, noteworthy hair all my life and, yes, I do find it a bit hard to say goodbye to that as age takes it’s toll and the number of white hairs increases. I do sometimes dye it. But I try not to obsess about it. In fact I’m more worried about my itchy scalp and won’t dye my hair till that clears up. I think that puts me on the more concerned about health than beauty side of things, but we all have our weak points.
And it is these weak points that make us prey to the beauty industry/media obsession with looking younger than you are. Or in fact, just looking young. The thing that got me started was a journalist’s question ‘At what age should we start using anti-ageing products?’. It seemed to imply that implementing some kind of anti-ageing routine was a standard thing that everyone should and must do and it was simply the timing of it that was in question. But that isn’t really true. We can look old if we want to. There is no law against it. If we live long enough we will look old no matter how much gunk we put on our faces or how many magic ingredients the gunk has – it really isn’t rocket science! And in fact, if we just looked after our skin a bit more earlier on in life – staying out of the sun, not smoking, healthy diet, etc, etc – we probably would never need to worry about anti-ageing as our skin will just be getting old along with the rest of us. But perhaps that isn’t good enough in an age obsessed by youthfulness?
Ask yourself, if you are over 30, when you tell someone your age for the first time, do they often say ‘wow, you don’t look it’ – almost as an automatic reaction – assuming that you will want to look younger than your real age?. Yes? Me too, and for a while it made me happy. But now that I’m nearly 50 I’m not sure that it does, or that it’s helpful. My body certainly knows it’s getting older, my spirit is certainly getting older, so why would I not want my outside appearance to reflect this? Why would I put massive amounts of energy and money into appearing to be something I’m not, when I could be using those resources to enjoy being the person that I am?
In fact let alone looking ‘youthful’ I’m not sure the constant focus on outward appearance is helpful at all at any age. Although it is now the subject of endless articles, comments, celebrity praise/criticism. It comes hand-in-hand with achievement – “XXX has won the yyy prize and she’s looking great”. But in reality how I look has nothing to do with the achievements of my life. I think perhaps if you are a great beauty – someone who’s visible difference makes heads turn and people approach you in a different way – or if you are visibly different in a way that makes heads turn for all the wrong reasons then you might reasonably say that your appearance does affect your life. But I’ve always been fairly average in looks; no-one was ever going to fall in love with me because of the way I looked, no-one has ever become my friend because of how I look(ed), I’ve never got a job simply on the basis of my looks, I’ve never passed an exam based on how I look, I’ve never got a promotion or a pay-rise based on how I look. When I bought my own flat, no-one cared how I looked when I took possession of the keys ( brow furrowed with exhaustion and stress I seem to recall). When I direct a play, no-one cares how I look. When I write my blog, no-one cares how I look.
I don’t mean to say that we can all just walk around with unwashed faces and bin-bags on. It is part of how we show we care about fitting into the society that we live in that we follow some of its norms, which in the west includes: clean teeth, clean bodies that don’t smell, clean hair (and in some contexts: tidy/brushed/neat hair), clean clothes that cover our bodies. In certain contexts to do with where and how we work there might be other considerations of ‘context appropriate’ clothing. But that is about making a conscious decision to say ‘yes I am part of this world’ – whether it’s wearing a suit because you work in a bank, or wearing a thong because you are a pole dancer. If you decide to do this the other way round (wear a thong to the bank and a suit to the pole dancing club) then you are making a very different statement – one that consciously invites people to comment on how you look.
Beyond these social norms and context-appropriate clothing considerations – is it really worth worrying about how we look? About our wrinkles? Our excess hair? The shape of our bodies? Or should we be using that mental and physical energy for more useful ends? For example, caring and doing something about our neighbourhoods, the planet, the other people in our lives.
I think it’s time for us to say ‘no’ to the brainwashing of the media/fashion/beauty industry and stand up for the right to not care about how old we look or what we look like and to start to care about how we think, how we feel and what we do.