The Beauty Myth
Aging, Teenagers & Cosmetic Surgery
By Colette Mansbridge - 2008.
"Because I'm worth it." - L'Oreal slogan.
"Maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's Maybelline." - Maybelline slogan.
"Wearing makeup is an apology for our actual faces." - Cynthia Heimel.
"Lipstick is something that makes you feel good about yourself." - Naomi Campbell.
When you get old, and you realize you're old when you have wrinkles, crows-feet, grey/silver hair, back pains, etc. and the cosmetics you bought in your 20s just doesn't seem to cut it any more.
According to the cosmetic company Olay there are seven signs of aging:
1. Lines and wrinkles
I seriously think they just made up #7 just so it would be a lucky number/prime number.
Of course, Olay's Total Effects skin care products promises to reverse those seven signs of aging, thus playing into every woman's fear of aging. Its not that men are immune to aging either, but men age better than women do. Just look at Sean Connery. I swear he gets more handsome with age.
For women aging is a bitter poison, like a disease that slowly wears us down. We've been raised to think young is beautiful, that youth and beauty are fading and that loss of beauty is just one of the things on the road towards death.
From an advertising industry perspective it also means we women are very vulnerable. We purchase cosmetics, soaps, hair dyes, skin creams all in the effort and hope that it will somehow sustain our youthful appearance, maintain our beauty and thus grant us a longer life.
It is all a placebo of course, but we try nevertheless.
We worry about our sagging breasts, our wrinkled skin, our laugh lines and every traitorous part of our body that will eventually break down and reveal our true age.
It is no surprise so many women lie about their age. We subtract years to the nearest 9 or 4 so that we can be 29, 34, 39, 44 and by the time we reach 50 we hopefully have matured enough to not care any more.
What I personally can't stand is the women out there who say "I am 40 years young." What you are really saying is that you're 40 years old, but you're so obsessed with wanting to be younger that you are changing the adjective.
Its a bit like the snobbish people who refer to their significant other (whether its wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend) as a "partner". Either they're trying to be politically correct, or they want to hide the fact they're a lesbian/gay or even the fact that they are married or not married. It does the opposite of its intention, which is to leave it unknown and instead it creates a curiousity and a mystery.
The same goes for women who refuse to reveal their age. The moment they refuse to reveal how old they are what they're really saying is that they're insecure about their real age and are obsessed with wanting to be younger.
Youth, Beauty & Love: Those three things go together, or so the advertising industry and Hollywood would have us believe. In the advertisements the women all look young, they're all happy, they get love notes and flowers... and they're all supermodels or celebrities and are positively dripping sex appeal.
Of course most of us aren't supermodels or celebrities so its not very realistic to be comparing ourselves to such things. We see the celebrity endorsements and we're hit on multiple fronts about what it means to be young and beautiful:
#1. You have to be thin.
We're all familiar with the diet industry, the Jenny Craig ads with Kirstie Alley, Queen Latifah, Valerie Bertinelli and we're all familiar with the anorexia that has swept the United States in the past decades as scores of young women starve themselves in an effort to be thin.
#2. You have to have perky breasts.
Or more specifically, the breasts of an athletic teenager who looks like they exercise regularly, and they can't be too small either. We're expected to have at least a size B or C, and if you're in the porn industry they're looking for a size DD.
#3. You have to have luxurious straight hair.
Curly hair, grey hair, silver hair, an afro... oh no! Apparently we all need to have hair like supermodels Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell or Laetitia Casta. And woe to those born with curly hair or an afro, for we live in a white dominated culture that says straight hair is attractive and according Glamour magazine natural African hair is "unprofessional". See Black Beauty and White Beauty.
#4. Your complexion must be fair.
No blemishes, scars, dull spots, dry skin, oily skin, rough skin, dark spots, wrinkles, crows-feet, pimples or freckles. Poor Anne of Green Gables never stood a chance.
#5. You have to have the body of a teenager.
And by a teenager we mean an athletic one, full of life and grace as if you were on the cheerleading squad, the gymnastics team, a ballerina or a figure skater. When was the last time you saw a woman over the age of 30 at the Olympics competing in gymnastics or figure skating? It doesn't happen.
We can cry foul all we want, but at the end of the day we're all older than the day before. No matter how much skin cream we have, how much liposuction we get, or how much perkier our breasts may look in the event we get breast implants.
I saw a woman several months back riding on a bus. She must have been close to 70, but her breasts were like rockets perched on a rocket launcher. Something a guy might call "a really nice rack", but she was obviously in her declining years and for whatever reason she had decided she wanted the breasts of a 30 year old (because no twenty year old would have had double Ds like that and be as perky as that). There was no doubt about the fakeness, but the size and sheer perkiness of them were almost obscene. She was wearing a low V-neck shirt and seemed to take great pleasure in men checking out her cleavage, even though quite a few of them made faces and looked away as if they were aghast.
And therein lies my point. You can't hide your age. Regardless of how much you try to cover it up and look younger, no amount of cash and cosmetic surgery can hide crows-feet and wrinkly hands.
The Real Seven Signs of Aging
1. Emotional maturity
Cosmetic surgery won't buy those things, but that doesn't stop some young women and old women from wanting it anyway.
Back in 2001, 15 year old Jenna Franklin decided to have breast implants for her 16th birthday. Her mother, who owns a plastic surgery business, and her father said they would happily pay for the operation.
Jenna was young, slim, pretty but due to a combination of poor upbringing and genetics thought her breasts were too small and articulated that you need large breasts to be successful in life, and named Britney Spears and Pamela Anderson as examples.
Amidst the media uproar of whether she was too young, that she wasn't finished growing, that she was too immature to make such a decision, that she should just wait a bit to be older no one seemed to argue with the Russ Meyer-ish concept that somehow bigger was better and more beautiful.
Then there are the women who have apparently come to their conclusion that their breasts are "sex objects", that breastfeeding is a way of the past and that breasts in the future will be nothing more than bait/playtoys for men.
Admittedly in American culture cosmetic surgery is nothing new. Quite a few wealthy young women get nose jobs for their 16th birthdays. It is of course natural for young women to feel insecure about their bodies and be worried about how they look, but changing how you look in a drastic fashion is something that should be done with the careful thought and not just on an adolescent whim.
Its a bit like tattoos and piercing. We set an age limit for these things and require parental approval, otherwise young girls could go out and get breast implants and their nipples pierced all in the same day.
I'm joking of course about the nipple piercings. Their main goal at that young age is wanting to look normal, yet beautiful, at the same time.
Some women claim getting breast implants feels like a feminist act, that they are somehow empowering themselves with a pair of gazongas that will help them open doors and climb a corporate ladder above that famed glass ceiling.
It makes you realize what a breast obsessed society we live in.
Its not just breasts as we all know. Its everything to do with beauty, like being thin, perky, athletic, nice hair and good skin and having all the gifts only the rare few of us are born with. As if somehow reaching a Playboy standard of beauty would make us happy and successful.
But does being beautiful really make a person happy? I think not, because then they become obsessed with preserving that beauty from that dreaded disease: Age.
Its as if we spend our youth wanting to be older with larger breasts, never reach it, and when we're older we start wishing we were a teenager again.
Very few of us ever seem to say "Hey, I'm happy with how I look." Its as if we're trying to meditate and reach nirvana, but all the while happiness and fulfillment is right in front of our noses: Living well.
Other Topics Concerning Fashion & Feminism: