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The rise of age anxiety – are you a sufferer?

How do you really feel about getting older? We reveal the age group that feels the most comfortable about this natural process

Aesthetic procedures are on the up, from non-surgical tweakments like anti-wrinkle injections and dermal filler to breast augmentation, rhinoplasty and liposuction. In 2018, 40 per cent of UK adults were considering having an aesthetic procedure, according to a survey by RealSelf. We are outstripping the US in our appetite for aesthetic treatments, with millennials driving the trend.

Increased awareness and affordability are behind some of this rise. People now have better access to treatments that help them to look better and boost their confidence, but is there a darker side to our changing attitudes towards the subject of ageing?

Aesthetic experts and mental health practitioners alike are raising concerns about increasing requests to be completely wrinkle-free. Is the rhetoric around ‘anti-ageing’ starting to make us feel that ageing itself is a bad thing?  

According to research by the Centre for Ageing Better in July this year, being old isn’t actually as bad as younger people fear. Where 17 per cent of 18-34 year-olds feel negatively about ageing and two in five people associate older age with frailty, vulnerability and dependency, less than a third of over 70's view it that way, with the majority positive about ageing.

Part of the problem lies in the issue of visibility and invisibility, according to Counsellor Zena Nicholas. “Thanks to the pandemic, we have been indoors more than ever,” she says.

Our impression of what people ‘should’ look like across all age groups is being moulded by the people we see on Instagram and reality TV shows. These days, even mothers in movies are played by youthful looking actors like Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Lopez. What impact does it have on us, if these are the people most visible to us day to day?

“Add to this the impact of being unable to spend time with older family members and the fact that older people are often separated from society, tucked out of view in care homes. Older looking people are invisible and that is not something we ourselves want to be. To me, this all points towards a fear of being old. We are in the midst of an age of age anxiety."

Nicolas believes aesthetic treatments have a valuable place in helping people feel better and more confident in their skin. She notes that it becomes an issue when people are increasingly preoccupied with deleting any signs of age – particularly women and sometimes women younger than 20. "Much like an addiction or eating disorder, it becomes a concern when erasing age becomes an all-consuming preoccupation, to the detriment of a person’s wellbeing.”  

Aesthetic Nurse, injectables trainer and Etre Vous Expert, Deborah Forsythe, has observed this change in mindset. “There has been a shift in conversation about appearance. Where previously we wanted to look and feel fresher, now many people talk with disgust about their body’s natural ageing process,” says Forsythe. “People want to get rid of the areas they don’t like and to seemingly eliminate age altogether, to the point it no longer matters whether they look good or natural as long as they don’t look old.”

Forsythe has more than 24 years of expertise in this area and is acutely aware of the impact of age-anxiety on our physical and mental health. On a mission to educate colleagues and clients alike in order to support people to make better, more holistic choices when it comes to aesthetic interventions, this autumn she will be delivering courses to help train aesthetic practitioners in the specific treatment needs of ageing faces and older bodies.  

“Mother nature is doing her thing to protect our bodies from conditions such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular and cognitive decline,” says Forsythe. “Fighting against the hormonal changes that come with ageing comes at a cost to our long-term health and appearance, and it simply doesn’t work. Instead, we need to be learning how to work with and control these changes.

“A daily diet of filtered Instagrammers and Love Island celebs is creating a pressure for everyone – young and older – to look as uniform as a Stepford Wife. By equipping people with an understanding of the ageing body, we are not only helping older people to look their best and stay healthy, but we demonstrate to younger people that there is nothing to fear in individual beauty and looking like you at your best as you mature.”

Aesthetic Doctor and Etre Vous Expert Nestor Demosthenous agrees that the aesthetics industry can play an important role in guiding clients towards healthy, achievable goals. “Clients look to me for my honest assessment and advice. I always explain that we have all already lost the anti-ageing battle. We all age, but we can win at ageing well.”

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