How to stop worrying about Crows’ Feet and Smile Lines

Oh, the horrors of the passport photograph! No matter how I tried, in order to comply with the regulations, my photograph had to be brutally honest and that image didn’t look like ‘the me’ in my head. Now, I declare that I am perfectly at ease with my ageing face, unconcerned about the best anti-wrinkle cream, but the reality did make me think.

Mainly though, it made me wonder — what is it about the ageing face that bothers us so much? And why are we so concerned about wrinkles? Let’s face it (pun intended), most anti-ageing products and procedures are aimed at reducing, filling and smoothing lines and sagging.

My mother recently passed at the age of 90. On admission to hospital a few months back, she was outraged when a nurse asked her, politely, whether she had Botox or fillers because for a 90-year-old she had virtually no wrinkles. We did explain that she should probably take this as a kind of compliment, but she was very indignant.

I am not arguing a case for or against cosmetic procedures, it’s just that we really can’t control the effects of ageing and we can’t conceal them forever. In most cases, even with really good cosmetic enhancements, eventually, it shows and so you begin to look like someone who has had some ‘work’ done.

So, what’s this all about? In some cases, we celebrate ageing faces (Judi Dench and Helen Mirren are examples), yet others are hounded as they seem to defy natural ageing (Madonna, Kylie Minogue).

In some ways, we romanticise ageing faces and what they represent but at the same time, we don’t relate this to our possible future selves.

Stop obsessing about the best anti-wrinkle cream.

We have to acknowledge our obsession with appearance in this age of selfies and the constant stream of celebrity images and comments, but I grew up in a different time and although it feels strange to say it, I didn’t routinely wear makeup until my late twenties. Unlike some young women now, I certainly didn’t worry about the early appearance of wrinkles.

And while readily available cosmetic procedures are mainly about the face, there is much less you can do about the impact on other bodily parts, the neck, hands and so on. So, what are we trying to achieve? I might fill the lines on my face but there’s not much I can do about a bit of sagging on my thighs or upper arms.

So how should we deal with these changes or do we just accept it is something that comes naturally with age? Are we able to adjust and prioritise differently?

I look back at photos of my younger self and I can see the changes but I don’t feel that much different inside. Are young people today adjusting their physical appearance in ways that their future selves just will not be that worried about? Maybe attitudes will be different.

Some research in experimental philosophy suggests that the way we view our possible future selves influences our behaviour now. Professor Joshua Knobe poses this thought experiment:

“Imagine what things are going to be like in 30 years. In 30 years, there’s going to be a person around who you might normally think of as you — but that person is actually going to be really, really different from you in a lot of ways. Chances are, a lot of the values you have, a lot of the emotions, a lot of the beliefs, a lot of the goals are not going to be shared by that person. So, in some sense you might think that person is you, but is that person really you?”

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This suggests to me that what concerns a young person about their appearance now may not be something that their future self will necessarily be bothered about.

The Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön writes that nothing in life is static and indeed is ever-changing. It is our aversion to this impermanence that makes us cling to a fixed idea of who we are, perhaps physically and mentally. This may lead us to a dislike of our changing bodies as we age, and that we try in many ways to ‘fix’. But of course, we are mortal and maybe it is the constant reminder of this that we try to avoid when it could instead be encouraging us to make the most of life while it lasts.

Or are we simply responding to what we perceive as the social pressure to stay looking younger for as long as possible? This may explain the difference between when young women dye their hair shades of grey it is fashionable, but an older person feels the need to cover their naturally grey hair.

For many of us, concern about our outward appearance looms large throughout our lives and is generally the result of our ego-centricity.

We imagine people are thinking about us far more than they do, and this is because, in reality, we are all more focused on ourselves than on others. Acknowledging what has been called universal self-absorption is liberating; it means there’s no need to worry so much about what other people think because they’re mostly thinking about themselves.

This attitude is particularly empowering because it reinforces that we should just feel comfortable in our own skin, however that skin may look. We need not be concerned with the best anti-wrinkle cream.