It’s the morning of my 24th birthday. I should have woken up feeling excited by the prospects of celebration, gifts and attention. But instead, I’m overtaken by a sense of dread and I’d even go so far as to say disgust and shame. One year left to go before hitting the big two five and losing my young person status. No more young person’s railcard, graduate bank account or ability to tick the 18-24 year old box on random surveys where I could indicate that my views belonged to someone who was barely an adult. I was soon to be an OAP and declared that next year on my birthday and every subsequent anniversary thereafter, I was going to have to lie about my age.
Ridiculous, I know. But it wasn’t just about the concessions if at all. It was more the embarrassment that I hadn’t achieved what I would have expected to by now in my professional or personal life. No promotion, no house, no man, and with that no babies in the near future either. Was I alone in these sentiments I wondered, or was it systemic, the result of the endless, pervasive messaging women receive that we can only succeed when we’re young and in what part is that societal expectation exacerbated by the fashion and beauty industries?
Working for some of fashion’s biggest designer brands, we’ve seen girls on the catwalk as young as 14 years old. Having children styled as grown women in desirable, luxury attire is inherently dangerous for both parties involved. Pre-teens are over-sexualised, fetishised and their innocence removed. Adult women are aspiring to a pre-pubescent physique. The glamour and pursuit of a child’s figure can induce anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders which are the enemies of self-esteem – I should know.
It’s been a decade since the British Fashion Council and its US counterpart, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, introduced guidelines against the use of models under the age of 16 for runway shows. More recently, Vogue magazine, all 21 international versions, similarly made a pledge that girls (and boys) that fall in that same age category would no longer appear on their pages either. There’s a strong argument that forming legislation to promote more of this genre of initiative would go some way in changing society’s understanding of what’s beautiful and desire to emulate child-like characteristics. But whether I’ll really feel any better about ageing, body image and size, knowing its presentation by my favourite brands has been mandated is dubious. Tell me I’m beautiful and mean it.
When clothes do me wrong, leisurely browsing through the beauty hall of department stores remains for me a much loved shopping experience. I take huge pleasure in jumping from brand to brand, testing new eye-shadow colours on the back of my hand, experimenting with different shades of red and pink lipsticks, or in discovering a great, new primer. But with skincare, I tend to fall back on my key, three products, a Clearasil face wash, Simple make up wipes, and a cheap and cheerful moisturiser by Olay. Yet everyday, more creams and serums and cleansers and scrubs are appearing on the market with the promise of tightening skin, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, and brightening dark spots for a radiant and youthful glow. And there I stood starting to get distracted.
Sales Assistants are instructed to target even women in their early twenties to buy anti-ageing products. My first experience was at 21 with a woman offering me what was initially unsolicited counsel. The pretext was that prevention was better than cure and that the traditional, old school advice to just eat well, avoid smoking and use sun protection was no longer enough if I wanted to stay looking young.
The more extreme measures such as cosmetic surgery and ‘non-invasive’ treatments, Botox and fillers, have been popularised by twenty-something celebrities in reality TV. The cast of TOWIE, Geordie Shore and Made in Chelsea are certainly no strangers to the needle and their choices have phenomenal influence over a young audience perpetuating the fear in viewers like me of the horrors of growing older. These types of procedures for reality TV stars often lead to fashion lines, make-up ranges and highly compensated social media endorsement deals, ironically for well-being associated goods. But what about the rest of us? I’m still yearning for my career dreams, to move out the family home, yet can’t stop spending big for beauty as my bank balance figure plummets further into the red.
So what can be done to reduce the pressure and debt and the burden of feeling like I’m past it? And to what extent is it fashion and beauty’s fault? To tackle my growing age anxiety, I’m pushing my hardest to learn to embrace it (supposedly with age comes wisdom, confidence and self-assurance), to find good examples (Bethann Hardison, Salma Hayek and Rachel Weisz are my top picks), and to think about the positives, stop worrying about the future and appreciate all I have here, which is when I take a step back, pretty sweet right now.