19, Going on 90

Here’s a note that came to me recently from a reader of my Q&A blog, Yo, Is This Ageist? She wrote that:

The other day I was eating lunch with my best friend, when out of the blue she asks me if she was getting neck wrinkles. Since we are both 19, I laughed at her question and told her no. However, she was not convinced and stated that she was going to ask her parents for anti-aging serum in her stocking for Christmas. 

We both were joking around in the moment, but looking back at the situation, I know a part of both of us was truly afraid of the prospect of getting wrinkles. It is not uncommon for many teenagers to already be using anti-aging products in their day-to-day routine. The idea that we need to prevent the appearance of our skin aging is a very engrained mentality that is promoted by the society we live in and the media we consume. Many celebrities publicly use Botox and anti-aging products, promoting the idea that you should fight the effects of aging as long as possible. I myself have felt the urge to purchase anti-aging serums for the slight creases around my eyes that didn’t used to be there. 

Additionally, the double standard of aging was made very apparent to me after thinking about our conversation and discussing it with some of our guy friends. They seemed very surprised to learn that girls were already concerned with the effects of aging and had not even considered if their faces had shown signs of aging. This is most likely due to the fact that the media portrays men aging as becoming more masculine and as a positive thing that they don’t need to prevent. 

My response: I’m glad this raised a red flag for you. Nineteen, yikes! Who says wrinkles are ugly? The multi-billion-dollar, skin-cream industry, that’s who. Every time we buy anti-aging products, we reinforce a whole set of ageist and sexist beliefs, including old = ugly; the older you is worth less than the younger you; the most important thing about a woman is her appearance; and aging enhances men and damages women.

We also support the consumer culture that profits from our insecurities and the patriarchal system that benefits when women compete to “look young” instead of joining forces to challenge their second-class status. Do we want to dig the hole deeper—to keep colluding in our own disempowerment—or to throw away the damn shovel and figure out new ways of thinking and behaving? The women’s movement taught us to claim our power. It’s time for a pro-aging movement to teach us how to hold onto it. It sounds like you’re going to be part of it, and that makes me happy.