Who’s Afraid of Wrinkles?

Recently I met a Celebrity Dermatologist who gave me quite a lecture on exfoliation, and how I should do more of it. This isn’t the first time a Committed Skin Professional has told me this – I’m a very lackadaisical exfoliator. But amidst the talk of clear pores and light-reflective skin surfaces, I started to wonder: What is this current obsession with shiny-smooth, super exfoliated skin? Does it really look “young”? And really, what is so scary about getting wrinkles?

Now, I’m as vain as anyone else, but let’s look at this for a minute: as modern women, we’ve probably got 70-90 years to live on this earth, and some of those years – the majority of them – are going to include wrinkles. Is our fear of looking old rational? Is it in our best interests? Or is it, perhaps, outdated?

There are very real fears about growing old: pain, sickness, loss, and death all become more constant companions. But I don’t think that’s all of it – those things exist worldwide, yet we in the affluent world worry so much more about the visual effects, and many try, at any cost, to look young.

Youth is beautiful – it holds so much promise. And as women we are historically valued for our youth and  fertility – and our future value as labor. But so much of our work in the modern world is done by our minds – minds that are more developed and discerning after a few decades out in the world. Can we give up our old wives tales?

Well, that may depend upon how we view ourselves. We live in a consumerist society, with new and shiny things everywhere, available for purchase. Just about every material thing in our lives is replaceable. Are we replaceable?

The very notion of the trophy wife is that of woman as lifestyle accessory, like one of those Italian sports cars that spends most of its time in the shop. It’s not a new idea – traditions of women as decorative accessories have existed for eons in any society large and wealthy enough to afford such specialization.

But what if we compare ourselves not with inanimate objects, but with living things that grow and change over time? Look at trees, for example. When’s the last time  you heard someone looking at a grand old oak tree who said “that bark is too thick and gnarled…it should be smooth like a young tree!” We don’t. We marvel at the tree’s majesty, imagine how that tree has witnessed events throughout its life, and wish it well for surviving through all the changes that have unfolded around it.

No one is going around advocating the stripping of bark from old trees, so they can have the smooth, clear bark of their younger cohorts. We love the texture of bark on a great old tree. Yet we’re going through this obsession with having super smooth, shiny new skin cells at the very surface of our faces at all times. Is this good for us? I know dermatologists and estheticians will say yes, it is, but I’m not so sure. Maybe we build up those extra cells for a reason.

And while super smooth, shiny skin looks clear and reflective, does it really look young? When I look at young skin, it’s not super shiny and new – teenage models don’t chemically exfoliate their skin much, and children don’t need to. As I look at women who have joined this trend, I see the great care they take of their skin, but I’m not fooled. The slickness gives the game away.

I’m not advocating the abandonment of skin care or anti-aging treatments – I’m a beauty professional myself after all – it’s my job to embellish outer beauty. And I wear my sunscreen. But fearfully going full blast down the path of anti-wrinkle treatments as though we’re cars that need refinishing – without asking “why” – might not be in our best interests. Perhaps we can model ourselves after those living creatures that we feel deserve to wear the texture and majesty of their age. And in doing so we can acknowledge that our lives take different forms at different times, and our choices in view of cosmetic and aesthetic care might be less in line with fear of wrinkles and whatever trend we’re being pitched – and more in line with the fullness of our lives in the long run.

Photo of Ao Naga Woman from Chuchuyimlang village, India by Walter Callens. Used with permission.

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