Aging is a privilege denied to many.
I recently attended a lecture at the Science Festival. I originally booked to see Michael Mosly discuss this recent TV programme, and book, regarding using diet to reduce, or even prevent, the onset of type 2 diabetes. Then I saw another lecture being given at the same time, ‘Is Beauty Skin Deep?’ its subject was the effects of aging and its presenter was Dr Steven Shiel, who turns out to work for L’Oréal who sponsored this event. I decided to swop my ticket on the basis I haven’t got diabetes but I am definitely aging.
Of course we are all aging from the moment that sperm hits the egg and life begins. Factors like genes, our mother’s diet, their health, and the ability of whatever hardwires us causing cells to divide and form a foetus and then a baby, will determine what we look like. A great part of our probability of being considered attraction is therefore determined before we are even born.
As we enter the world we are already aging. Over the next fifteen years we will physically change; growing, developing skills, learning good (and bad) habits. When we hit puberty hormones kick in producing more body changes; acne, mood swings, skin problems, sweaty palms, breasts, dense hair in places where it was unnoticeable before. Physically we enter adulthood, even if the law still classifies us as children and most of us are in school.
Up to now we may have ignored our looks but now they become important. Dr Steven Shiel gave several survey results on the determination of attractiveness. These were mainly carried out in late 70s and early 80s so whilst results were interesting I do not know anything their data collection, other than one group was female and the other male. Personally I am always a bit wary of statistics, here the lack of nationality, age group, even sexual preference makes this a selective study. The results from this research indicated that men and women scored images of a woman’s attractiveness similarly, whereas there was no similar correlation between men’s scoring for other men’s attractiveness with the women group. More interesting was the survey where photos of women were taken during their ‘fertile’ stage and ‘non-fertile’ stage, here both men and woman judged ‘fertile’ women as more attractive. There were also shown of silhouettes of females dancing and again ‘fertile’ women were viewed as more attractive. In other words when our bodies are ripe for breeding we become more attractive. Unfortunately Dr Shiel did not elaborate on this. One point in body attractiveness that he did mention; women’s body attractiveness is based on the ratio between waist and hips and men’s on shoulder to waist. Hence, broad-shouldered heroes and heroines with tiny waists.
According to these results attractiveness is just about procreation. Theories based on our ‘stone-age’ survival instincts would argue that we want babies born to young, fit parents who will be around to provide them with a good start in life. In reality the world has rarely worked like that. Other factors have been important and beauty has been essential to women long before Cleopatra rolled out of a carpet at Caesar’s feet challenging the power of Rome with her beauty. In the western world, for many, beauty has been their passport for a better life. And not just Western culture, China’s only ruling Empress was originally a courtesan whose beauty attracted the aging Emperor. Other attributes were required for her to obtain power and keep it, but at least her beauty got her through the door of opportunity. Even now attractive people (of both genders) are statistically likely to have better jobs and be better paid. Many industries demand attractiveness either openly; modelling, acting, or covertly, Abercombie and Fitch sales assistants, plus many other customer face roles. Other professions may not require you to be attractive but it still opens doors that other, less attractive, candidates have to struggle with. By the way if you are tried for fraud, embezzlement or anything to do with conning people, it is better to dress down and leave off the make-up, attractive people get heavier sentences for these crimes. Conversely, for other crimes, they tend to get lighter ones.
Personally I think the peak of true attractiveness, for both men and women, is around thirty-five. Woman have lost that youthful bloom, which makes many girls pretty. Men, who are slower to develop than girls, have gained confidence, as well as broad-shoulders, and are often doing well in their career. That means from thirty-five onwards we’re all on a gradual decline, some more gradual than others. Hold that thought because I nearly forgot the ‘Sean Connery’ grossly unfair to women theory that men get better as they age. In 1989 People’s Magazine named Sean the ‘sexiest man alive’, he was 60. No doubt physically Sean was in better shape when he was 35, but male attractiveness is differently assessed to female. Most males can go on producing sperm to their last dying breath! Women have a time-clock ticking away that kicks in another hormonal change shutting down our ovaries making procreation impossible (medical intervention aside). If we look back at that early research indicating fertile woman were rated as more attractive the loss of this fertility occurs when many women report feeling ‘invisible’.
Most magazines tend to group beauty advice in age brackets, until recently the oldest was usually over 40, nowadays I have seen this extended to over 50s and even over 60s (if health advice is included limit can be over 70s due to availability of medical tests). The main change that impacts on our attractiveness is the menopause; this is sometimes divided into three stages; pre, during and post. Like our teenage changes it effects; mood, skin, hair, confidence, body shape, even our libido. Debates about the existence of male menopause continue, men do change as they age but they do not have this hormonal change women experience.
Over the next few blogs I want to look at these various aspects of aging and whether we can actually do anything to retain our attractiveness (whatever level it is). The l’Oreal talk mainly dealt with hair but many of us wondered about aging skin. We wanted to know what is happening to our bodies and whether there is anything we can do. As we stand in front of mirrors with our mother’s face looking back at us, we recognise the importance of genes. My mother used to say that if you want to know a woman’s age look at her neck and hands, ever wonder why Madonna wears gloves all the time. Hand cream and neck cream are just as important as moisturizing your face.
We can’t stop aging but maybe we can prevent looking old, without resorting to expensive, invasive surgery.