Do we really want to look younger?

Around the world, the quest for long-lasting beauty is an expensive one.

By 2021, the global market for anti-ageing products is projected to reach $US330 billion, according to a report from Orbis Research.

Why are we buying these products? Is it because we strive to look younger? Or do we simply want to look as good as possible as we age?

Dr Rachel Thorpe of La Trobe University’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society says the majority of older women she has interviewed as part of her studies on ageing and appearance are aiming to appear “age appropriate” rather than younger.

“It’s not like they say, ‘Oh I wish I looked younger!’” says Dr Thorpe.

“They are focused on looking as good as possible for their age. There was an acknowledgement that as you age, you should change the way you dress, colour your hair and do your makeup.

“It was more like, ‘Well I’ve got more wrinkles than I’d like to have but I can’t change that, so how do I adapt my makeup so I don’t accentuate those wrinkles?’”

Dr Thorpe, who conducted 60 in-depth interviews with women aged 55 to 81 as part of her research, says society places enormous pressure on women to conform to beauty ideals.

“Those expectations we have of women and how they should look don’t just go away when we age,” she says. “However, they are changing — the baby boomer generation are resisting a lot of stereotypes of old age, they don’t want to look like their mothers looked or behave like them.”

On getting wrinkles
Surprisingly, the company that makes Botox, a well-known anti-ageing product, conducted a study that found older women don’t necessarily want to look younger.

As reported in The Telegraph, Allergan took photographs of five women in their 50s and then digitally “improved” the pictures. Then they asked 2000 women which pictures appealed to them the most. None of the women chose the most highly altered version — every participant preferred the image in which the women had kept most of her wrinkles.

“What’s really interesting is when you speak to older women, they are happy for their experience — they don’t want to be in their 20s or 30s again,” says Dr Thorpe.

“But they do have regrets about the social consequences of being older, which includes being less visible and having less social power. They lament the changes in their appearance but they don’t simply want to look younger, it’s more complicated than that.”

How old is old?
Australia’s first life table, published in The Sydney Morning Herald a century and a half ago, gave a newborn colonist just 45.6 years to live.

One published today would give a newborn boy 80.4 years and a newborn girl 84.6, and that will only increase in the future due to medical advances and genetics. By 2020, life expectancy will be 81 for a male and 86 for a female.

According to a report by Mercer, this will leave many Australians in a dire financial predicament during their later years.

“Two-thirds of adults expect to live past 80, but only one in three expect to have enough money to afford it,” the report said.

At the same time, World Economic Forum (WEF) figures predict the gap between what Australians have in retirement and what they need, will increase to $9 trillion by 2050, from $1 trillion in 2015.

The WEF believes working for longer is inevitable. Workers need to save between ten and 15 per cent of their annual salary to support a reasonable level of income in retirement, it says.

And the WEF warned that many workers will face a shock in later life, with current savings rates "not aligned with individuals expectations for retirement income — putting at risk the credibility of the whole pension system”.

This makes Aubrey de Grey’s belief a frightening one. The Cambridge University geneticist believes that within the foreseeable future, human beings will be able to live to 1000.

Do you want to look younger? And if you could live to 1000, would you want to?

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