The Culture Of Anti-Ageing

The Culture Of Anti-Ageing

Perhaps it’s my early balding or perhaps (more optimistically) it’s my principles but the culture of anti-ageing has taken on a sinister and repugnant undertone. An obsessive zealousness now marks social media with regards filters, facial tweaks, fitness, and beauty standards. What were once the (albeit hushed) hallmarks of Hollywood and the elite (Botox, cosmetic surgeries, etc.) now seem to have become all-too-common, begging the question of when our desires become our expectations; and where we go from here.

One only has to compare photos of one’s parents or grandparents in their 30s or 40s or 50s compared to today to see that stylistically, things have changed. And not just fashion wise (although that has some effect). People use moisturisers a lot more nowadays and proper UV protectant suntan lotion and hydrate. Nutritional advice is a lot more varied. Supermarkets stock a wider selection of foods. Dietary requirements are better met. There’s many natural, progressive, and clever changes resulting in a more youthful complexion across all generations. So to some degree, we are all bound to look a little fresher than the boomers did back in the day.

However… while such changes are reasonable and encouraged, they’re inevitably bound to this notion that beauty ideals are an ever-changing target. When does taking care of oneself with the appropriate supplements and foods cross the line from being healthy to being health-obsessed? When do once extravagant routines become the norm? Well, with Botox, it seems as if we’re reaching that point. As Amanda Hess wrote in her New York Times’ piece “The Art of Botox” (last year), “[it] once suggested vanity, delusion, and self-consciousness, but now it has fresh associations; with confidence, resilience, even authenticity, as the idea of ‘having work done’ has come to be seen as a legitimate form of work.”

This is eye-brow raising stuff. Well, not for people with Botox. For others however, the idea of regularly injecting yourself with a needle to stiffen facial muscles seems extreme. At least, it did to me but again, it’s becoming increasingly common. So, maybe the taboo is based on ignorance. After all, if it promotes confidence and makes someone happy, who are we to judge? Well… there’s two points I’d counter with here: 1) does such a procedure then encourage one to follow onto the next step, e.g. plastic surgery and 2) is it use as a preventative not reflecting the very issues we try to tackle with the mental health of young women? With the latter point, Botox is increasingly being used from a young age (early 20s) to prevent the appearance of lines or wrinkles ever appearing. For all the horrible beauty standards advertised on social media, is this not us directly heading the wrong way? That’s a whole other level of pressure to contend with. And what does it say about how we treat older women with regards the ability to express themselves freely?

We live in a strange time as regards the discourse of beauty standards and mental health. Celebrities and influencers (like any dumb Kardashian) promote self-actualisation with cheesy quotes, while looking, themselves, like ageless narcissists. What follows is an uncanny-valley like, cognitive dissonance in rectifying the gulf between inner confidence and outer beauty. If you’ve spent hours on the make-up chair, gotten Botox, and surgeries, and applied filters, well then your message promoting such confidence or fighting unrealistic standards kind of rings hollow.

It may be an obvious point but Hollywood deserves blame. For how long now, has a male lead been coupled with a female two decades younger than him? Why are there so few roles for women past their 30s? (By which I mean women who actually look their age?) The same could be said for men, to some degree. It may all be a case of good genes but really how many men in their 60s do you know keep a full head of coloured hair? A lot of them look better in their 40s and 50s than they did in their 20s. That wasn’t the case back in the 70s or 80s. Something fishy’s going on there too…

Or how about beauty brands actively going out of their way to promote falsehoods. When Cara Delevigne was 25, she was chosen by Dior as the face of its “Capture Youth” line for which the target audience was women in their 30s? I won’t even try breach the nonsense of Kylie cosmetics or anything else that loathsome family promotes (to save you time, have millions and go to a plastic surgeon, then add some blush or something, I don’t know). Let’s, at least, not presume innocence on the part of these companies. The beauty industry thrives on the insecurities of its consumers and when you campaign against something as common as ageing, the possibilities are endlessly toxic.

Look, one can’t determine what’s right or what’s best for anyone else. In many cases, exercise and proper dieting will do you wonders. In many other cases, tweaks are (not needed) but implemented to instil confidence. Sometimes the buck ends there and sometimes it’s a shallow confidence that can never be satisfied. The bigger, albeit darker picture that emerges from this train of thought is that, consciously or not, we are pushing the boundaries of what’s expected with beauty standards. And in this culture of anti-ageing, ugly perversions emerge that undercut a so-called “healthy” lifestyle.

