Discuss: Is the Phrase "Anti-Aging" Actually Problematic?
"Effective immediately," Phil Picardi, the digital editorial director of Teen Vogue and Allure, wrote beneath a (rad) image of Helen Mirren, "the phrase 'anti-aging' is banned from the Allure lexicon and style guide—moving forward, we will not be 'anti' aging. Yes, we will give you tips on how to take care of yourself, and yes, we will review the products that help you do so—but we'll be making a concerted effort to stop shaming women for getting older, and to celebrate their beauty instead."
This isn't the first time a publication has banned vague, loaded phrases from its approved vernacular. Many have ousted "beach body" (a gross, pointed expression invented only to scare women into crash diets and obsessive exercise come summer) in hopes to finally make it clear our form shouldn't have to fit one particular, mostly male-driven narrative—as if the only body allowed on the beach is one that has been approved by oppressive mainstream standards.
It's inspiring, it's forward-thinking, and it's positive. But it's also complicated. I'm a 28-year-old woman, one who likes to take care of her skin and, admittedly, thinks about anti-aging all the time. I have an appointment set for my first-ever round of Botox this week. I get lost in my morning ritual, applying essences, serums, and lotions all meant to keep my skin looking young. But the fact of the matter is, I am young.
As each year leaves another fine line along my eyes, aging inevitably sprouts up in my consciousness. But more so than shame, I feel empowered by my ability to take care of my skin and make choices that feel good. Antioxidants and essential oils, as well as injections and other more invasive treatments, all technically fall under the "anti-aging" umbrella. I'm not scared of aging as much as I'm interested in taking back those words (phrases like "anti-aging" that have morphed into something meant to confuse us) and using them as an opportunity for education.
But as someone who has only dipped her toe in the shallow end of the deep, murky "anti-aging" water, am I even qualified to comment on its possible damaging effects?
"'Anti-aging' can connote many things—death-defying, youth-prolonging, appearance-enhancing—but underneath, our obsession with the term is really just a symptom of our contemporary malaise: age-phobia. … It doesn't seem to matter if the products have a physical effect as long as they have an emotional one," Natasha Singer wrote for The New York Times.
This distinction is an important one. That the damage "anti-aging" can cause, in relation to its societal ramifications, has little to do with actual products and instead lends itself more to the impending doom we associate with growing older. It's fear-based at its core—but why? When did this shift in language happen and why, now, has it become a trope steeped in subtext?
The term became popular in the late '80s, Singer writes, citing a 1984 article on ''anti-aging'' in The Washington Post "describing an investigation into medical quackery." Erin McKean, the chief consulting editor of the American Dictionaries published by Oxford University Press, "theorized that the term caught on because it's so amorphous, allowing for vague-sounding product claims."
I reached out to two prominent women for their thoughts on the subject, both of whom have so seamlessly embraced the aging process—with their skin, sure, but more so in regards to their souls. I asked if they felt targeted by "anti-aging" rhetoric and if they felt Allure's choice was one they stood behind.
"I am fully supportive of the change and the magazine's bold move to avoid the phrase 'anti-aging,' especially if it has negative connotations to women and serves to play a role in creating self-doubt based on age," says Renée Rouleau, a 47-year-old esthetician. However, she goes on to explain that she doesn't feel triggered by the word either. "I see it purely in the descriptive sense when it comes to skincare—in the same way you would categorize 'oily,' 'combination,' 'dry,' or 'sensitive' skin and formulas." Perhaps, though, her clinical take on the phrase stems from her occupation, one that inherently deals with skincare from a more objective viewpoint.
"Aging is not a word I identify with, or a road block for me," Rouleau continues, "because each year has afforded me knowledge and experience that I have grown from personally and professionally. In fact, on the contrary, it’s a blessing to me so I’m happy to embrace the sentiment and camaraderie behind the change."
Karen Oliver, the founder of PR firm Karen Oliver and Associates, notes, "The phrase 'anti-aging' has never resonated with me. There is a negative implication, [it] connotes that aging is not acceptable, and my own personal philosophy is quite the opposite. … This language treats the natural aging process as something to be avoided, to run away from, which I never have and never will do. The insights, experiences, and wisdom that come from aging are what make each of us beautiful day after day, year after year. The intention [of this initiative] is to empower women. We should enjoy beauty products and services out of a desire to take care of ourselves and to experience all the pleasures that come with all the rituals of beauty, not out of fear."
Oliver continues, "I don't believe in labels that are meant to make us afraid. The irony is that, if we are lucky, we are all aging, every day, from the time we’re born. I am committed to aging naturally, which means living life with a positive attitude, doing whatever I can to make a difference in the world and—easiest of all—to keep smiling. When you feel happy on the inside, you look beautiful on the outside. At any age."
The theme running through both of their sentiments is one you don't often find among young people. Perhaps, as a woman only on the cusp of aging, I am more susceptible to "anti-aging" propaganda. It seems with age, experience, and wisdom comes less fear and shame-based anxieties, a paradoxical finding I wasn't expecting. Rouleau hasn't found herself affected by the term, while Oliver believes it's meant to scare us. Either way, the Allure team is helping us take a step in the right direction. Will it change our ageist society in an instant? Certainly not. Do I appreciate assigning responsibility to those whose words can contribute to the pressure we, as aging humans, consistently face? You bet.
What do you think? Is the phrase "anti-aging" actually problematic? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.