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Ageing Etiquette - has it become the latest victim of toxic positivity?

Updated: May 3

Now in my 4th decade, ‘ageing etiquette’ seems to have evolved into new-found relevance.

I often find myself thinking and talking about this topic, and with a level of investment (maybe part panic) that I would never have predicted of myself.

It’s one of those things, I guess, that you assume will never apply to you… until it does.

Until those first fine lines appear, and the finitude of youth is suddenly not so much an abstract idea, but a stark staring-you-in-the-face-reality.

Over dinner one evening, a friend and I were having a bit of a ‘how did this even happen?!’ moment, and discussing how duped we were feeling, by the sheer sneakiness of time!

As a light-hearted aside, we pondered what solution there might be - if any - to navigating these years with one’s confidence not just intact… but maybe even bolstered!

After taking to Google, it appears there is certainly no shortage of advice on this subject.

Much of it, to my disappointment however, was far too rooted in cliché, and sugar-coated in more sentiments of ‘loving the skin you’re in’ and ‘taking back your power’ than I could stomach.

I’m not really sure what it was I was hoping for, but one thing I DID know, is that toxic positivity wasn’t it!

As the weeks passed by, I continued afoot with my quest for a more logical, palatable blueprint to feeling better about looking (and being!) older.

I wanted a motto that straddled the un-tapped middle ground between ‘pro-ageing’ and ‘age-acceptance’ (since I didn’t feel particularly 'pro', or 'accepting'…yet!) and which acknowledged and validated the mixed and contradictory feelings which seemed to prevail with advancing age.

My biggest hope, is that it would sense-make the paradox of wanting to be 25 again, but at the same time, not wanting to be 25.

Of mourning the ease of being in young skin, but acknowledging that this wasn’t necessarily the magic pill for confidence, that nostalgia might be trying to convince me it was.

Quite often, I fall into the trap of putting my 27 year old aesthetic on a pedestal, even though all the evidence (in photo albums, and memories) points to this being an awkward, angsty time almost akin to the teenage years!

The lines back then were negligible, but the negative self talk was rife!

The peroxide-blonde hair and mis-matched clothes were cringe, and yet still - THIS has become my benchmark.

Why? It begs the question!

The only explanation I can deduce, is that there is a strong tendency among women, especially, to rose-tint the physicalities of our yesteryears, and use them as a stick with which to beat our present day selves.

Recognising this somewhat destructive trait is important, I feel, as it might *might* be part of the solution to building a healthier emotional response to ageing.

The reason? It would allow us to be more objective about what we see in the mirror TODAY, and recognise when ageing has actually been advantageous... whether physically (the realisation that less better!) or emotionally (the dwindling care for what others think!)

It would allow us to see that it is more than possible for beauty to flourish not just in spite of the years, but actually because of them!

If I had to give a name to this bigger-picture perspective, it might be ‘age ease’ - for this suggests that while I’m not particularly enamoured with some of what is being lost, I can concede - perhaps slightly grudgingly- that it is the price you pay for what is gained in the process.

'Age Ease' is concerned with making these natural feelings less severe, but not eliminating them entirely.

It goes without saying, that all this is underpinned by the acknowledgement that ageing is privilege denied to many, because the only alternative, of course, is to die young!

That said, there is still a certain grieving process involved in witnessing a continually evolving and changing reflection, which not even gratitude for the gift of being alive, can ever fully soften the blow of.

Time and space should therefore be permitted for this, but maybe only to a point.

After this point, cosmetic nit-picking (whether internalised or verbalised) only feeds into the narrative which says that looks are important, whilst detracting attention from the real confidence-cornerstones, which include (but are not limited to) the following:




Goals and ambitions

Emotional development

In other words, all the things that build ‘substance.’

One other thing that 'age ease' might teach its advocates, is that we are all our own worst critics. Seeing and noticing ‘flaws’ which are rarely evident - let alone important - to anyone else.

On this point, my friend and I discussed whether 'life modelling' might be a useful antidote to the way we view our now-40-year-old bodies. Could it be a way of changing the lens of self perception, for the better?

It was a loosely-suggested, never-likely-to-ever-happen proposal, but the logic was that there is no doubt a power within the 'artist’s impression', to shed light on beauty in all its features and forms.

On a more day-to-day level, I settled on skewing my mental diet towards visuals and narratives which feed this idea of anti-aesthetic beauty.

Part of this involved screenshotting social media posts that I found useful, and audios which niched down on the principles outlined above. Principles which I’m utterly convinced are integral to feeling happy, fulfilled and forward-thinking at forty.

The celebrities who seemed most to embody this ethos of 'age ease' were Helen Mirren, Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Elizabeth Taylor, Gillian Anderson, Cameron Diaz, Jodie Foster, Andie Macdowell, Pamela Anderson and Julia Roberts, to name but a few.

Each of these women has articulated, at some point, and in some form, their belief in 'age as an asset' and the self-esteem risks of having youth as THE modern day beauty standard.

The more I began to consume their content, the more I began to find the beauty influencers and the ‘serum mums’, with their baby skin and brushed-up brows, more than a little grating.

Yes, on some level I’m maybe a teensy bit jealous of those who can purport to not having the pillow creases on their face in the morning. However, experience has taught me that smooth skin and confidence are not inextricably linked, and that chasing this aesthetic in no way offers a return ticket to '2009 me', nor should I want it to.

Granted, my evidence for these musings is purely anecdotal, with the only supporting evidence resting in my own, ever-softening response to those ever-deepening frown lines (or 'WTF lines'... as they are also so-called.)

I read an article somewhere which coined this as a potentially more fitting label for the modern age, especially given the strong interplay between expletive-warranting moments... and serious bouts of brow furrowing!!

Admittedly, the 're-framing' work is taking some time, and there is no doubt I do miss the reflection of my shiny, ten-years-ago self.

However, the process has its pros!

It's strong-armed me into better skincare habits (no more slapping on Johnson's baby lotion before bed!) and - like Pamela Anderson - it's stopped me outsourcing my confidence to make up, since nowadays, make-up has a funny habit of seeming to ADD years when it's applied even marginally more than minimally!

This, in itself, has been liberating, and has aggregate gains for confidence that I'm slowly coming to appreciate. Not in a way that is putting me under any illusion, that the 19 year old apprentince at the hairdressers doesn't think I'm positively ancient (as I would have almost certainly thought, at her age!)

What I'm hoping it WILL do, however, is see to it that those 'how did this even happen?!’ moments with friends are no longer couched in horror, but instead intonated with something closely resembling... awe!

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