Sunday, April 12, 2015

Rankled by wrinkles?

I'm a sucker for all the magazine ads and TV commercials that sell this cream and that serum, all promising to reverse the effects of aging, plump up the skin, erase the lines and whatnot. I've bought countless number of jars, tubes and bottles, filled with breakthrough vitamins, minerals, collagen, fruit acids, you name it. Have I found one that works yet? Is it a lost cause? Aging is a fact of life. It's a given that our bodies will grow old and wither, our skin will dry up and wrinkle like parchment. So why do we bother?

A face that's beautiful in all its cracks and crevices

I've traveled to places far off the beaten track, lonely hamlets in the remote mountains of Laos and China, and tiny villages of Italy and Turkey. What I love to look at in those places is the faces of people, both young and old. While little kids everywhere delight me, it's the older folk who really capture my attention. Faces that are tanned and deeply etched with lines and grooves that tell of a hard life, probably spent outdoors mostly, without the benefit of anti-aging creams. I compare them with the faces of seniors in the cities, sophisticated urbanites who have regular facials, smooth with probably some help from fillers or shiny from Botox. Faces that are eerily bland and devoid of expression.

Wearing our age as a badge of honor
It used to be that attaining a certain age was to be revered as being wiser, and that wrinkles were a badge of honor. Wisdom was hard won against a tough environment and difficult circumstances. To have made it to milestones at 60, 70 and beyond was a mark of achievement. Younger folk deferred to their elders as having lived longer and thus gained more knowledge and experience.

Nowadays, being and looking old seems to be a scourge of aging, no longer a desirable achievement. Instead of being revered, the elderly are merely tolerated, at best as an inconvenience, and at worst as a nuisance to be endured. In a world that's chasing youth, where 16 and 17 year old athletes and singers are treated as the best thing since sliced bread, there's no room for the aged. When celebrities are said to have "aged well", it's just a euphemism for having had excellent plastic surgery.

There are fashion magazines who are featuring older models with grey hair, and the latest Bond girl will be 50 year old Monica Belucci. Many are saying that the trend will be towards the older generation, most probably because they have the purchasing power in an aging population. But I believe that it's just a trend, we are still very much a culture that promotes youth and everything young, from music to movies and fashion.

Why does growing and appearing older have to equate to losing our looks? Why can't we think of it as maturing and acquiring a more dignified look? Do we have to cave in to social pressure and think of ourselves as faded and washed out? Does it matter if we look our age? I know certain contemporaries who aren't too bothered about maintaining their looks but remain such fascinating individuals, endowed with so much wisdom and humor. These are people with whom I'd happily spend hours. They've experienced so much of life and have all kinds of  knowledge to impart.

I recently read an article on older models who are making a comeback in which one of them said that since her mind was no longer working so well, she might as well cash in on her looks! That's so sad. If I had to choose between my looks or my mind, that would be a no-brainer. A disease like Alzheimer's would be far, far worse than sagging jowls and crow's feet.  I think there's nothing more devastating than being afflicted with a mental illness that robs us of all dignity.

I'll probably still be trying out the next new cream that's touted to give me younger-looking skin in just two weeks, even though I know it's another advertising spiel. I'm amused to be told I look younger than my age. (My round face and chubby cheeks are probably to thank for this!) While I slather on the creams and serums to stave off the inevitable, I know that it's a losing battle, but I'm not going to resort to surgery or even needles because I was never a beauty to begin with and so have no looks to preserve.

And so I'm trying to approach aging with good grace and humor. My role models are Maggie Smith and Judi Dench who seem to be approaching their maturing years with aplomb, rather than Jane Fonda and Joan Collins who are quite creepily looking like they're trying too hard.As long as my body is in good working order and my mind is relatively sharp and enquiring, I figure I'm already ahead of the game.

"It's easy to grow old if you haven't grown up."
                                            - John Hively


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