The Fear of Looking Old

Is our fight against wrinkles a disguise for unaddressed anxiety?

Photo by from Pexels

A few years back, a college friend came to me crying about forehead wrinkles. I was confused. Being only 19, I’d never once looked for lines or wrinkles on myself or my friends.

What I did recognize was the desperation in her voice as she spiraled into a panic about how this would affect her life. Attempting to assuage her anxiety, I told her I couldn’t see anything and that we were way too young to be thinking about wrinkles. In the three years since, it’s become normal for my female friends to complain about or have started treatments against signs of aging.

Let me reiterate this for you: most of the women I know started wrinkle treatments before they could legally drink.

In general, I love our generation. We’re ready to fight for what we believe in and have the means to connect with each other globally to create real change. But this connectedness has also fed into our propensity for constant comparison. With the rise of young influencers and the ability to watch their every move, admiration can quickly become self-loathing. It’s easy to start comparing our own achievements and appearances to those in positions of privilege; inevitably leading to panic when we can’t keep up.

One consequence of this is the widespread adoption of anti-aging procedures for women. Botox, laser treatments, and injectable fillers are practically expected for anyone in the public eye. There’s an incredibly profitable industry built upon the reversal of age; unsurprisingly, these services are primarily targeted towards women.

When we publicly deem wrinkles as bad and flawlessness as worthy, it’s no wonder that kids are panicking at the first signs of aging.

It’s no secret that women are judged based on their appearance. I’ve often heard reporters and entertainment hosts deem a celebrity as having aged “well” or “poorly”. These categories imply that to be considered a passable member of society, women aren’t allowed to age at all. With the expectation that they must defy time to remain relevant, it’s understandable that celebrities have turned to anti-aging procedures. Unfortunately, the average person is now accustomed to seeing older women that still look 20 and hearing shame assigned to those who look their age. When we publicly deem wrinkles as bad and flawlessness as worthy, it’s no wonder that kids are panicking at the first signs of aging.

While the internet surely facilitates judgement, the demonization of older women is not a new concept. Old women have been depicted as the villains in fairy tales and folklore throughout time.

In Snow White, the Evil Queen manifested herself as an ancient witch. She feared that the young woman would be considered more beautiful than her, and this paranoia fueled her murderous intent. Folklore from around the world includes legends of scary old women who find despicable ways to assert their dominance. In fact, it’s quite interesting how villains are often depicted as older, powerful women.

Perhaps our society’s idolization of youth is just a new way to dehumanize powerful, mature women; a modern interpretation of an archaic prejudice.

Of course, everyone has the right to do whatever they want to their own body. If you choose to get an anti-aging procedure done, then you should never be made to feel ashamed about it. However, when teenage girls start panicking about looking “too old”, we need to think about the circumstances that have brought us to this point.

Over 230,000 cosmetic procedures were performed on children aged 13–19 in 2017 alone. Plastic surgeons are seeing a dramatic increase in teenagers coming in for Botox consultations . Their motivations are often based on internalized anxieties and comments from their peers. While it’s great that teens can feel more confident about themselves through these procedures, they do nothing to address the underlying anxiety that fueled their insecurity.

I often wonder how so many of us got to a point where we panic at the thought of wrinkles.

It could be that society has glorified youth for so long that we now feel unworthy of being seen if we don’t meet these ideals. Or perhaps it’s a fear that we’re running out of time; that each crease represents one step closer to the impossible deadlines we hold ourselves to.

I want to say that I personally embrace the aging process and don’t care what people think about the lines forming on my face. I want to say that I don’t notice the creases around my mouth and that I haven’t started using serums to make them less noticeable.

As much as I want to say this, the truth is that I’m as entrenched in this anti-aging mindset as are so many other women. Ever so diligent in our fight against time.