Language matters, and when we consider the words most often used to describe aging, it quickly becomes apparent that getting older is considered something to try to avoid at all costs. We're told to prevent and erase wrinkles; that someone looks good for her age; and, of course, there's the ubiquitous phrase "anti-aging," used by everyone from cosmetics companies to the media.
But for Great Britain, the derogatory term could soon be phased out of the lexicon entirely, if the demands of a new report come into effect. The Royal Society for Public Health, Vision, Voice and Practice (RSPH) is calling on retailers, including Boots and Superdrug, and major beauty titles to ban the use of the term "anti-aging," and instead focus on the positives of getting older.
The RSPH's research, titled "How attitudes to aging affect our health and wellbeing," found that more than twice as many women (49%) than men (23%) feel pressured to stay looking young, and it describes fears about aging as gendered, with women feeling more pressure to stay "young" for longer.
The explicit presumption that aging is something undesirable and to be battled at every turn is as nonsensical as it is dangerous
"The narrative pushed by 'anti-aging' terminology and products is one that pervades society and has relevance to us all," the report says. "All human beings — at all stages of life — are aging in their own way, as a natural consequence of being alive. Hence, the explicit presumption that aging is something undesirable and to be battled at every turn is as nonsensical as it is dangerous. To be 'anti-aging' makes no more sense than being 'anti-life.'"
The charity is urging major outlets and beauty magazines to stop using the term, and "to re-focus their aging narrative on opportunities to be embraced rather than processes to be resisted." Such language, when used by the beauty and cosmetics industries, reinforces ageist attitudes. "We’re all aging. Yet ageism is the most commonly experienced form of prejudice and discrimination, both in the UK and across Europe," the report reads. "Other forms of discrimination, such as racism and sexism, are rightly regarded as unacceptable, yet ageist assumptions and attitudes often go unchallenged."
Terms like "anti-aging" are likely why millennials have been shown to have the most negative perceptions of growing old. A quarter of people ages 18 to 34 believe being unhappy and depressed is a normal part of old age, while a similar proportion (24%) think "older people can never really be thought of as attractive," the RSPH also found.
Studies have shown there's actually a lot for us to look forward to as we mature. Research last year on women aged between 45 and 65 found that more than half (56%) were more body-confident than they used to be, while a fifth said their sex life was better than in their younger years, and almost a third (31%) had embarked on a career change in their 40s or 50s.
Judging by the increasing prevalence of older women in fashion campaigns and the growth of style blogs catering to this demographic, many women also see older age as an opportunity to make bolder fashion choices and embrace a new personal style. See? There's a lot to look forward to — and none of it requires the use of an "anti-aging" cream to unlock.