Goodbye to Ageist Attitudes

Well, this is interesting. Use of the term “anti-ageing” should be banned across the beauty and cosmetics industry, according to a recent report released by Britain’s Royal Society for Public Health in Partnership with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. 

The report titled “That Age Old Question: How Attitudes To Ageing Affect Our Health and Wellbeing” points out that ageism is one of the most common forms of discrimination: “Other forms of discrimination, such as racism and sexism, are rightly regarded as unacceptable, yet ageist assumptions and attitudes often go unchallenged."

There are many interesting points of discussion in the 40-page report, ranging from how society develops its attitudes towards ageing to recommendations to changing perceptions. It’s something that affects so many – half of women and a quarter of men say they feel pressured to stay looking young, according to a UK poll.

For this post, we’re focusing on the movement in the beauty industry. Naomi Wolf wrote about this problematic perception society has towards ageing, especially for women, in her book The Beauty Myth way back in 1991. The term “anti-ageing” became a beauty buzz word in the 1980s, born out of a boardroom in an advertising firm as a way of selling expensive creams laden with chemicals to older women.

Allure magazine, one of the most popular beauty-based magazines in the states, announced it was going to stop using the expression last year. “Whether we know it or not, we’re subtly reinforcing the message that ageing is a condition we need to battle,” wrote Allure’s Michelle Lee in her editor’s letter. “Changing the way we think about ageing starts with changing with the way we talk about ageing.”

Before Allure banned usage of the expression, founder of the site, Jane Cunningham, stopped using the term eons ago. When she talks about products for women over 50, she uses terms “age inclusive" or “for older skin”. Both terms, she said, are factual without the negative connotation of “anti-ageing”. Because, let’s face it, everybody is ageing and it's not a bad thing.

“Treating age as something that needs ‘curing’ is pointlessly demoralizing for anyone over 30,” Cunningham told The Guardian. “I’d like to see brands celebrating beauty at all ages. Beauty is not one thing, it’s many things.” 

What we like about this movement is that it reflects a broader change towards society's attitudes towards ageing. We now see - and welcome with open arms - older women featured on magazine covers (hello, Helen Murrin on last September’s cover of Allure), modeling popular clothing lines (way to go Zara!), and being their wonderful and amazing selves (there are numerous older, fashionable women with a huge presence on Instagram).

“All human beings – at all stages of life – are ageing in their own way, as a natural consequence of being alive, “states the RSPH report. “Hence, the explicit presumption that ageing 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.’”