Women and aging: What are we so afraid of?

Posted on August 13, 2012 By Amanda King Beauty and Fashion

aginghires acs Women and aging: What are we so afraid of?

As women in the media age, they turn to cosmetic procedures to even out their wrinkles and tighten up their skin tone, making it appear that they’re not really aging at all. (Photo acs)

Have you ever lied about your age? Have you turned 29 years old multiple times? Women in the U.S. are notoriously afraid of getting older. There are countless anti-aging products in stores promising greater elasticity, fewer wrinkles and overall younger looking skin. Cosmetic surgery and Botox are big business. Women are willing to go to great lengths and spend exorbitant amounts of money trying to appear as though they aren’t getting older.

Why is aging such a big deal?

The media and societal ideas about beauty are likely to blame. The president of the National Research Center for Women and Families, Diana Zuckerman said, “We’ve made a decision about what beauty looks like in this country, and everybody… wants to fit the mold.”

Unfortunately, youth and beauty are synonymous in U.S. culture, and there aren’t very many role models for aging gracefully in the public eye. As women in the media age, they turn to cosmetic procedures to even out their wrinkles and tighten up their skin tone, making it appear as they’re not really aging at all; and if they don’t choose to cosmetically alter their looks, they get put away in a corner reserved for stars who aren’t sexy or appealing anymore.

Though these women disappear from the public eye, they still exist. Isabella Rossellini, 60, recently said in an HBO documentary by filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, “My social status has diminished because I know I’m not invited to the A parties anymore. My daughter is. As you grow older, you don’t count anymore.”

While there could be biological reasons for fearing old age, such as a fear of approaching death or bodily frailty, our ideas about beauty could also be influenced by a woman’s ability to bear children, making youth more appealing on an evolutionary scale. However, a  woman’s fear of aging is most probably due to this idea that we become invisible as we get older – that as we grow older, we don’t matter.

There is evidence that this fear of aging is now starting to appear among younger and younger women. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, last year, Botox was injected into 12,000 teenagers between the ages of 13 to 19.

When some of these teen girls were asked about why they chose to get the injections, they said they wanted to prevent wrinkles or “appear fresh” in front of the camera.

However, Dr. Michele Borba, author of several parenting books and expert for the Dr. Oz show, was quick to point out that teenagers seeking Botox aren’t in need of a physical freshening up. She said to the NY Times, “There’s a much deeper issue at stake and I’m betting it’s self-esteem. Say no to that injection. Address her feelings of ‘inadequacy’ and not her need to cover up a so-called wrinkle.”

Perhaps this advice should be taken by women of all ages, not only teenagers.

The signs of aging such as skin wrinkles, grey hair, loss of skin elasticity and body changes are totally normal and shouldn’t be considered flaws or evidence that a woman is no longer beautiful. There is nothing wrong with a woman who experiences these symptoms as she ages, but there is something wrong with a society that devalues older women, making them feel ugly, ill and invisible.

Optimized Vivian 030512 Women and aging: What are we so afraid of?

Dr. Vivian Diller works with adults, adolescents and couples in short and long-term psychotherapy on the upper east side of Manhattan. (Face it, the book)

Dr. Vivian Diller, a New York City psychologist and co-author of a book on women and their attitudes and experiences regarding aging, said in an interview with the L.A. Times, “When you see lines around your smile, your eyes, it’s part of this process. Healthy aging is learning how to see those lines as natural and being comfortable with saying, that’s who I am.”

Dr. Diller suggests that there are many things women can do to maintain positive body image as we age, such as exercise, healthy eating and getting regular checkups from a doctor. The best thing we can do though is to stop thinking about our personal beauty in terms of looking younger.

Dr. Diller points out that aging in a healthy way means saying, “When I am 47, I’m not going to look like I did at age 37. I can look great for 47, but my looks will change at some point, no matter what I do.”

Accepting that every woman gets older and that there are physical changes that happen, and learning to love ourselves for those changes, are the only ways we’ll be able to diminish our anxiety about getting older. We would not only serve ourselves by making these changes to our attitude, we would also be helping the teenage girls who are lining up to receive Botox.

The world needs to see women of all ages who aren’t hiding behind cosmetic procedures or from a world that devalues them. Society needs to be constantly reminded that beauty comes in many forms, whether it conforms to a superficial standard, or comes from somewhere more substantial and brave, like being unafraid of, and unapologetic for, the changes that happen naturally with age.

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