18 November 2018Last updated


Debate: Should women try to look younger?

With women looking more fabulous than ever in their 40s, 50s and even 60s, the pressure is on for us to nip, tuck and dye. So, do we give in to the scalpel or grow old gracefully?

By Kate Birch and Louisa Wilkins, Aquarius
1 Apr 2012 | 12:02 am
  • Plastic surgery

    According to research, looking good over the age of 30, and looking younger over the age of 50, is linked to better health.

    Source:Getty Images


Louisa Wilkins, age 33

At the ripe old age of 82, my grandma still dyes her hair jet black, matches her accessories to her frock, has bright red nails and wears lipstick. She always has, and she always will. Growing up in the silver-screen era of starlets like Mae West and Lauren Bacall, glamour wasn't a weekend effort, but mandatory daily. And for my gran, it still is. She doesn't do it to look younger, she does it to feel like herself. She may be an 82-year-old widow with dodgy knees and a magnifying glass to read the TV schedule, but her identity and self-esteem are still safely intact.

At the unripe age of 33, looking younger isn't high on my agenda yet. However, I dye my hair, too. This wasn't triggered by the (very sudden) arrival of renegade greys a year ago - I've always had a penchant for hair colouring and change shades regularly - but now I am more conscientious about maintaining it. I'm not denying my age, or my grey roots, but I don't feel like I'm in the winter of my life just yet. In fact, I feel like I'm just about to hit summer. So, why not look the way I feel? Similarly, while I haven't had Botox myself, many of my friends have and I don't judge them for it. If it makes them feel more confident in themselves and happier in their lives, who are we to condemn? They'll have the last laugh, according to research presented at the American Psychological Society, which found that looking good over the age of 30, and looking younger over the age of 50, is linked to better health.

For people who sit somewhat sanctimoniously on the other side of this debate, relegating hair dying and anti-ageing measures to a serious case of vanity is an easy attack strategy, but a flawed one. Is it vain to want to look your best? I don't think so. I see it more as a sign of confidence and self-respect. Especially as a British study found that women make more effort when they are happy. Also, it is about personal choice - if I like my hair better dyed, and you like yours better left natural, why can't we honour these opinions?

I agree that women shouldn't be corseted by society's obsession with beauty and that we should be valued for more than the way we look. So, I'm all for the ‘grow old gracefully' ageing-with-pride movement, but I'm not going to be old for another 40 years. So, I don't think I need to prove my allegiance by giving up the glamour ghost right now. And how far will it go? Next, will I be deemed a narcissist if I go for a facial, or use SPFs to ward off sun damage?

You can be as nonchalant as you like but, deep down, everybody wants to look their best, and how we choose to look on the outside is still an expression of how we feel on the inside. In my head I feel young, vibrant and like I've got a lot to look forward to, so forgive me for not resigning myself to growing old gracefully just yet. I think I deserve a few more years trying to stay young gracefully first.


KATE BIRCH, age 39

When I grow up, I want to look my age. OK, it's easier to say that now in the twilight of my 30s than it was the end of my roaring 20s, but I think women should embrace their age and not try to look younger.

When I'm (gulp) 50, I want to look good for my age but I don't want to look 30 - that would be silly. I refuse to be one of those women (you know who you are…) teetering around town vainly attempting to hang on to their long-faded youth, like a poodle with a rubber bone.

And you know what? That attempt to look younger can actually have the opposite effect. According to a study by Shoemann and Branscombe* in 2010, research discovered that both men and women who try to look younger than their ages are viewed more negatively by young people.

The problem is that we live in a world obsessed with image and youth. Society constantly reminds us that ageing is wrong and that looking young is essential to maintaining beauty and social status. You only have to check out the who's who of Hollywood to get the message… we are a world happy to applaud the older woman as long as she doesn't look her age.

But these days, being 50 isn't what it used to be. While our grannies slipped into the cosy cardigans expected of hard-working housewives, women today are giving the thirtysomethings a run for their money. And that's great news. But putting yourself under the knife or needle to return to your former glory isn't facing reality. A prick of Botox here, plumping of lips there and it's a slippery slope to Cher scariness.

I haven't always felt this way - there was a time in my 30s when I felt the pull of Botox. And, these days, I do have moments of horror when I spot a stray grey in the mirror. Yes, we're all afraid of looking less perky than we did in our prime, but rather than face the fact that we do age many of us are slipping under the surgeon's knife. In their book Face It, two models-turned-psychotherapists discuss this issue, acknowledging that it's OK to feel dread about ageing, but encouraging women to discover what's driving them to daydream about a face-lift rather than scheduling one.

There is a thin line (let's not call them wrinkles, please) between looking good and looking younger. Take Demi Moore... time seems to have stood still for the beluga of cougars in the last 20 years - much like her acting career... some people aren't content with dipping their toe in the fountain in youth and end up drowning in it.

Why waste precious time trying to recapture your youth? Youth was great, but it is no more. There's nothing sadder than a person trying to look younger than they are. The (still pert, thank you very much) bottom line is that I actually enjoy being a 39-year-old more than I did a 29-year-old. The only injections I've had are confidence, self-acceptance and wisdom - and all of that comes for free, with age.

What you say: Facebook fan feedback

"Growing old gracefully is an art form. If you go for the needle or scalpel, then the trick is to know when to stop. It's about making the best of what you have."
– Aquarius fan Tasha Ford

"There's nothing wrong with wanting to look better as long as we don't dress as if we're in our 20s when we're in our 40s."
– Aquarius fan Dana Radi

"Grow old gracefully, but never allow your heart to grow old."
– Aquarius fan Michelle Wes

"If there are imperfections that bother you, then aesthetic surgery can certainly make you feel much more confident."
– Aquarius fan Patricia Mouzinho

"There is nothing wrong with wanting to look better."
– Aquarius fan Javeria Khalil

Next month's debate

Are you a better mother if you stay at home?

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By Kate Birch and Louisa Wilkins, Aquarius

By Kate Birch and Louisa Wilkins, Aquarius

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