By Jenny Matthews
It seems that the older we get as a society, the harder we are all trying to look youthful.
Will society's idea of beauty change as we age? (© Age Concern)
Cosmetic surgery and other anti-ageing procedures like Botox are booming.
Even at a very conservative estimate, Britons are spending £225m a year on such procedures, about half of which are concerned with trying to look younger.
According to the British Association of Cosmetic Doctors, 40,000 vials of Botox - enough to treat 150,000 patients - were sold in 2004, with the market growing by 30 to 40% a year.
"Cosmetic surgery is an epidemic today. It is exploding [and] the desire for youth, beauty and perfection shows no signs of slowing down," says Wendy Lewis, a beauty consultant who works in both the UK and the US.
Simon Withey of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons says all aspects of cosmetic surgery are becoming more popular, for various reasons - among them that people are feeling an intense social pressure to look younger.
"We get quite a lot of people who are in the media or very competitive jobs in the City, and they just feel as soon as they look a bit tired, that these younger guys and younger women are snapping at their heels, trying to chase them out of their jobs.
UK COSMETIC SURGERY MARKET
Worth at least £224.6m in 2003
Growing at about 9.4% a year
Of this, about 28% is non-surgical procedures such as Botox
"There still is this feeling that youth and beauty is rewarded in some way in society, and I think it actually is."
But is the situation going to change? Surely as the population ages further over coming decades, we are going to start accepting our looks, and seeing old as beautiful?
Angus McGrouther, Professor Of Plastic And Reconstructive Surgery at Manchester University and the UK's first professor of plastic surgery, thinks that fundamental changes in society means the cosmetic surgery genie will never be put back in the bottle.
"The respect for the wisdom of ages has gone. What people have got to do is look competitive with other people in the marketplace.
"People will change their jobs several times in their lifetime, and move to a new local area when they retire.
THREE MOST POPULAR ANTI-AGEING OPERATIONS
1 Blepharoplasty (eyelid reduction)
2 Full facelifts
3 Brow lift
"So to be accepted into all these new groups, judgements are made on appearance. All these pressures fit together."
However, the number of people "having things done" to look younger remains small.
A recent survey by TGI, published by Keynote Research, found that only 7% of all women would even consider having a facelift, and 4% of men a hair transplant, while only 11% of women would consider having Botox, and 4% of men.
Tim Westall of marketing consultancy April Strategy thinks it is possible that society will start projecting a "more mature expression of beauty" as we get older - although it is more likely it will express contradictory attitudes to age.
"There are two mindsets that operate, two attitudinal camps," he says.
"One is about seeking physical perfection - 'the L'Oreal woman'.
"There's another which is about beauty from within, about your radiance being the embodiment of your life and your spirit and your character - don't over-adorn, and don't mask."
SOME NON-SURGICAL ANTI-AGEING TREATMENTS
Muscle-relaxing injections like Botox, to soften wrinkles
Microdermabrasion, which rubs off outer layer of skin to create fresher appearance
Wrinkle fillers including collagen, your own body fat or those containing hyaluronic acid such as Restylane, Perlane
Chemical peels - acids which remove the outer layer of skin, reducing fine wrinkles
Lasers, to stimulate skin collagen and reduce fine lines
Robert Diamond of the Diametric marketing consultancy concurs that we will probably see contradictory images of beauty and maturity in future, as advertisers wake up to the potential value of the over-50s market.
"Expect the beauty industry to continue to focus on youth," he says.
"But expect smart marketers to talk about 'making the best of who you are' rather than trying to make you become someone different.
"Take-up of cosmetic surgery falls after 45 - older women are more interested in looking good for their age than trying to look a different age," he said.
Continuing innovation in techniques and products available also appear likely to have an impact, with procedures becoming ever more simple, cheap - and therefore appealing.
"Treatments have become less risky, easier, in many cases more affordable and accessible to everyone," says Wendy Lewis.
"People are looking to start early, have smaller things done in bundles, and ease into the ageing process without necessarily looking like they have had work done."
Even if we do still see youth as the main indicator of beauty, and continue nipping, tucking, abrading and filling, is that necessarily a bad thing?
Professor McGrouther wonders if it may be a positive sign.
"If people are living longer, healthier, happier lives, and their concerns are being spread to things like controlling weight, exercise, smoking etc - if it's making people happy at the end of the day, and it's not harming anybody else, then that seems positive," he said.
"In fact, I think some of the things we accepted in the past were probably wrong, that people should sit down in their carpet slippers when they reach a certain age."
What do you think about society's quest for youth? Is it positive to want to look your best or do we spend too much time and money trying to stave off the inevitable?
Send us your views using the postform below.
