Saturday, February 24, 2007

'The Glow (of Money)'

Someone has just drawn my attention to an article in the latest AARP magazine about skin care in the second half of life. Forwarding the link: she wrote: "It gives a lot of info about caring for our skin as we age -- with illustrations showing women in their 50s, 60s, 70s -- along with product names. Titled "Go with the Glow," it is about care of the skin, not about staying young, and it illustrates the point with some beautiful aging women. A specific dermatologist gets a big plug as the scientific/medical expert, and a number of specific products are recommended. … it is an illustration of an issue that pertains to many of us. No promises to stay young, but info on keeping our skin healthy. It does place a lot of value on spending for skin care products at the same time it addresses basic protection measures of caution about sun, not smoking, eating healthy, etc..."
Hey, that’s great, I thought. If the world’s highest-circulation magazine for ‘seniors’ can publish an article on skin care while avoiding ageism, well things are really looking up.

They are not. (sigh)

The article, I’m sad to say, is as full of ageism as any other article I have ever read about skin care for the over-fifties. The ageism is just a tad more subtle, that’s all, and overshadowed by the use of older models. Here are some ageist quotes from the article (with my emphasis added):

"Other changes aren’t as pleasant… freckles, fine lines, and wrinkles can become more prominent. But advances in skin-care technology mean many of these problems can be addressed, so long as you use the right products—and see a dermatologist regularly"

"…she hasn’t taken any preventive measures to ensure her skin stays youthful-looking."

"Beverly is lucky; her parents and grandparents looked much younger than they were, so she has some genetic protection. Doctors aren’t sure what genes are at work, but if your parents looked young, chances are you will, too"

"Seventy years later, those preventive measures—and a lifelong diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fish—have paid off: Joan looks years younger than she is"

"She could also use a facial cream that prevents sagging, which is a concern at her age."

Yes, it is the same, tired premise: looking young is better than looking old. And that, my friends, is ageist. Totally. But ageism is so deeply woven into our culture that most of the time we don’t even notice it. The person who forwarded the article obviously didn’t notice it. Although she asserted that the article is ‘not about being young', as you can see from the link its actual title is ‘Erase Ten Years’!! I don’t want to erase ten years. I like being 70. Why should I pretend to be 60?

Where skin is concerned, I think the problem is this. Babies have smooth, soft, peachy skin that is delicious to touch. Most healthy, well-fed children retain the softness and fullness of their skin until adolescence when the hormones start to kick in and we get our first ‘blemishes’. So healthy, smooth, soft, peachy skin inevitably signals ‘youth’. And healthy, youthful skin that is once again free of blemishes means we are through adolescence, which is the classical look of the nubile ‘maiden’.

The trouble is, no matter how old we are, we naturally like our skin to remain healthy and to feel soft to the touch and be free of blemishes. I mean, who enjoys zits? If our skin starts to feel dry, we moisturise it. Fair enough. Nothing wrong with that. But because healthy skin and youth are so linked on everyone’s mind, the advertisers, instead of saying ‘moisturise your skin with this if it feels too dry’, say ‘buy this, it will keep your skin looking young’.

To cap it off, the natural changes of aging, such as freckles, age spots, wrinkles and crows’ feet, instead of being seen as badges of honour for elders, are now neatly redefined as ‘blemishes’ in order to put more money in cosmetic manufacturers’ pockets – and the massive chemical corporations who supply their raw materials.

I did some deconstruction of the AARP article. The ‘world renowned dermatologist’ they feature works for an outfit called The University of Miami Cosmetic Center. This center "..specializes in clinical trials, cell cultures, bioengineered skin and porcine models that evaluate cosmetic dermatology and skin care issues." (Which, roughly translated, means they work on behalf of industry to try out new cosmetic products on tissue made in the laboratory from, e.g. pigs’ guts.)

So who do you think shells out the cash for their salaries and all their batteries of fancy equipment - scientific UV camera, spectrophotometer, ‘Tewameter’, laser doppler, ‘Visioscan’ and all the rest of it ? Why, Big Pharma, of course. It is a very cosy arrangement. (And, sadly, a typical example of the way things are nowadays, with university research departments funded by Big Business and all the well-known compromises, fudged data, loss of objectivity and cover-ups which that so often entails).

So if we look at this story closely and ‘follow the money’, we see that the UMCC gets lots of juicy funding in return for handing back the much-coveted stamp of scientific respectability to the manufacturers and marketers. The product-peddlers can then use impressive terms like ‘clinically evaluated’ and ‘scientifically proven’ to fool more people – primarily women – into paying good money for ever more ‘scientific’-sounding cocktails of petrochemicals (with the odd herb or three thrown in for good measure) to slather on their skin in the hope of looking ten years younger than they are. Those guys are laughing all the way to the bank.

We are being conned, folks. The con gets cleverer and subtler but it is still a con. We are now being conned into needing supplements to combat Vitamin D deficiency because we’ve been so busy slathering ourselves with the sunscreen they managed to convince us we needed. We are being conned into spending millions on fancy products to moisturise our skin when simple, traditional things like olive oil and shea butter (and washing our faces just with water to preserve the natural oils) would serve us just as well – in fact better because they aren’t full of dodgy chemicals like parabens.

Above all, we are being conned into believing that looking exactly like the old women we are is not OK.

Don’t fall for it.


Elderwoman said...

'Littleredhen' wrote yesterday:

"proud to be numbero uno commenter on this. we must say again and again: we are fine the way we are...we will show our lined, aged faces often in the public space. to paraphrase ACT UP, old people are here; get used to us--and give us space at the youth-table so we can learn from one another.

thanks for the deconstruction!"

Ray said...

Please allow me to be numero dos commenter on such a fine article, they are working hard at making elders feel somehow in adequate.

Guess they haven't read the bible lately.

I am running an abridged version of your article on ElderAbuseHelp.Org

Also I am featureing you as Blogger of the Week

Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge and experience with us younger folks.

Sarah Beth Jones said...

Elderwoman, I have prized every gray hair on my head since I started getting them in my teens. It's high time we redefined beauty! Thanks for the great post!

LadyLuz said...

I am steadily working my way through your blog, Marian, and enjoying your pearls of wisdom.

Very much agree with you about we older people being cajoled into looking younger. There's none so beautiful as those with inner beauty, whatever their age or looks.