Culture & Society

Age Is Just A Number!

The beauty industry lures women and brainwashes them as naïve. Women are compelled to piggy back that false notion of freezing age and they are sort of induced into a constant hunger of clinging on to their younger-self.

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Young woman trying to hold back old age; screen print from a photograph, 1926 (representative image) Photo: Getty Images

I hope you have lost your good looks, for while they last any fool can adore you, and the adoration of fools is bad for the soul. No, give me a ruined complexion, and a lost figure and sixteen chins on a farmyard of crow’s feet and an obvious wig. Then you shall see me coming out strong.”    

I thank George Bernard Shaw for this adage. It pacifies the occasional melee my mind engages in from time to time. These words reaffirm the fact that my worth is not determined by my sun-spots, the appearance of crow’s feet or the thinning of my hair. They are a testament to the rough patches in my life that I’ve endured since childhood. And I’m proud of that. I find a profound beauty in the imperfection, in the impermanence. I am a reliquary of experiences, memories. I find solace in my authenticity. I have stopped buying push-up bras to accentuate my sagging breasts. The more I denounce society’s false rhetoric, the more liberated I feel. 

The other day, my male colleague asked my age while adding, "I think one should not ask a woman her age”. It had me thinking! Why do women get cautious and secretive about their age? Are they afraid to be judged as less alluring, less desirable, Less! Less! Less! And why is it that men do not have any qualms about admitting their age? Why does a wife need to be younger than the husband and the opposite is frowned upon? There is no denial that 'Ageism' evokes a plethora of emotions - fear, unbelonging, dysmorphic disorder, and unfulfilled dreams, even regrets. It's an unavoidable phase deeply intertwined with our existence and yet camouflaged in a duvet of mystery. But ironically, only women bear the brunt of being judged, reminding us about the rampant chauvinism.

In recent times, the so-called posh beauty industry propagandises young girls into believing that changing their facial symmetry through plastic surgery is in vogue. They coax them into shedding lakhs on liposuction, breast augmentation, Botox, and what not! Apparently, look prettier, to look more acceptable, to look more appealing to society’s gaze. There is a constant compulsion to "fit in" and the dire necessity to "look young". Unfortunately, the phrase "you are not enough" seeps into a girl's mind from a young age due to a robust societal conditioning, " your boobs are too big or too small", "your waist is not narrow", "you have a big bum", "your shoulders are broad", "you are too short or too tall". If you have curly hair, it's "sloppy", if you have straight hair, it's "out of fashion". There is no end to such toxic conditioning. My friend’s 15-year old girl committed suicide because she thought she was not “beautiful”. Nothing can be more poignant than that!

The beauty industry lures women and brainwashes them as naïve. Women are compelled to piggy back that false notion of freezing age and they are sort of induced into a constant hunger of clinging on to their younger-self. The jingles and ads of some of the beauty products are cringe worthy- Olay, Glow no matter what; Fair & Lovely; Emami Fair and Handsome; Pond’s White Beauty, to name a few. These are nothing but hyperbolic lies perpetuating the age-old notion that fair means beauty, and beauty can conquer the world. It's time we break free from society’s traditional beauty paradigm.

How can we peel back the layers of societal conditioning, external expectations. From times immemorial, society hangs like a pendulum between the mallet of progressivism and the gavel of conservatism. Although things have changed over the years, and we can perceive the filigree of a progressive promenade, we cannot deny the fact that the conservative elements of the society still lurk and flout against acceptance and change. There are times when women who do not fit into the conventional definition of beauty, are shunned, scorned. They are scoffed and derided when they fail to match the so-called “accepted” ideas of beauty. The archaic ways of thinking and the patriarchal traditions still pervade like a robust obsidian, devouring the potential sovereignty. Such type of conditioning begins from the day a child is born. We teach our girls “Dhoop me mat khelo kaali ho jaogi” (do not play in the sun, you’ll get tanned), “Chai mat pio kali ho jaogi” (Do not drink tea, you’ll get tanned). They learn early on, that body hair is ugly and they need to get rid of them, they should use ubtan to erase facial scars, so on and so forth. Whereas we forget to teach them how to stand up for themselves, how to voice their opinions and how to never get subjugated by the society on the basis of their looks, colour of skin, or their gender. 

Let’s unite in our collective strengths to dismantle these harmful cultural stereotypes and discrimination of our ageist society. Let us erase the toxic narratives that perpetuate the belief of “ you are not enough” and “you must look young”. Let us empower each other to embrace our real and raw, our fundamental, authentic selves. Let us envision a world that is more diverse and inclusive, where our identities rest on a menhir of perfect harmony based on who we truly are from the inside. A place where we own our own bodies as well as voices, and rise against the robust conditioning, for, we are much more than our stretch marks, sagging breasts, complexion, and wrinkles. After all age is just a number!

As Helen Mirren said:

"Your 40s are good. Your 50s are great. Your 60s are fab. And 70 is f**king awesome!"