The Anti-Aging Grift
How a noxious beauty industry preys on Millennials
A baby-faced Joe Jonas, of Jonas Brothers fame, gazes into the camera and asks, “Who wants to wake up looking like someone else?”
Not me, he says. The 33-year-old heartthrob goes on to explain that he uses the “smart-toxin” Xeomin (Botox by another name) to “keep looking like me.” h/t
This is a toxic message: once you notice even the faintest of lines on your face, you no longer look like yourself. (Who do you look like?) In Jonas’s case, his “real self” looks like a twenty something. His neurotoxin-free face looks like “someone else,” and he’s pretty sure this message will resonate with people his age seeing this bizarre advertisement.
To be clear, I am not anti-Botox, though I’ve become conflicted about it. But I’ve used it. The difference is that the first time I tried it, I was 46. Yet, I know many thirty-somethings who regularly shell out hundreds of dollars to erase phantom face lines and because they’ve swallowed the Anti-Aging Industrial Complex’s medically unsupported claims that Botox “prevents” wrinkles and lines from ever forming.
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But Jonas’s advertisement is the natural conclusion of the poisonous environment in which Millennials grew up. As a massive generation that came of age mostly online and as capitalism spiraled out of control, Millennials were taught, at least implicitly, that they were commodities. The “personal brand” was born. They learned that their “product” must be kept fresh, lest they be replaced.
It’s probably not a coincidence that a 33-year-old Millennial is hawking a wrinkle-erasing injectable to people with mostly smooth faces at the same time the people who sell stuff have moved on to the next shiny object: Gen Z. Suddenly, Millennials are not the center of attention, and it probably makes them feel they are being phased out just as the new, upgraded product arrives on the shelves.
Incredibly, many of these Millennials refer to themselves as “old” and “middle aged” in their mid-30s. From a pure actuarial standpoint, this is odd, given that the average life expectancy in the U.S. is 80. Setting that aside, middle age is more a phase of life and state of mind than anything else, and from where I’m sitting few of these people are remotely in that category, nor should they be.
By the time Millennials hit 40 many see themselves as practically geriatic. It probably doesn’t help that some sadistic marketer decided to label people currently in their late 30s and early 40s, “elder Millennials.” A 40-year-old friend recently confided in me that he worried he was “past his prime.” As a woman who has found her 50s to be the best years of her life, I had to suppress a laugh. His fear seemed so obviously ridiculous to me.
But it’s actually not a laughing matter.
With Millennials, there is a strange paradox: they can articulate how soul crushing American capitalism has become in a way most older people can’t, while continuing to unconsciously act out of an internalized message that they are a product approaching its expiration date, and the only way to stay “relevant” or in demand is to stay looking young.
This is a hard way to live.
Even those Millennials who don’t think they are old are completely unaware of how much of life they (hopefully) have ahead of them. They are suffering needlessly and serving as sitting ducks to a rapacious anti-aging industry that balks at complaints they are misogynist because they’ve become equal opportunity vultures—after all, they’ve got men like Joe Jonas selling their inspired-by-the-patriarchy merchandise.
A Millennial-focused newsletter, Gloria, says it’s for “women who aren't yet old, but aren't still young.” This will not age well. The oldest Millennial in 2023 is 42. When these writers and their audience hit 50 they will look back and realize that they were, in the grand scheme of life, indeed very much “young.” They will regret the time they spent fretting about aging and wonder what they were even thinking.
Look, I understand getting angsty about hitting age milestones. I still roll my eyes when I think of my meltdown over turning 30. But even then, I never thought I was “old,” and when I unenthusiastically turned 40, I did not think I was “middle aged.” Nor did any other Gen Xer I knew. Now in my 50’s, I don’t feel old or young.
But I also belong to the last generation to have grown up before the Internet was invented. The first time I was online, I was a 30-year-old using AOL dial-up to connect. I was able to develop throughout childhood without being inundated with the hyper-consumerist garbage that saturated your average Millennial child’s life and was blessedly spared the experience of social media, which has a way of making nearly everyone feel like a commodity in need of an upgrade, until I was well into adulthood.
Still, I didn’t escape the youth culture obsession. When I was in my twenties and thirties I dreaded getting older, only to find out that it’s not only preferable to the alternative, but for me, it’s vastly better than being young. I worry less, I feel more confident, I know what is important to me, and I feel a sense of ease in the world that eluded me in my younger years. I have wisdom, which is very different from knowledge, and can only be gained by racking up the years. I also know to not waste any time feeling “old” because when I’m 70 I’ll look back at my 50-year-old self as a mere child.
Like “middle age,” “old” is also a state of mind. My friend Frances Mayes, who published her first novel, the megaseller Under The Tuscan Sun (when she was 57) is in her 80s and is living her best life. She has more energy than I do, is always making new friends, having fabulous dinner parties, heading out on new adventures—and just published yet another New York Times bestselling book. No sane person would refer to this force of nature as “old.”
At the same time, if you think of yourself as “old” in your 50’s (or younger), then you probably will be. After all, the Golden Girls’ dowdy grandmotherly characters were in their fifties. When the beloved sitcom premiered, Rose, Blanche and Dorothy were the same age as Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda in the recent “Sex and the City” reboot, “And Just Like That.”
Let’s face it: All the obsessing over age benefits only one group of people: the people who make money off our fears and insecurities. They are selling the elixir of youth as a solution to a “problem” they invented. Don’t buy it.