I find cosmetic surgery for the purposes of adhering to beauty stereotypes, such as looking youthful, immensely tragic. Whilst I look after my health and consequently my appearance, I hope that when the time comes for my skin to wrinkle, my hair to grey and my bust to head south, I'll have the good sense to accept and enjoy what I am rather than yearn for what I am not. After all, it's who you are that makes all the difference - a sour, sulky young face looks a lot less beautiful than an old one with a sweet smile and twinkling eyes.
Heather, Stockport, UK
It is all a matter of attitude, the real value of your worth lies in what you know and your ability to deliver results. However, that said, in a competitive environment, how you look does matter. I am coming up for 59 and have a friend who I first met at the age of 6. He is a University Professor and I am in IT. I use an anti-greying dye on my hair and beard, he doesn't. In his case, being a "grey beard" is an advantage, it projects age and wisdom, in my industry, I would be considered an "Old Git" past his sell by date.
John, Somerset, UK
As I've grown older I have become more confident and I intend to grow old DIS-GRACEFULLY and have some fun, I've spent to much time trying to please others
This obsession with youth is a recent development. In past times when reaching 40 was an achievement, age and its appearance was prized. Now youth is prized as we grow older. It is simply a reaction to scarcity. However, if we all try to mimic the appearance of teenagers we risk a danger of mediocrity where everyone wants to look the same i.e. blond hair, large eyes and small nose. Ok on a baby maybe but not on an adult.
Helen Exeter, Devon
Sadly, the visual media are usually the culprits here, using youth and beauty to sell products or grab attention. If they were equally keen on making intelligence and character attractive, we'd see some profound changes.
Roger Brown, Treforest, Wales
It is very tempting to spend all that money on cosmetic surgery etc to look good, but once you start, you won't stop - I say save your money and grow old gracefully
Janette, Camberley, Surrey
I'm looking forward to going grey!
Edgar Grey, Surrey
What exactly is this 'growing old gracefully' that people keep referring to and why is it considered such a virtue? I sometimes think it's just a euphemism for letting yourself go. Isn't it more graceful to have shiny, brown hair and fresh looking skin that grey hairs and a sallow complexion ? I get quite cross with those who have this holier than thou attitude to people who choose to try and preserve their looks. It just sounds like jealousy to me - live and let live. (I've do wear make-up and dye my hair - I haven't had any surgery).
Gillian BC, Milton Keynes
I can't wait 'till middle aged people are the majority. Perhaps we might just have a competent workforce with young people taking their rightful place in the office, and those with hard earned experience getting to call the shots. There are few sights more revolting than a hair gelled 20-something with more money than sense, gliding around in an expensive car (a few examples of estate agents spring to mind)
Mark Shepherd (32), London
Although I am already missing the ability to look glowing after a night out or a heavy patch of work I am looking forward to the confidence which makes so many older beauties so appealing, I would prefer to attain to Helen Mirrin than Avril Lavine
Apart from diverting medical resources into what is an essentially trivial branch of healthcare people who have had plastic surgery generally do not look any younger or better. They just look as if they have had plastic surgery.
Nigel Davies, Stockport England
I think its naive to think that we can all accept growing old. Regardless of how you feel about yourself no-one wants to watch their body heading south no matter how much they say that it doesn't matter! I started going grey in my early twenties and have been dyeing my hair all that time, I'm not about to grow old gracefully! I also believe that it's something more than just images in the media, our desire to look young relates to our inability to face our own mortality and its a personal struggle with your own identity. I'm happy about the way I look, so I don't really want it to change.
Claire, York, UK
I prefer natural & inner beauty than fake boobs and 'botox'ed smiles. Give me a youthful, firm breast and I'll bring out the beauty of my mother's breast, saggy from all the breastfeeding she's done for her children. Give me a taut, wrinkle-free forehead and I'll show you all the crow-feet my dad have accumulated by smiling and laughing with his beloved family.
Love your body as it is. Age gracefully instead of bending onto the pressure of looking young and perfect all the time.
I have absolutely nothing against aesthetic surgery: after all it is still your own face or body you treat. Why is having your outstanding ears or your crooked teeth put right commonly accepted, even expected, but a breast lift isn't? There are so many people we adore for their good acting qualities (read looks) that are having their wrinkles filled every now and then, why shouldn't ordinary people like you and me be allowed to do with their bodies whatever they want, without harming anybody else?
Elfi, Brussels, Belgium
Right now, I am 20. Growing up on the westside of Los Angeles, I have seen so many forty and fifty something women with plastic surgery it has put me off it entirely. It is just so completely inauthentic. In many cases, the procedures detract from women's appearences. It is obvious that their skin has been stretched, pulled, pinched etc. And it makes them look foolish for trying to regain something that they simply cannot. Life is short and we cannot live forever. Therefore, why cannot we place value on each phase in our lives from childhood to old age?
