Happy New Year. And congrats: you have aged!

The Western world wants us to age, and it also wants us to have a problem with it.

Some reflections come natural as the year ends. First, happy ‘additional year’ to you.  A year is the time taken for the Earth to revolve around the sun. One more turn, one more year.

According to the Korean age system, babies are considered one year old on their day of birth, and every 1st January a year is added to everyone’s age, regardless of their actual birth date. Recent legislation has led to changes, potentially making South Koreans officially younger than they were thought to be.

It’s all quite confusing from this point of view, but the bottom fundamental principle remains that we are all ageing. Now here’s another undisputed fact: the Western world wants us to age, and it also wants us to have a problem with it. I’m in my mid-thirties, and the new year will officially push me closer to the forties club. The more I age, the more I see my friends grappling with the physical results of our added years. White hair must be dyed, faces must be drenched in hyaluronic acid serum, and for the love of God, we must try to look less Millennial and more Gen Z.

In case you don’t know, baby boomers are those born between 1946 and 1964, Generation X are those born between 1965 and 1980, and Millennials are those born between 1981 and 1996. What you want to look like is Generation Z, born from 1995 to 2009, and if you’re ambitious, Generation Alpha, born from 2010 to 2024.

Every age has its own characteristics, and this is normal. These characteristics stem from the collective experiences which that age group has witnessed: be it positive or negative. There’s no denying that economic recessions, times of war, times of industrial prosperity, and other factors have altered our values, the way we consume things, and our general outlook on the world.

Two dimensions

The problem I find is two-fold. The first is the strict categorising between different age groups. It’s obviously lucrative to present fashion choices as an all-or-nothing affair. For example, you will find tonnes of articles telling you how to ‘dress like a millennial’ as a fashion choice. To get the look, you need to go to the closest store and purchase the latest gear. You can even thrift it since it’s the in-thing right now. Bottom line is, however, that you need to consume the entire look.

But here I am, close to my forties, belonging to neither one of the age-restricted categories. My daily ensemble is an eclectic mix of things I’ve had for a while, things I bought recently which I feel my kid’s friends would also wear, and other things they would never be seen dead and buried in.

Now I come to my second, interlinked, issue. We are letting age define us, to an extreme. This is very confusing, paradoxical, and unfair, when you consider that massive strives have been made in the health sector that are directing us in the opposite direction.

Many Western countries have an excellent healthcare system, and access to medicine and screening systems that are improving and prolonging our lives. Yet, we still have a problem with the results of the healthcare system’s success: ageing. We are constantly being told to consume products that, on the one hand, promote our longevity, and on the other hand, negate the ageing process that happens as a result.

Hence, most of my friends are spending big, big money on preventing wrinkles, to give one example. Whilst I am all in favour of any type of intervention that improves one’s perception of oneself and makes one feel pleasant and pleased with their image, I am also perplexed by the never-ending contradiction. It seems to me like society is performing a double whammy on us: telling us it’s positive to age and telling us it’s best to look young. Now the problem with this is that it never ends. The more you age, the more you look like you are ageing, and the more you need to invest in preserving youth in your looks.

Truth be told, youth is not something attractive because capitalism says so. A lot of the beauty in it is linked to biology and evolution:  younger people are in their reproductive age and are therefore more physically attractive. What perplexes me is the social tendency in the modern, first world, that attaches so many negative connotations to the aesthetic aspect of ageing.

For example, studies have shown that elderly faces are often seen as less likable, distinctive, energetic, growth oriented, and competent when contrasted with younger faces. Now, although there is no negating the beauty of youth and vigour, there’s also no negating that we have learnt to shun one of life’s most natural processes.

There’s hope

There’s hope, I must say.  We’ve seen Tom Ford’s Forever Love campaign, Joni Mitchell fronting Saint Laurent ads at 71, and Dolce & Gabbana portraying beauty in older women. There are designers who are putting older people on their catwalks, but these are few and far in between.

In an age where many harmful ideologies of fear and exclusion such as xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia are thankfully becoming severely frowned upon, there’s still a lot of money to be made from ageing. Although the world is discovering beauty in diversity and in a natural state of being (as seen in the ‘no makeup’ makeup looks), it is still very much closing its doors to ever considering ageing as normal and beautiful. You still hardly see a wrinkle when flipping through ad campaigns, and if you do, it’s within a context of the need to correct it.

The world doesn’t appreciate ageing as a privilege yet. A fold or a wrinkle on your skin, or that gentle, gradual thug of gravity is not considered something you should be proud of. It does not bear testament to the fact that you have been here for a while, that you have seen things, and that you have grown.

However, may this serve as your gentle reminder. Next time you look in the mirror and wonder whether you are dressing like a millennial, whether what you are wearing is ‘ageing’ you, or whether it’s time to do something about those frown lines, stop and ask this question: would it be that bad to look your age?

Photo: Ron Lach

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