We Need More Critical Thinking

We Need More Critical Thinking

With the assessment of many analysts and key figures, including Obama, that fake news’ stories shared on social media played a role in the outcome of this election, it must be recognized that there has been a significant lapse in critical thinking in America. Think about it- when you scan your Facebook feed, do you stop to read each and every article shared or do you just scoop the headlines into the back of your mind. I’m guessing, like me, you do the latter because there’s only so much time in the day and most of these stories seem trite and annoying. What you don’t realize however, read or not, is that a general impression is formed in your subconscious, resulting in a predisposition that can’t often be accounted for personally. For example, in the election cycle, we heard from a lot of people that Hillary was “crooked,” but we rarely heard from most of them exactly why (at least, in detail.) This resulted in the mass insemination of a wild notion that while Trump was none too desirable, Hillary was “just as bad.” If only, we had questioned these people as well as ourselves…

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The media landscape has changed dramatically in recent years. Whereas Fox was always an anomaly in rationale prognosis, the other major networks such as CNN and MSNBC could be relied on, for the most part, to provide us with important news (if a bit left-leaning). Now, with the social media age, there’s so much flotsam out there that it’s become difficult to distinguish the bullshit from the professional and even then, the professionals get it wrong. (Thanks for those national polls, guys!)  Many people are quick to out the amateurs in the comments’ section but even there, the gulf between credibility and crazy is wide. Is Obama the hero so many have painted him to be or is he an Islamic fundamentalist determined to take America’s guns away and flush them down the toilet? At this point, the level 1 critical thinker might surmise that the answer always lies somewhere in the middle. It’s all about balance, right? Sadly, it’s not that easy either. Critical thinking does not mean delving a line in the center of a Republican and Democratic thought; it means examining the very fabrics and grounds on which arguments are created.

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Let’s take a case in point to illustrate the importance of this evaluative method: the Iraq War. In 2003, America launched one of its most dodgy exploits to date with the invasion of the Kuwaitan neighbor. Most people will tell you it was a disastrous campaign that has brewed trouble for the world since and only a few less will further that the grounds on which it was built were dismally unfounded. To sharply dispel any immediate backlash, I am going to formally state first that I do not think this war was a good idea. What I am going to attempt to do however is add a wrinkle to the clear picture many people have of it.

It all started in 1991 when George Bush Sr. declared war on Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait, believing such acts of aggression could not be tolerated. The mission was simple; to restore Kuwait’s territory and drive Saddam’s forces out. After an extensive air campaign, the battle was short and sweet for America. The casualties were relatively low for them, victory was swift, and the president’s approval rating rose to 89%. For many however, Bush Sr. made a critical blunder in failing to follow on through to Baghdad and dispose the despot. He felt, in this scenario, there were no grounds for this course of action. And so order was restored seemingly though Saddam remained in power, violating UN sanctions placed over the course of the 1990s, with repeated reports of chemical weapons being used against his own citizens.

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In 2001, the World Trade Centers fell and the Age of Terror took hold of America. Many argued at this point that Bush II set his sights on Saddam before Afghanistan (the Bin Laden problem) was even on the books. This is a leap for others. Here, I believe, the truth may actually lie in the middle as the Bush administration’s policy was clearly set after a ridiculously named “war on terror.” Iraq, W. argued, had to be seen in a different light in this new world context. Did it? Or had it merely become convenient for the Republicans to enact the invasion they had been plotting for years? It became very difficult for moderate thinkers to thread the line between a revived and fervent patriotism in the wake of 9/11 and the dissent of liberal caretakers, who opposed the idea of an American New World Order. Finally, of course, the date was set when W’s intel (a gut-wrenching use of the word) declared their belief that Saddam held weapons of mass destruction (or later, the “capacity” for such weapons). The rest of the story played out then quite clearly. The war began. The statue fell. Saddam was taken. The casualties mounted. They didn’t get out. A surge took place. An economy fell. Another man took office. They began to withdraw. Insurgencies rose. A new terror formed.

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Iraq was no prime example of interventionist success but its significance was different to many people. Some believed it was the most unnecessary and immoral act America had committed its sights to since Vietnam. Some believed it was a necessary precaution to take in an era of heightened international tensions. It wasn’t right to let a man like Saddam lead a nation, in many people’s opinions. His absence created a void from which organisations such as ISIS would arise however. Hindsight is 20/20 as well. Great critical thinkers such as the late Christopher Hitchens, who often rejected well-revered establishment figures such as Henry Kissinger and their philosophies, felt that America’s commitment to the sanctions placed in the 1990s meant they should have taken action much earlier. Others then, will always contend, that it is not America’s right to dictate the rights of another nation.

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I chose Iraq as an example, not because I believe, it will mystify many who had blankly accepted it as a falsely premised war, but because it exemplifies the simplicity with which so many people view these matters. It’s important to question those who you have agreed with 99% of the time. It’s important to think on the other side once in awhile because while I reject the notion that sanity lies squarely in the center of the political aisle, I do believe that neither side has proven itself to always be on the right side of history. So with the dawn of a new dark era in America, let’s hope that people will begin to base their opinions on facts again and not just conjecture. 2016 marked a great lapse in logical and critical thinking for America, among other nations, because fear and anger fueled the fire. In 2017, let’s restore the approach (Nixon once noted) Eisenhower took to solving problems; through cold eyes.