I have always loved being a 4th of July baby — guaranteed fireworks! But with each passing year, I’m more aware of our cultural obsession with aging. Anti-aging, literally speaking, is synonymous with dying. My dad used to say when asked about getting older, “It beats the alternative.” I reflect on this topic today, both as a marketer and as one being marketed to, on the cusp of turning another year older.
Fearing death is natural. So is not being thrilled with a gray hair or a new line around your eyes. What’s different now than in the past is the sheer volume of products and industries that are literally banking on our collective fear of getting old.
The billion-dollar Beauty industry leads the pack with its lotions and potions, tonics, serums, oils, ‘injectables,’ and scads of surgeries that all carry with them promises of looking younger and regaining what you have most certainly lost. Women’s magazines peddle exaggerated before-and-after makeovers, and several times a year, the infamous “Beauty at Any Age” issue — which I remember not so long ago stopped at the 40’s…. Vanity is one thing (and it’s healthy to have some), but the way we market and are marketed to with beauty products plays less on our vanity and much more on a fear of getting old and irrelevant.
The Health & Wellness world is cashing in, as well. Vitamins and elixirs, IVs, diets, smoothies, fasts, workout plans and machines and gadgets — all of it practically guarantees you will stay exactly as you are, right now, if you just sign on! Truly healthy lifestyles that include eating well and exercising regularly are the only real “fountains of youth,” and should be embraced for making us look and feel good and for protecting the quality of our lives. But even good health won’t make you a year younger on your next birthday.
The Fashion industry also capitalizes on the body shame and loathing that can accompany getting older, especially for women. There are garments that hold you in here, or make you look more round there. Designs and styles meant to make you look and feel more like your younger self … or your younger daughter.
So what? All of those things make people feel better, so what’s the problem? To me, the problem is that there needs to be some grace and sensibility to the whole aging game and it needs to be reflected in the products, promises, and marketing of the things geared to the aging public. And right now, not only is a lot of the messaging off-key, there isn’t a lot of it geared toward the 50+ market, in the first place. There is a real opportunity to reframe the offerings and messages to ones that empower this incredible 50+ demographic, which accounts for 50% of all consumer expenditures and spends $3.2 trillion annually! https://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-bradbury/the-7-incredible-facts-about-boomers-spending_b_6815876.html
And along with better products and messages, we need to keep our own healthy perspective. I am lucky to have around me healthy, personal role models who bring grace to aging, starting with my beautiful mother, an octogenarian who takes incredible care of herself and is very young at heart. Same goes for my older friends, in their 60s and 70s, who are living exciting, healthy lives that honor growing older vs. disparaging it (you know who you are and thank you!).
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not giving up my gym membership, fancy eye creams, or vitamins. But I want to shift my focus away from what you lose as you age to what you gain — more wisdom, self-acceptance, and gratitude for what you have. I want products and services to appeal to the active, involved, healthy person I am and continue to be, and not to a 50-something relic who needs constant improvements!
Living past our youthful prime is a privilege. There must be a way to do it that isn’t full of fear and the rather ungrateful desire to anti-age.