The Anti-Aging Agenda: How the Internet’s Obsession with “Looking Young” Harms Women

     2024 forecasts predict the rise of preventative Botox to dodge the appearance of aging. Gen Alpha influencers storm Sephora to fill their carts with retinol and glycolic and lactic acid. Instagram reels–particularly those featuring women in their late 20s and early 30s–get inundated with aggressive, unsolicited advice on how “using a higher SPF can prevent wrinkles” and “certain facial exercises can ward off crows’ feet.” While younger age has its upsides, such as a seemingly higher likelihood of stronger physical and mental health, social media algorithms and skincare brands laud youth particularly for how it looks on women; this has cultivated an “anti-aging epidemic,” in which women on social media dread turning any older than 25. This generates a host of mental, physical, and financial issues; moreover, it prevents women from acknowledging the merits of growing older.


     One could argue that anti-aging fear mongering impacts health positively; women have posted TikToks about drinking less alcohol in order to avoid aging, and the World Health Organization–along with numerous other sources–reported that no amount of alcohol is truly safe for the human body. Some short form content describes how the recipe for looking young forever comprises drinking more water, eating more vegetables, and getting 8 hours of sleep. Perhaps tutorials to look 21 at 27 earn some points for promoting overall physical health, but “how to look young” tutorials seem to highlight retinol more than relaxation–and Botox more than broccoli–precisely because social media users live in an era that survives on instant gratification. According to “The Relationship Between Instant Gratification and Actual Social Media Use,” by João F. Ribeiro, a positive relationship exists between social media usage and the desire for instant gratification–and while it may take months to reap the appearance-related rewards of healthy eating, it takes only 15 minutes to see the changes made by Botox. Consequently, telling social media users that a year of consuming nutritious meals might prevent wrinkles may get them to focus on the “preventing wrinkles” part more than the “consuming nutritious meals” part–and they may opt for a wrinkle-prevention method that brings visible results more quickly. Quick results, however, cost money and cause problems. 


     When physician-based cosmetic practices become inaccessible due to price, women may be more likely to turn to medical spas, which pose a higher risk of side effects caused by oversight. The National Library of Medicine, in its article “Medical spa facilities and nonphysician operators in aesthetics,” details the proliferation of potentially dangerous “medical spas” in the United States. The article notes that medical spas “outnumber physician-based cosmetic practices in 73% of major US cities,” and “to staff these facilities, owners frequently turn to nonphysician operators who have variable levels of training in dermatology and cosmetics.” This provides women with a lose-lose choice: either taking on a health risk or forking over an extra $600 every few months. The health risk still costs money. 


     Nurturing one’s inner child by engaging in old hobbies, running in the path of sprinklers on a sunny day, or setting up play-dates with old friends can bring back the feeling of youth without setting up an obsession with the appearance of youth; that said, the “feeling of youth” doesn’t have to be “of youth” either. Feeling carefree, imaginative, in awe of the world, and beautiful remains possible at any stage of life–regardless of the increase in responsibilities that accompanies an increase in age. In fact, a 2017 study featuring data from the Centre for Economic Performance, the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, and the General Social Survey demonstrates that the ages during which people exhibit the most happiness surrounding their looks, financial situation, and overall life are the ages of 45-59 years old. A report by the Bank of America and Merrill Lynch also notes that “scientific evidence [shows] that people get happier as they get older.” A 2016 article, “Paradoxical Trend for Improvement In Mental Health With Aging” in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, found that adults in their 20s and 30s actually had the lowest levels of life satisfaction. Aging does not, as a result, present only negative outcomes–but frantically fretting about how aging looks may cause one to miss the positive parts of entering new stages of life.

     Women must choose to actively scroll past the social media advertisements for procedures and products that promise the appearance of youth, to acknowledge and ignore big brands’ desire to rake in more dollars, and to address the advantages of aging–in order to mitigate the mental tax of agonizing over the inevitable. The aforementioned is not to say that women must never buy Vitamin C–or even to say that women should not get dermal fillers if they wish to. It is to warn against the risks associated with developing an obsession with looking young, and more importantly, to remind that women will be happier celebrating the privilege of living another year than they will be dreading growing old. Wrinkles don’t make times with family and friends any less therapeutic, fine lines don’t make ice cream taste any less sweet, and crows’ feet don’t make sunsets any less colorful. Despite what any corporation conveys, there exists no reason to focus so much on preserving the look of youth that one forgets to preserve the experience of life. 

by Ria Mavinkurve

Hi! I'm Ria. I'm a recent graduate with a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics & Computer Science from Barnard College of Columbia University. Currently living in Manhattan, I enjoy writing opinion pieces, personal narratives, poetry, and more. I gather inspiration from random a-ha moments, people-watching in coffee shops in the city (my favorite is Ralph's Coffee on 72nd Street and Madison Avenue), and nighttime thoughts.

Thanks for checking out my writing! For project inquiries, please shoot me an email at [email protected]. :)

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