Louise, London, UK
Natural beauty is not something that any amount of botox can bring. Studies have shown that humans that accept their bodies and features live happier and healthier, which in turn makes an individual more beautiful from the inside out. On the other hand, if one cannot accept the fact of aging and therefore try to employ means to distort their natural features, one has comparatively less self-esteem and therefore is less happy. This affect emotional health, and an individual may lack the aura of the beauty of happiness from the heart
Arian, New York, NY
I have no problem with cosmetic surgey to a point, where does the desire to change your appearance step over, from being simple vanity, to being a srious illnesss, such a body dysmorphic synrome? There is always a risk that people who actually need therapy will instead get surgery. However, I fully intend to take advantage of some of the less invasive treatments as I age, I want to look good! Although at 24 and without a wrinkle in sight I don't think I will be needing it for a while.
Victoria, Bournemouth, u.k
Give me that vibrant, happy individual who grows older naturally any day. Botox, salene, silicone soya !, nips, tucks, pinning....it will come back to haunt. Don't kid the kid in you. Just enjoy life and spend your money wisely and stop making the surgeons who help cheat nature get richer too.
Graham, Cambridge, UK
We all have a part of our bodies that we don't like, and nobody is perfect, thats what makes us individuals. Often the things we would like to change are the parts that others would love to have. I accept what I have been given, and when it all goes South and Wrinkly, I intend to retire abroad, then at least it will be brown and wrinkly. Surgery is drastic and painful - self worth and confidence are far cheaper and painless to obtain and will make you feel more attractive than any surgical procedure.
I think what distinguishes the young from the old is enthusiasm and openmindedness. These are qualities we should all retain. Too many people act old because it is easier to be stuck in your ways then keep up with what is happening. I work in the arts and if there is a prejudice in favour of younger people it is only because they a less wordly and therefore more easly manipulated by older, often ineffectual management.
Ian, London UK
The most important thing is to be fit and healthy - and luckily there's no better way to look younger than you are!
Louise, Southampton, UK
There's nothing fundamentally wrong with wanting to look good, if it helps you to feel better about yourself; it's only when this becomes an obsession, as such things often do, that it becomes a problem.
We're bombarded with ideas of aesthetic perfection from birth, and it's teaching people that they need to look a certain way just to feel good about themselves - if we could reduce this culture, perhaps by bringing less stylised people into adverts and television to better reflect the population, we'd see some positive effects in the wider attitudes.
Peter Lavelle, Bucks
Why this fascination with trying to stay looking young? Every living thing is aging by the second, so why fight it? Look plastic and pathetic or age gracefully? I know what I choose.
Martin, Reading, UK
But it never really looks 'real' and I just could not justify spending money on such a worthless persuit. I think we are all very different and it's definitely all in the genes. Sorry folks, but that is a true fact. thanks mam and dad!
J Walker, Cumbria UK
You can spend huge amounts of money on the 'over the counter' products which don't really make any real difference i fighting the ageing process. Botox, collagen etc can actually work out as cheaper alternatives. I don't personally fancy altering surgically my features, but a little help does no harm and makes me feel a whole lot better in myself, which can then translate into your whole life.
Inner well being, a good diet and an active lifestyle are the only things that will keep you young... As for things heading south, exercise is the key. However, cosmetic surgery techniques that were developed for the rich & vain are now benefiting those of us who need them for reconstructive surgery.
Marie, London UK
There's no such thing as perfection. It's a waste of energy and, perhaps, money to attempt to attain it. Make the most of what you've got, you'll be far happier and more attractive as a result.
Randy, Wycombe, UK
Everyone is being so politically correct. If you have inner beauty, good for you, but let's face it, we all want to look beautiful. With plastic surgery now we can.
Phil B-C, Maidenhead
I feel that it is a sad indictment of our society that positive attitudes to age and wisdom are trodden underfoot by our desire to remain forever youthful. It is a fantasy, created by digital manipulation and airbrushing of the images which surround us. I have however noticed recently, a couple (and it is just a couple) of braver organisations who are using images of older people in a positive way, let us hope that this is an indication of a change of attitude, the old and young are not different species so let us not treat them so.
I hate to see older women trying so desperately to look younger, in particular the ones who are wearing their daughter's young and trendy clothes but the same hair and make up they've had for 30 years! I hope that I won't have to worry about plastic surgery and the rest, since I don't smoke or drink, I never go in the sun and I rarely wear makeup. Washing my face every other day means at 27 I haven't got a wrinkle in sight, and no perms or colours have kept the grey hairs away so far.
Jennifer, Netherlands, ex UK
Why are wrinkles caused by smiles and laughter considered to look 'old'? What makes an individual look good, are her or his distinctive features. If everyone looked like David or La Giaconda (choose freely any celebrity instead), this would be annoying - people who are considered to look good, even if they may no longer be called young, have something, that's disturbing the harmony slightly, like a syncope in music. What's suitable for works of art, should be accepted for human beings as well. Neither Michelangelo nor Leonardo made more than one David or La Giaconda, so why should people try to look like someone else.
Jessika, Frankfurt, Germany
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