The futile quest for forever lasting youth

Patricia Feehily

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Patricia Feehily

The futile quest for forever lasting youth

Should we grow old gracefully or fight the affects time with any and ever beauty product going?

THERE were no anti-ageing products when I was a child – except maybe buttermilk – and I only ever knew one lady who smeared buttermilk on her face in an apparently futile effort to halt the subtly encroaching signs of the advancing years.

But it must have worked, because I never really regarded her as old. Even now - and she has been dead for many years – I see her as forever young, spirited, full of gaiety and joie de vivre, and sporting an unlined peaches and cream complexion that would have done justice to the most sophisticated modern anti-ageing cream.

Her jet black hair never lost its colour, its light or its lustre, although I do remember a few local cynics, who knew that she washed her face occasionally in separated milk left over from the creamery, saying that she must have been using boot polish on her hair as well.

Her name, God rest her, came up in conversation the other day, and I said that, despite the ravages of the years, she had never lost the first flush of youth. They looked at me strangely and said: ‘but she was only 32 or 33’’.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard that. I had always thought she looked very young for her age: now I’m not so sure. Or the other hand, maybe 32 was the old 72, and maybe it seemed pretty ancient anyway to the eyes of a 12-year-old, who had seen the vast majority of her school mates leave school forever at the age of 14. Either way it comes as a bit of a shock to realise that she wouldn’t even have been able to run for the Presidency, not just because of her gender, but because she would have been regarded as under-age back then. All of which makes her untimely death seem all the more tragic in hindsight

These are some of the thoughts that ran through my head when I read that the term anti-ageing is now being outlawed. One fashion magazine has banned its use completely. Age defying is not on its agenda: age embracing is the new mantra. Veteran Hollywood star, Helen Mirren, sees the term ‘anti-ageing’ as an affront to other veterans and now the cosmetic industry is going to have to overhaul the labels on its vast array of products and creams guaranteed to preserve the skin’s elasticity and smoothen the wrinkles.

Now I was never a great fan of anti-ageing products, partly because I never had much time to experiment with them and partly because I didn’t notice my own furrows until one day when I woke up, looked in the mirror and thought for one frightful moment that I was staring straight into the Grand Canyon itself. By then it was too late to fill it in. Anyway, I’ve learned to live with my creased and care-worn visage, but if I catch anyone staring too closely at the crevices, I’ll proudly explain that they are character lines forged by my resilience to adversity, even though the truth is that I invariably backed off from anything even remotely challenging in life. Really, I have no idea how I got these lines.

But while I never tried to camouflage them, I would be with Dylan Thomas all the way and “rage, rage against the dying of the light”. And with all due respects to Helen and her pals who are anti ‘anti-ageing’, I don’t see what is so wrong with the term. When it comes down to it, we’re all anti-ageing, even those of us who have decided to embrace the process, seeing there’s not much we can do about it apart from applying a few collagen-boosting face creams and something to disguise the grey hair roots. But I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want to stop the process if they could, or who wouldn’t jump for joy if someone, somewhere, really discovered the elixir of eternal youth that didn’t involve austerity and hard work. But that isn’t to say that any of them would want to be young again, either.

What really bothers me about this new campaign to outlaw the phrase ‘anti-ageing’, however, is that we are now expected to embrace ‘positive ageing’ even if we see nothing very positive about it apart from the free travel and the pension. They’re offering graduate courses now in nursing homes and we’ll all be expected to don caps and gowns when we’re conferred with our awards, and some of us will feel under awful pressure to get a first. We’ll be expected to wear short skirts when we’re 80 and do press-ups when we’re 90 and join a dating agency when we’re 100, just to prove that we’re still alive.

But worst of all, we’ll have to face the inevitability of death, stripped of all delusions and face cream and anything remotely associated with anti-ageing. This, apparently, is because most of our current ageism is caused by a fear and denial of death, and not by the fact that we can’t move as fast or contribute quite as much as we once did to society. Older people are now being forced to dismiss anti-ageing and confront their mortality in a way that I find a bit alarming. I know I’m not going to live forever, but I’m damned if I’m going to go without a fight. I’d damned too if I’m going to attend a senior citizens’ party any time soon where everyone is expected to wear what they’d like to be buried or cremated in, as advocated by the new ‘age-embracers’. Although I did once have an elderly relation who kept her brown ‘habit’ hanging in a wardrobe for years before she died and she brought it out every now and then to air it and to check it for moth holes.

No, I’ll stay with the anti-ageing brigade, and who knows, maybe someday they’ll be on to something.