The Anti-Aging Obsession: Why Americans Refuse to Age Gracefully

In society today, youth is so highly valued that American adults spend an estimated $45 billion annually to “pass” as younger than they are.  Some use cosmetics, creams, and youthful clothing, while others turn to plastic surgery and hormonal therapy.

Age Discrimination

Older adults face stereotyping and discrimination on a regular basis.  Employment discrimination can be especially blatant towards candidates over the age of 40.  In the U.S., young adult applicants are 40% more likely to be invited for an interview than older yet equally qualified applicants.  Beyond the workplace, the self-esteem of older individuals suffers each time they are patronized, told they can’t participate in strenuous activities or made to feel as though they no longer contribute to society.  The stereotypes that old people are useless and of low intelligence can become self-fulfilling prophecies if aging individuals don’t make a point of breaking the stereotypes and low expectations.  For this reason, it is not surprising that so many Americans work hard to look and be perceived as younger than they actually are.

Anti-Aging Products

The most common approach used to mask someone’s real age is to dress in trendy fashions, despite their age-inappropriateness.  For example, older women are opting to wear micro-mini skirts and sheer tank tops, while adult men supplement their wardrobes with fitted t-shirts with quirky slogans screen printed across them.  This tactic is in no way subtle.

Cosmetics companies are also cashing in on the desirability of a youthful appearance.  Analysts expect to see new scientific formulas boost annual sales above $8 billion from 2012.  Other buzzwords when it comes to anti-aging include resveratrol, antioxidants, stem cells, and probiotics.  Americans are beginning to combine topical products like creams and lotions with foods and drinks that have been fortified with extra vitamins and minerals that promise to keep them looking and feeling young.

While cosmetic surgery has become seemingly mainstream over the last decade, with the economic recession, fewer and fewer Americans have the funds needed to go under the knife.  Instead, doctors are getting more requests for minimally invasive procedures like skin injections, botox, dermal peels, and wrinkle reduction.

The Drawbacks of trying to “look young”

A research team in the psychology department at the University of Kansas recently published their findings on the perceptions of anti-aging behavior.  More specifically, they investigated how young people feel about adults who actively try to conceal their age rather than acting their age.  While the adults who tried to pass as younger were perceived as slightly more attractive than those who did not, they were also considered less likable and more deceitful.  Overall, in an attempt to avoid prejudice or discrimination, older adults who try to “pass” as young adults may threaten the younger generation and, in turn, be evaluated negatively.

The experimental details can be found in Dr. Alexander Schoemann’s paper in the European Journal of Social Psychology. For more info, click here.



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