Fear of ageing is engrained in our culture. From Queen Elizabeth the 1st covering her face in lead to maintain a pale and youthful appearance, to the anti-ageing creams of modern day – staying young and beautiful has dominated the last 500 years of society.
Anti-ageing trends nurture many lucrative industries, including skincare and plastic surgery, which have a combined market value of 213.37 billion dollars. Children as young as 14 are getting sucked in by the societal thirst for vampire-esque immortality, dedicating substantial amounts of money and time to the cause.
Countries in Asia – famed for clean diets and ancient wellness practices – have caught the attention of Westerners, who entwine Asian traditions with the convenience of mass-produced products. Baby botox, a wrinkle relaxant procedure that uses micro-doses of toxins, is actively encouraged in the under-30 community. And vast amounts of toner, serum, and moisturiser grace the shelves of both drugstores and high fashion brands.
Social media has undoubtedly amplified the cultural anxiety of growing old. The recent release of TikTok’s aged filter sparked an app-wide conversation about the fear of wrinkles and greys. While some were thrilled with their predicted future face, others were in despair.
“POV: This filter humbled you and made you realise Botox is, in fact, the move.” – lifestyle influencer Emilie Kiser.
The reality is a detrimental mixture of capitalising on insecurities and ruthless ageism from young people who are told that ageing must be dealt with before it’s even begun.
“Something that really blows my mind is the rampant ageism I see on this app [TikTok] every day”, explains influencer Heymisskelsy. “The fact that a lot of times it comes from people who are not that much older than you, the way it is normal these days for someone in their late teens or early twenties to call someone in their late twenties or thirties old, or washed up, or bitter… I just find that really disturbing.”
Young people are exposed to anti-ageing messages in ways that didn’t exist before. The demise of age-isolated media such as teen magazines (hands up who remembers Mizz and Go Girl) and the advance in accessible, participatory media (hello TikTok) means the online world is in tandem – payday for anti-ageing companies who are suddenly able to market their products to all age groups. Indeed, Gen Z beauty brand Spoiled Child now sells anti-ageing products to young people, further distilling the horror of ageing in an already anxious generation. It’s no wonder that ageism is running rampant. Can we blame young people for their preconceptions when it’s all they’ve ever known?
But it’s not just social media. It’s the reflective world we live in. Accessible cameras, video calls, selfies and filters have made us hypersensitive to the way we look. A 2020 study found that the omnipresence of FaceTune apps incentivised people to get plastic surgery in order to look like their edited photos. The pressure to look good on camera has since spurred the UK government to ban botox and lip-fillers for under 18s, while in Shanghai, China (where over half of cosmetic surgery clients are under 28), minors are restricted from plastic surgery and tattoos without parental consent.
While this regulation is welcome, it can’t deter the increasingly ageist culture infecting our lives. It’s near-impossible to go online without being bombarded with virulent stereotypes and bizarre DIY procedures that claim to slow the ageing process. Temporary facelifts, where a device full of air is pumped onto the face, disguises itself as ASMR, while a video endorsing chewing gum to combat smile lines and achieve a heart-shaped face gains over 13,000 likes. But with little to no scientific evidence to reinforce them and seemingly no regulatory approval, these ‘at home’ schemes are at risk of becoming more and more obscene.
The definition of ‘healthy’ is constantly changing. Models of the '90s smoked 30 a day to maintain a dangerously skinny physique, while aristocrats of the 1500s sought rich foods that sustained a curvier body. Today, we see buzzwords like ‘clean’, ‘raw’, ‘glass’, and ‘dewy’ floating around as everyone clamours to achieve peak wellness. But these are nothing more than pseudonyms for young and beautiful – hidden behind a facade of self-care.
And while there’s nothing wrong with taking care of one’s health, young people shouldn’t be worrying about ageing to the extent the media tells them to. The beauty industry places immense pressure to invest time, money and energy into ‘fixing’ our flaws, particularly young women who are told their beauty has a sell-by date. But ageing is inevitable, not preventable. Looking after ourselves doesn’t mean that time won’t catch up.
Only vampires are immortal.