While the fashion industry is wont to use cutesy, inoffensive (yet often really quite offensive) terms to describe people that sit outside of their prescribed norm – “curvy”, “exotic” etc. – the beauty industry calls it like it is.
Both are problematic in their own way.
In the beauty world there are “anti-ageing” issues of magazines and practical advice on things like “How to Get Rid of Cellulite” and “19 Ways to Deal With Dark Circles and Under-Eye Bags”. And, once you get past the guff on the packaging (my shower gel, for example, offers rather insipid advice on how wisdom comes when we take note of our surroundings), beauty products ultimately say what they do on the tin. Or at least what they purport to do. You know, “decrease fine lines” and “reduce dark spots” and “increase dewiness”. (Okay, that one is a bit iffy.)
So it’s interesting that Allure magazine in the US have launched their new mission statement: a ban on the word “anti-ageing”.
As Michelle Lee, the editor-in-chief of Allure writes in the introduction to the new issue (which features Helen Mirren on the cover, more on her later).
“[We] are making a resolution to stop using the term ‘anti-ageing’. Whether we know it or not, we’re subtly reinforcing the message that aging is a condition we need to battle – think antianxiety meds, antivirus software, or antifungal spray.”
She went on to say it’s important that youth isn’t the only beauty that is prized, and that the words we use to describe people have impact.
“Language matters. When talking about a woman over, say, 40, people tend to add qualifiers: ‘She looks great… for her age,’ or ‘She’s beautiful… for an older woman.’ Catch yourself next time and consider what would happen if you just said, ‘She looks great.’ Yes, Americans put youth on a pedestal. But let’s agree that appreciating the dewy rosiness of youth doesn’t mean we become suddenly hideous as years go by.”
Allure‘s stance has been met with a positive reaction on social media.
This is a v interesting take on the term ‘anti-aging’ and I’m really into it! Go @Allure_magazine ???https://t.co/fzTXR7uQKx
— Laura Mullan (@lauramullsey)
August 14, 2017
The great thing about Allure’s stance is that it appears to be doing more than paying lip service. Putting a 72-year-old (although admittedly not your average looking woman of that fine vintage) on the cover is a good start.
And Mirren’s quotes in the accompanying article about sexiness and beauty are illuminating, especially when she says this:
“Maybe we’re attractive, interesting, or mesmerising, but 90 per cent of women are not what you’d call beautiful. Of course, beauty is inside, but still it’s a word. When it’s tied to pictures of people and amazing outfits on girls who can wear that stuff, it’s intimidating for the rest of us.”
Because that’s something that gets lost in the bid to be more inclusive or inoffensive – the focus remains on outer beauty; on what we look like. We fight for the right to say that we’re beautiful at every age without qualifiers, but imagine if it didn’t really matter? If we acknowledged that most of us aren’t that beautiful and actually that’s… fine?
But, that’s when a mega billion dollar industry designed to sell us potions takes a hit. And magazines packaging up ways to make ourselves more beautiful but also telling us that we’re amazing just as we are, falter. And empowering campaigns featuring older women aren’t considered so goshdarn noteworthy. The landscape wouldn’t be dominated by much younger women spruiking products for women decades older (nonsensical when you consider the buying power of older women). And do we need to mention air-brushing, seen everywhere from magazines to Instagram? What would become of that?
And yes, a 59 year-old woman posting a bikini selfie wouldn’t be thought of as brave.
As Gaby Hinsliff wrote of former Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman posting a photo of herself in her togs to Instagram, there’s a reason why magazines wouldn’t rush to put her on the cover, despite the exclamations of commenters on Shulman’s post.
“They would surely have worried that young women wouldn’t buy it, would recoil from this beaming Ghost of Summer Future. They would have feared designers responding to a real, older body in their clothes with the same disgust as the late critic AA Gill, who, reviewing Professor Mary Beard’s TV appearances a few years back, suggested that, at 57, she ‘really should be kept away from cameras’.”
Yes, better to say we can all be beautiful, than to think about what it might be like if beauty wasn’t the only currency that matters, no matter what age bracket you fall into.