Ageing and The Commodification of Skin

Are you concerned about drooping and sagging? Do you fear the effects of time on your precious epidermis? Anxious that the, entirely natural and normal, effects of ageing will deem you a veritable outcast in society… you may as well go and live on an uninhabited island off the north coast of Scotland if you’re a woman past the age of 35, you’ve reached the end of your useful life.


The paradox: a model in her twenties advertising anti-ageing cream

That seems to be the pull of many a beauty campaign promising a termination of ageing. Ageing, ageing, ageing… when we will ever not be concerned with the passage of time, and its perilous affect on our skin. My greedy, skincare obsessed hands can’t help but caress the shelves of retinols (also known as vitamin A and one of the rare anti-ageing ingredients to work). I am 23 years old. Anyone with the slightest semblance of a media diet will interpret society’s obsession with ageing as a woman’s bane. Simply put: men can age, women can’t. We can barely enjoy our juicy years of juvenescence before worrying about the concoctions to prevent the eld. For this is adulthood, in some ways a liminal stage of life, cradled by the youthful confines of growing up and the periphery of senescence. It exists so momentarily before relinquishing to time.


Ageing Gracefully, by L’Oreal

This isn’t an entirely new concept of our media-obsessed, youth-focussed, self-conscious age – Cleopatra allegedly bathed in donkey’s milk daily for its alpha hydroxy acids garnered anti-ageing benefits. In the other direction Mary, Queen of Scots bathed in white wine due to its antiseptic alcohol content and complexion enhancing properties. Neither empress was available to comment on whether they drank their baths after. Jumping well, well into the deep-end is Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory, known less for her regality and more for her penchant of bathing in the blood of virgins. Something about the abject horror and gore of Bathory’s predations is, in a sense, not far off from some of the more extreme procedures women today endure. Invasive facelifts, or even ‘minor’ botox injections, is not a common-held idea of a good time. Surely the results may cheer the soul, but momentarily, because just like the the pre-worked face they wear. There is scant literature divulging Henry VIII’s 7-step evening skincare routine to combat the signs of ageing, or Louis XIV’s diet of cow’s udders or something, which he swore boosted his collagen levels – the very concept of battling age is reserved in the annals of women.

Youth is addictive. We’re often propounded with (insert celebrity here)’s utterly unrecognisable transformation from ‘much loved sitcom star to haggard has-been clinging to their prime’. Perpetuated in the media is that viable, glossy candidate for international fame, the smooth canvas to which we covet and chastise. As she ages and loses her sparkle we turn to someone else, someone younger and younger and younger… ad infinitum, until the very concept of youth becomes a parody of itself. Maybelline’s range of ‘Baby’ products channels this, its Baby Lips and Baby Skin products equates the uncorrupted skin of infants as aspirational.



The iconic Absolutely Fabulous illustrated this way back in the ’94 episode, ‘Hospital’. Patsy tied up in a sex scandal with an MP opts to undergo drastic, and invasive, anti-ageing procedures before a big shoot with Hello! magazine. Her editor Magda, played by the inimitable Kathy Burke, visits her bedside:

‘Patsy: Magda!

Magda: Hello, Pats! How are ya? Unlucky business with the M.P. Still the “Hello!” thing should sort that out. I better make this quick I’ve got a lingerie opening and a feminine wash launch to get to by six, and all this with my working champagne lunch with Anouska bloody Hempel floating about here. This month I want articles about how lovely spending money is. Expensive things, the better cosmetics are great. I want money, money, money. Spend, spend, spend. I don’t want to see any more photos of gormless skeletons with no brains, no make-up and no bloody tits.

Patsy: Promoting bored teenagers won’t sell a Chanel suit.

Magda: Naw, they’re too thin!

Patsy: Too young!

Magda: If the models get any younger, Pats, they’ll be chucking foetuses down the catwalk!’

The last line makes me wonder, who is setting these standards? Who is pushing back the goalposts of acceptable public ageing, the fictive boundaries of the youthful and the aged. Those that can buy the clothes from the pages of Vogue are more likely the older woman with expendable wealth, and not the dreamy teenager that keeps its printing presses running.

Maybe women’s ageing is so abhorrent because it reflects the morbidity of the human experience, the reality of death. Men stay virile, they can procreate until they’re pushing around zimmer frames at the bingo. Women summit their fertility, usually, by their early forties and suddenly, ‘worthless’. Evolutionarily men are attracted to youthful-looking women: smooth skin, big eyes, full lips. Perhaps the penchant for refusing to age gracefully is just down to pure science… but of course this isn’t true! Women don’t maintain value by the amount of babies they’re able to pop out. Women remain beautiful, gorgeous, radiant, heavenly, graceful, alluring, exquisite, stunning (and more synonyms…) regardless of their age. They even remain sexy, very sexy, as demonstrated by Tom Ford…

(image source)

As Mr. Ford says, ‘I am tired of the cult of youth. The cultural rejection of old age, the stigmatization of wrinkles, grey hair, of bodies furrowed by the years. I am fascinated by Diana Vreeland, Georgia O’Keeffe and Louise Bourgeois, women who have let time embrace them without ever cheating. Society today condemns this, me, I celebrate it.’

IMDb. (n.d.). “Absolutely Fabulous” Hospital (TV Episode 1994). [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Mar. 2017].

The Toast. (2014). Archival Mix: Yes, We Can Now Talk About Elizabeth Báthory. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Mar. 2017].

Frockwriter. (2010). Old spice: Not even age shall weary Tom Ford’s fashion porn stars. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Mar. 2017].

Into The Gloss. (2015). The History of Anti Aging Products. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Mar. 2017].


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