A neighbor of mine recently returned from Brazil. While in Rio, she decided to indulge in Botox injections and a lip-plumping treatment because she was worried about tiny lines around her mouth and eyes.

She’s 26.

When I was her age, the last things on my mind were tiny lines, anywhere. I felt marvelously young at 26, without a moment of worry about a face or body that was starting to age.

Perhaps we weren’t as obsessed with youth back in the mid-1970s, when I was my neighbor’s age. But anti-aging messages are hard to miss today, sponsored by a powerful marketing machine that wants to sell us everything from facelifts to sports cars, all to assuage our fear of growing old.  

There is something troubling about a culture that doesn’t want us to age, that insists we eliminate any hint of getting older, even as we grow older.

If young people see imaginary signs of aging in their young faces, imagine how those of us in our 60s, 70s, or 80s feel? Maybe it’s time we pushed back on our society’s endless and self-defeating campaign to be forever young.

Each stage of the human life cycle is important: childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, elderhood, and very old age. But somehow we are stuck trying to emulate those at the beginning of the cycle without respecting those in the later stages.

Yes, young faces and bodies are attractive, but so is a mature appearance. The beauty of an older face is in its accessibility, its genuineness, its lack of pretense. And older people have experience, perspective, and wisdom that are hard to come by in your teen years.

Greater emphasis on maturity and less on superficially smooth skin could make everything in our culture a little more substantive.

What can older people do to turn society’s anti-aging attitude on its head?

First of all, we can stop buying into it. One of the reasons anti-aging messages proliferate is that marketers think they work. They’re convinced the 100 million people in the U.S. over 50 are ready to spend lots of money trying to stay young.

Maybe the more compelling argument would be for all of us to accept the natural process of growing old. It’s certainly cheaper.

We can also find new role models, the gray-haired kind, who inspire us to be ourselves. We need to see that self-knowledge and self-assurance lead to more sustainable beauty than any short-lived flash of young glamour.  

And, finally, we can start owning up to our age. That is, we can begin telling people how old we are every chance we get.

When we reveal our age, we’re saying we’re not afraid of growing old. We’re not embarrassed by it. We’re grateful to be where we are in life. We may even encourage young people to have a more positive view of their own adventure into aging.

If we want to begin to right our culture’s lopsided view of the human journey, we need to show people what it looks like to be every age.

No matter what any cosmetics manufacturer, plastic surgeon, or aging guru tells you, there is no way to stop the aging process. Someday we may slow it down, but we are always going to age.

And why wouldn’t we want to? With aging come some of life’s greatest moments: the opportunity for self-reflection, the ability to piece together the significance of our own personal experiences, the privilege of a glimpse at the meaning of life itself.

We can’t underestimate the significance of this time in our lives. And we can’t get bogged down by chasing after a youthful appearance that no longer represents who we are. Young faces unmarked by time and experience are for young people.

We have more significant work ahead. And it has nothing to do with eliminating those two little lines between our eyebrows.


Kathleen O’Brien has researched aging for over 13 years and writes regular blogs at growoldbehappy.com. She began her career as an advertising copywriter, worked as a television broadcaster, owned her own video production company, and taught media relations at two graduate schools of business. She lives in Denver, Colo.

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