Once upon a time (until a few minutes ago), there was no greater shame or punishment in our culture than being fat. Kids as young as three were worrying their cute little heads about it, scholars were chronicling how unjustly fat people are treated in powerful books like Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture, and the rest of us were trying to save ourselves from the unthinkable condition by contributing our hard-earned cash to the weight loss industry’s annual $61 billion revenue.
But recently, people (and by “people” I mean a small sample size of women in the United Kingdom whose ideas about beauty are generally similar to their American cousins’) have decided that it is, in fact, far, far worse to look old than to be fat.
Yep. According to a new poll, women would rather look young than slim. In fact, one in three women (32 percent) feel under pressure to look young and two thirds (62 percent) now use anti-aging products. 41 percent wished they looked younger, and one in five worry about how old they look every single day with 10 percent admitting to thinking about it several times each day.
Not surprisingly, increases in plastic surgery back this up. The most recent data show that minimally invasive plastic surgeries (such as Botox and fillers) are on the rise and that in total, 15.1 million procedures were performed in the U.S. alone in 2013. (That staggering number includes fun facts like “buttocks implants increased 16 per cent since 2012,” but since that’s not really about aging, I’m just going to leave that little tidbit with you to think about.)
The upshot? Faces that have had a little work done (a few injections here, a little lasering there) have become the new norm. They’re changing what aging looks like and making us forget that until a few years ago, all those smooth foreheads and plump lips looked totally cuckoo.
The stats also dovetail with the “I wouldn’t necessarily rule out plastic surgery in the future” line that so many celebs (ahem, Cat Deeley, Sofia Vergara, Cameron Diaz, Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Sherzinger) seem to be including in interviews these days when asked about aging. This point’s takeaway: celebs are so avant garde! They already know old is the new fat and are waaay ahead of the rest of us re: figuring out how not to get caught on the wrong side of this trend.
The part that I can’t make sense of, though, is that this intensified fear of age is emerging at the same time that 45 is seeming like the new 35. Gals like Gwyneth, Tina Fey, Sandra Bullock, and Leslie Mann are blowing up screens everywhere — and they’re all 40+ (give or take), which is great because that means their visibility hasn’t declined as they’ve aged. Of course, mainstream celebrities are not prime examples of natural beauty. They have an army of help (nutritionists, stylists, plastic surgeons, trainers, aestheticians, etc.) to get them looking the way they do (about which I actually wrote a book) … and that circles back to the part about how people messing with their faces has changed what our expectations are for how we should look at different stages of our lives.
And then there was that Esquire magazine article titled “In Praise of 42-Year Old Women,” which asserted that women past the age of 30+ aren’t old, useless, and undesirable. In fact, some of them (us!) are hot. Which was totally offensive, but also maybe progressive (?) because it might have (possibly hopefully) influenced the opinion of some man somewhere who used to think differently.
Anyone else dizzy yet?
All I know is that I’m party to plenty of conversations amongst my own friends about who’s investing in which science-y skincare products, whether or not to Botox, and what everyone’s most-hated body part is. Which makes me feel like the most accurate, current statistic should actually read something more like: All women worry some to most of the time about looking old (and getting fat).
And that makes me sad.
Audrey D. Brashich is the author of All Made Up: A Girl’s Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype and Celebrating Real Beauty. Follow her on twitter @AudreyBrashich.