The first time I was confronted with the idea of ageing, it was the night of my 26th birthday. Maybe it was the alcohol. Almost certainly, it had something to do with the unforgiving fluorescent lighting in the nightclub’s bathroom. But somehow, as I looked in the mirror and noticed a single line forming under each of my eyes, I was overwhelmed with the knowledge that I was on a one-way ride to Old Age, and there was no going back.
Perhaps you’re like me and have had a moment of ageing angst. Maybe you’ve had many moments like this. Perhaps, you’re someone who doesn’t consciously think about ageing (after all, you’re still young and vivacious), but readily spend up to US$500 per month on youth-enhancing skincare, or regularly apply hair dye to cover the emerging grey. Maybe you’re one of the growing numbers of women in their 20s and 30s who are turning to preventative Botox to proactively halt the ageing process.
On the surface, our daily skincare regimes, hair care rituals, and personal attitudes may seem innocent enough. But, look closer and it’s easy to see that our attitude toward ageing and the aged has never been more dismissive, more destructive than it is in the modern-day. And, disturbingly, it is mostly women who bear the burden of this impossible-to-attain evergreen youth. For instance, a survey conducted by Allergan Medical Aesthetics revealed that 67% of women feel pressured to look younger in the workplace, and a Harvard study found that older women are often ignored, oppressed, or forced out of their jobs.
Although not immune to these pressures, statistics show that men are not judged at anywhere near the same standard of youthfulness. Despite the brave Suffragettes of the last century, the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and the Women’s Lib movement of the 1970s and 1980s, a woman’s intrinsic value in society is still based on her beauty and her ability to bear a child (youthfulness). The sad truth, of course, is that it is women who buy into and perpetuate this paradigm – judging themselves and others on a youthful appearance, and rewarding a scare-mongering skincare industry by injecting billions of dollars into it each year.
With all of these societal norms and pressures at play, it can be easy to resist the idea of not just looking older, but actually growing older, and this can have serious long-term effects on the women of the world. According to a recent study, harbouring negative beliefs about ageing undermines your physical wellbeing and can be a contributing factor in the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. With the insidious pressure on women to remain young, it’s perhaps little surprise that women are far more likely to develop dementia in older age – outnumbering men by two to one!
This new insight into the cause of Alzheimer’s highlights the need for us to examine our inherited beliefs about ageing. Our obsession with youthfulness, line-free faces, and age-defying treatments may seem harmless, or even natural. Perhaps you’re sure it’s a personal choice – that you want to look or feel younger and it has nothing to do with what society tells you. But the truth is that we are communal beings and we are all highly susceptible to expectations, norms, and societal judgements. But by defying our unnatural fixation with youthfulness, we are not only liberating ourselves from daily pressures, self-destructive judgements, and expensive interventions, we are literally increasing our potential to live longer, healthier, and happier lives.
I turned 50 just over a month ago, and as I looked in the mirror on this milestone birthday, I felt overwhelmingly empowered, wise, revitalized, and strong. For me, the lines on my face tell a remarkable story – of beach holidays, parental worries, gut-wrenching challenges, triumphs, turbulence, and innumerable hours of laughter. Rather than feeling worn out and worthless, I feel I have finally stepped into my capacity for leadership, wisdom, and contribution.
Changing society’s attitude toward ageing and older people may take a concerted effort over several generations. And it will take daring for each of us to welcome the wrinkles and grey hairs, and embrace natural ageing. However, it is possible for us to create a healthier society – if not for us, at least for the women yet to come. It all starts by realising we have a choice. With practice and courage can each reject the notion that ageing is bad, wrong, or undesirable and celebrate our inherent beauty and worthiness … at every stage of life.
Ready to shift your perspective on ageing and boost your life-long well-being?
Take some time to reflect on these societal myths
Your value is measured by what you do
Modern society idolizes busy-ness, productiveness competitiveness and accumulation. Therefore, you are seen as a burden if you are not contributing to society in a physical or financial way, or showing an eagerness to ‘get ahead’. As we grow older, we may lose the ability to be constantly busy and competitive, but we increase our ability to accumulate and disseminate wisdom, provide solid emotional support, and set examples of growth and resilience.
Perfection is obtainable and desirable
Society’s drive for perfection is not only unhealthy, it is unobtainable and inherently unnatural. As you age, your body, your mind and your outlook may become less aligned with society’s idea of perfection, but they will increasingly reflect the beauty and strength of nature; the incredible ability to adapt, grow and endure.
People are like machines; they wear out over time
For centuries, it was believed that your body was a biological machine that would eventually wear out and that your brain was wired in a set pattern and could not be reprogrammed. It is now known that your body is in a state of constant renewal, and your brain is able to create and recreate new patterns and behaviours until the day you die. Within twelve months, you essentially recreate an entirely new body; new cells, new neurons, new possibilities. You are not wearing out – in fact, each year, you are brand new.
Death is something to fear and avoid
As modern society has become farther and farther removed from a natural state of being, the fear and avoidance of death has grown. Those approaching the end of life (those who remind us of our inevitable death) have become feared, ignored and isolated. However, death is a natural part of life and there is an incredible power to be found in recognizing and appreciating the role it plays in our lives. By accepting and acknowledging our mortality – instead of avoiding it – we open ourselves up to the very gift of life. We are better equipped to treasure each moment and grasp every opportunity we are offered.
Kim Forrester is an award-winning author, holistic well-being educator, and consultant, blending science with spiritual philosophy to inspire the fullness of living. She contributes regularly to well-being publications around the world and is the host of the ever-inspiring Eudaemonia podcast. Looking for some drops of goodness in your day? Come join Kim on Instagram.