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The Anti-aging paradox: Are we really changing the standard of beauty?

08-09-12 aging

Just like I have very little patience for men who say they love women with a “natural” makeup look, I grow irritated quickly with those who seek to judge women by disingenuously praising them for “aging gracefully.”

Most of the conversations about women who have aged gracefully seem innocent enough. Celebrating beautiful older women instead of just focusing on beautiful women who are under the age of 25 sounds like a great idea. Not to mention, including gray hair and laugh lines in the beauty standard is a wonderful thing. And in the age of Botox and extreme plastic surgery, so too is reminding women that they don’t have to go that route to be considered beautiful.

But while it seems good on the surface — and I have no doubt that a lot of people who talk about beautiful older women truly mean well — I have to wonder if we’re actually doing more harm than good here.

First, by celebrating beautiful older women, we are basically saying that they are an anomaly. An older woman shouldn’t be beautiful; if she was, why would we need to designate her as a beautiful “older” or “mature” woman? If we want to celebrate beauty at all ages of life, we need to stop seeing older women as separate. Women come in many ages. So do beautiful woman.   So why, at a certain point, must she look good “for her age”? Doesn’t every beautiful woman look good for her age? Isn’t that just it?

Second, the idea that not having had any surgery is superior to having had surgery is problematic. While I get why one would think that, and this idea is (I think) well-meaning, I can’t help but feel like this leaves women caught in an anti-aging paradox. First, women must be beautiful according to a standard of beauty that generally isn’t a fan of how they look after raising a few kids, getting a couple frown lines, having a bit of sun damage, and experiencing the biological changes women just experience as they spend more time on earth. And they must be that beautiful naturally. We cannot just age; we must age “well And if you don’t…well then don’t you dare try to do anything about it!

Birchbox

We celebrate the women who are naturally lineless, or fit, or have fantastic gray hair, and then we mock the women who are not so fortunate, and who choose to get some fillers or a tummy tuck or a dye job to try to make up for that fact. When we praise the women who haven’t had surgery, we are also putting down the women who have. It’s done in the name of changing the standard of beauty, fighting the powers that tell us that we can’t go gray, and celebrating women of all ages…but it does so at the expense of other women. I’m all for changing the standard of beauty in this country, but that feels ugly to me.

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Rachel Wilkerson
By: Rachel Wilkerson

Rachel Wilkerson writes the blog The Life & Lessons of Rachel Wilkerson, where she covers those "getting it" moments when a light bulb goes off and suddenly everything makes sense. Whether it's a new way to get motivated to work out or the new gadget she never knew she always wanted, she loves sharing her lessons with other people in a straight-up, no-BS kinda way. Her work has been featured on Shape.com and she is a panelist for U by Kotex's Real Answers. When she's not writing, downward dogging, drinking tequila, or writing about downward dogging and drinking tequila, she works full-time as a community manager for a hip little online entertainment company in Houston. She and her boyfriend recently bought a juicer and are officially addicted.

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