Language matters, and when we consider the words most commonly used to describe ageing, it couldn't be clearer that getting older is considered something to avoid at all costs (even though that would require a time machine). We're told to prevent and erase wrinkles; that someone looks good for her age and, of course, there's the ubiquitous phrase "anti-ageing", used by everyone from cosmetics companies to the media.
But the derogatory term could be phased out of the lexicon soon if the demands of a new report come into effect. The Royal Society for Public Health, Vision, Voice and Practice (RSPH) is calling on retailers including Boots and Superdrug and major beauty titles to ban the use of "anti-ageing" and instead focus on the positives of getting older.
The RSPH's research, "How attitudes to ageing affect our health and wellbeing", found that more than twice the proportion of women (49%) than men (23%) feel pressured to stay looking young, and it describes fears about ageing as gendered, with women feeling more pressure to stay ‘young’ for longer.
The explicit presumption that ageing is something undesirable and to be battled at every turn is as nonsensical as it is dangerous
"The narrative pushed by ‘anti-ageing’ terminology and products is one that pervades society and has relevance to us all," the report says. "All human beings – at all stages of life – are ageing in their own way, as a natural consequence of being alive. Hence, the explicit presumption that ageing is something undesirable and to be battled at every turn is as nonsensical as it is dangerous. To be ‘anti-ageing’ makes no more sense than being ‘anti-life’."
The charity is urging major outlets such as Boots and Superdrug and beauty magazines to stop using the term, and "to re-focus their ageing narrative on opportunities to be embraced rather than processes to be resisted".
It's calling on them to follow in the footsteps of Allure magazine, which announced last year that it would no longer be using the term "anti-ageing". "No one is suggesting giving up retinol," the publication said. "But changing the way we think about ageing starts with changing the way we talk about ageing."
Such language, when used by the beauty and cosmetics industries, reinforces ageist attitudes, the report said. "We’re all ageing. Yet ageism is the most commonly experienced form of prejudice and discrimination, both in the UK and across Europe. Other forms of discrimination, such as racism and sexism, are rightly regarded as unacceptable, yet ageist assumptions and attitudes often go unchallenged."
Terms like "anti-ageing" are likely why millennials have been shown to have the most negative perceptions of growing old. A quarter of 18-34-year-olds believe being unhappy and depressed is a normal part of old age, while a similar proportion (24%) think "older people can never really be thought of as attractive," the RSPH also found.
Studies have shown there's actually a lot for us to look forward to as we mature. Research last year on women aged between 45 and 65 found that more than half (56%) were more body-confident than they used to be, while a fifth said their sex life was better than in their younger years, and almost a third (31%) had embarked on a career change in their 40s or 50s.
Judging by the increasing prevalence of older women in fashion campaigns and the growth of style blogs catering to this demographic, many women also see older age an an opportunity to make bolder fashion choices and embrace a new personal style. See? There's a lot to look forward to.