We have a bad habit as a society of setting up rigid, improbable beauty standards and then knocking people for trying too hard to live up to them. In a classic catch 22, the two biggest beauty messages women receive are to be thin, and to look as close to prepubescent as possible. But should we dare to admit that it takes effort to reach these goals, we’re labeled vain, silly and worse.
Researchers from the University of Toronto recently conducted a study looking at social perceptions of women who rely on a variety of anti-aging techniques, including Botox, facelifts and skin creams, and found the less a woman tried to interfere with aging naturally, the more positively her personality was viewed by the participants in the study. The more invasive the procedure, the more harshly a woman was judged (Botox users were seen as vain and ‘cold’).
You can see this same paradox raging everywhere. It’s okay to be overweight, but you should feel ashamed about it, lest you be accused of promoting obesity. It’s okay to be thin, but then you must always say things about your ‘fast metabolism’ or how much pasta you eat, lest people resent you or think you superficial. It’s okay to want to fight wrinkles, or enhance your breasts, or wax your eyebrows, but for god’s sake don’t tell anybody about it. It’s enough to make most women neurotic (some might say that’s the point, I guess); be beautiful—just don’t let anyone know you’ve put effort into it.
The good news from the University of Toronto study might be that our judgment about these things loosens its grip with age (and wisdom?) a little. The researchers studied two groups: One with an average age of 19, the other with an average age of 70. Both groups were asked to judge four categories of middle-aged women, ranging from 40-60 and from those who had no anti-aging treatments done to those who’d had cosmetic surgery. Regardless of age, the participants deemed Botox and face-lift users as ‘very vain.’ But the septuagenarian cohort was more understanding women in their 60s who got these procedures.
The researchers also looked briefly at men’s use of anti-aging procedures, and found “all appearance-enhancing behaviors may be unacceptable for men.”
In addition to making me want to go wrap all those snotty 19-year-olds on the head (just wait a few years, sweeties ….), this study just makes me sad. What’s that saying about hating the game, not the player? I think it’s totally possible to be against certain extreme or harmful beauty or fitness regimens without faulting the individuals who choose to go that route. What do you think?