The high costs of looking good as you age

An elderly woman pulls up her loosed skin as she looks at a mirror. Appearing to look better than others in your age group could be seen as a blessing or a very expensive curse.

Baby boomers often like to brag that they are aging better than their parents.  And they don't just mean healthier. They mean how they look. As I see it, this is both a blessing and a curse -- an expensive curse. As Nora Ephron once said: "There's a reason why 40, 50, and 60 don't look the way they used to and it's not because of… better living through exercise. It's because of hair dye."

And, I would add Botox, estrogen, Restylane, testosterone, hip and knee replacements, various nips, tucks and lifts. And that's the short list. The whole list adds up to about $88 billion -- the estimated sales each year for the anti-aging industry. The pressure to look youthful -- even if it means sacrificing all facial expressions -- is tremendous. I should know, I live in Los Angeles, where women sport lips that look like inflated bicycle tires and gravity never wins.

And judging by the covers of AARP magazine, which features senior citizens like Meryl Streep, the pressure to keep that youthful glow is pervasive. My first reaction on seeing that cover was "How about that Meryl streep is my age!" My second reaction was, "Oh my god, Meryl Streep is my age (and she looks that good)!"  The latest issue features 66-year-old Bette Midler with a face fairly sand-blasted into marble with the advice: "Everyone should exfoliate, every day."   

And women are now worrying about aging long before they actually do age -- at least from my reference point. A magazine called "More" is aimed at women in their 40s and 50s and one recent article touted the top 10 skin care items. If you only bought three of these tiny jars of hope -- restorative eye cream, dark circle corrector, and wrinkle-lifting cream -- it would set you back more than $200. And these are really, really tiny jars. I predict the next big product will be something that actually gets rid of that "turkey neck" look.  

Of course, we wouldn't have to obsess about our necks, or our faces, or anything else that's headed south if we cared less about looking younger and more about being healthier. Not to deprive the anti-aging industry its due, but the last time I checked, exercise was free.

About the author

Judy Muller is a professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

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