#BeautyHasNoAge – How Far Have We Really Come? by Inge Van Lotringen
‘Act you age’ is not something that ever occurred to me as something I ought to do. Looking back at my parents’ pre-boomer generation (the ‘silent generation’, they were – how self-effacing is that?), they grew up quite subjected to conformities of age. It seems like my mum had a few years in her twenties where she could travel by herself and ‘even’ work. But the moment she got married, convention dictated she gave up her job and assumed the grown-up role of ‘mother’ and ladylike wife. She and dad had a lovely life thank you very much, but they were from the last generation to not know a ‘youth culture’. As a result, the concept of being, and acting, only as old as you feel didn’t cross mum’s mind very often.
I, meanwhile, am of the generation (X) that drank the first alcopops – a fact that cemented, according to comedienne Angela Barnes, our arrested development. There was a keen sense we didn’t really have to grow up or settle down. That we could frankly act like teenagers for the rest of our lives, as if comfortably stuck in a John Hughes movie. Blessed with the last of the old-fashioned childhoods but anything-is-possible futures, we were at liberty to break convention and regard the world, and ourselves, with a healthy sense of irony. My dad may have envisaged a career as a glamorous ‘executive assistant’ for me when was little, but when he realised I would kick far, far more ass than that in my life, he couldn’t have been prouder. We grew up in control of our own destinies, thanks to parents who made sure we backed up our big dreams with a hardcore work ethic.
We also grew up when supermodels ruled the world. But while they were often criticised for peddling ‘impossible standards of beauty’, I and my friends just took them as healthy inspiration. Born-that-way works of art made flesh, self-made women, with brains and athleticism to aspire to. Their beauty was Amazonian, worlds away from the male gaze-focused porn aesthetic that’s been passing for ‘empowering’ for too many years now. The Supers weren’t ‘shaggable’ – they were intimidating, to men in particular. And that’s how we liked to see all our role models.
So Maleka’s rally cry, BeautyHasNoAge, is second nature to me and her. As it is, I’m convinced, to most women of our generation. We won’t cut our hair after the age of 40, won’t retire from society with the onset of menopause. We’ll use our children’s make-up and skincare and get lilac highlights. We are intimately acquainted with our features, our natural colouring, and our strong points. And we know how to bring them out in a way that suits us, not our age. It’s not so much the ‘signs of ageing’ we have a problem with – it’s looking tired and haggard we don’t like.
And there, we’ve been helped immeasurably by the generations that came after us (hello, Millennials and Gen Z). It was them, you see, who properly embraced the link between health and beauty. Where Boomers and Gen X do, I’m afraid, quite pride themselves on their many booze ‘n fags years (and are forever off-setting them with a battery of posh skincare and procedures) their offspring coined athleisure, wellness and pro-ageing. And they worship, at least on the face of it, at the altar of ‘beauty from the inside out.’ They also understand, like no generation did before them, that great skin is about health. And that great skincare, far from making you look ‘ten years younger’, ought to (and can) restore resilience and radiance, alongside offering effective protection from the elements. That way ageless skin truly lies: not as in skin that looks forever 21, but skin that has a youthful flush and glow at any age, never mind the lines or little age spots. It’s the major principle Merumaya was based on from the off.
But of course, traditions run deep and long-engrained thought patterns can dominate – so not everyone has the confidence to not let themselves be defined, or even defied, by their age. And that isn’t just true for the ‘older’ demographic. A generation of young social media natives is growing up absolutely terrified of the visible passing of the years, FaceTuning every imperfection before graduating to Botox and fillers in an attempt to optically freeze themselves in time. Neither state if mind is healthy or empowering – and healthy and empowered is what every woman (well, every human) deserves to be.
To them I say: don’t act your age – but don’t act your shoe size, either. Treat your skin, hair and body, inside and out, to the things that will make them stronger and more resilient. The health that results from that is one half of what true beauty is made of. Wear the colours that make you feel great – you have the natural instinct to know that those are also the most flattering for you. Take advice from real friends, but don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life or do your makeup. The confidence that comes from that is the other half of what constitutes true beauty.
And look around you: imagery, in the media and in advertising, has been transformed in the past decade. It’s true: the same milk-fed, baby faced aesthetic was practically all we were presented with for close to a century by the powers that be. But today, the public has forced inclusion of all creeds and colours, and in seeing them in all their glory we recognise their beauty. Today, beauty genuinely HasNoAge, it HasNoColour, and it HasNoDefinition. It’s a state of mind and a state of health, and it’s yours for the taking.
By Ingeborg van Lotringen
@theOGBeautyBoss has been a beauty journalist for nearly 25 years, 14 of which were spent s beauty director of Cosmopolitan.