This must be how Barbie felt when she entered the Mattel headquarters
“Never ask a woman her age” is a lesson I learned early on. The statement is often said with a lighthearted feeling and a little laughter on the side, so I never thought much of it. My young mind would think that it is just for ladies—who little me would someday grow up to be—who wanted to appear more youthful and relatable. But growing up, more and more important women in my life would constantly sulk about getting old and reminisce how beautiful they looked when they were younger. Using selfies from 10 years ago as their current profile pictures would eventually be their norm. So-called anti-aging products would frequent their wish lists, along with the wish to be courageous enough to embrace themselves.
My eyes have been opened to see that these actions aren’t really conscious choices. Instead, these represent a firm mindset taught to us by other people—getting old makes you less beautiful, attractive and desirable. The people who shove this idea down our throats are, unsurprisingly, not women. The ugly truth is, the beauty industry—which has women as their target consumers—is dominated by men. Aside from gender disparity in the said field, studies also reveal the hesitations of leaders to disclose their diversity situations (and that says a lot). Now, I can’t read skincare advertisements telling me to work on my acne marks and to avoid fine lines without hearing them in a male voice. This must be how Barbie felt when she entered the Mattel headquarters on her way to fix Barbieland and get rid of cellulite.
I turned 21 this year, and there are many things I’ve been told about this age. Taylor Swift said that it’s supposed to be fun, while the media told me that I should start using anti-aging products. I guess it’s true that when you hear something so often, you start to believe it. I’ve been a Swiftie since I was around eight, and yet I listened to the latter more than I listened to Taylor. If society was able to convince methat anti-aging is already a necessity at 21, I can only imagine how older women feel.
Conversations about beauty remain extremely gendered, even without anti-aging in the picture. From the need of our bodies to be hairless and of our skin to be flawless, to the plumping effect of lip gloss and the foundation shade ranges—these decisions and more are usually made under the male gaze, given that men are at the forefront of the industry. We are constantly handed changing definitions of beauty, and it’s so easy to get lost in it all.
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For centuries, we’ve been living under the direction of men without us even realizing. It’s always been “the younger, the better.” Increasing in age means decreasing in beauty; living life the way we want just feels so far away. We were taught that aging is a lifelong battle that we, as women, have to fight. But no matter how hard we try, we’ll never win. Regardless of how many procedures we undergo or how expensive our skincare routines are, we will age. And it’s time for everyone (emphasis on everyone) to accept that.
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The road to unlearning will not be smooth, but what matters is we start now. So go ahead and have your photos taken, update your profile pictures often and let everyone know your age. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Sure, there will be many voices telling you how you should look, act and feel, but the loudest should be your own.
No one can ever give a textbook definition of beauty. Maybe it’s true that its meaning is ever-changing, because beauty is you. Beauty is all of us, unique and different as we are. I hope you remember that in every smile line, there are moments of excessive joy and happiness. In every freckle lies memories of an endless summer. And when you see wrinkles forming on your skin, may you see a life well lived.
Words Kyla Villena
Art Macky Arquilla