Lee Suckling: The disappointing beauty standards that have to go

OPINION:

Actress Jamie Lee Curtis hates the term “anti-ageing”. The 63-year-old is trying to live in acceptance of her looks and has opened up about rejecting the notion of “hiding things” with products such as concealers, body shapers, fillers, and so on.

I had a solid look at the personal care aisle of the supermarket before writing this, and overwhelmingly, skin products market themselves as capable of achieving one of two things. Either “anti-ageing” or “clear skin”.

I’m 30-odd years younger than Curtis, so I’ve only been experimenting with products claiming to be “anti-ageing” for a couple of years now. While I do believe that some beauty products have the preventative power of slowing aging down ever so slightly, anything that claims to reduce “fine lines and wrinkles” will do no such thing. The only tools, honestly, that will reduce the signs of aging that have already occurred are medical procedures – not something you can pick up at the chemist for under $40.

Now, the reason I’m not on the anti-ageing train like Curtis is because I do want to slow down the development of lines and creases before they turn to proper wrinkles. I’m also at that bloody wonderful stage in life where Botox is a consideration (I’ve done it a few times), but acne is still sometimes part of my life too.

Where I am on board with Curtis is removing these terms – anti-ageing and clear skin – from our expectations of the beauty industry altogether. Why? Because the constant bombardment of these words on the packaging has trained our brains to think they are the norm.

In reality, few people have blemish-free skin. We all get spots. Moreover, we will all age. Some at different rates than others, sure, but it is inevitable. Gravity will get us all and there’s nothing the beauty industry can offer to turn back time.

Yet we continually buy new products all the time when we see them on the shelves. We have a false sense of optimism that “maybe this one will work” when the last five products did nothing. A month or more goes by, we see zero change, and we spend more money trying yet another product that claims to incorporate the latest science in fighting ageing or acne.

In fact, I can’t tell you the times over the past 20 years that I’ve been buying skincare that I’ve purchased something with a simple hope: “this is the one!”. In fact, the only thing that has ever made visible changes are very basic and paired-back regimens prescribed specifically for me by a dermatologist.

According to Statista, the skincare industry is worth an estimated US$638.6 billion ($923.5 billion) globally in 2022. What’s more, this industry hasn’t just survived Covid, it has thrived during it, according to McKinsey. The global market is now worth around $100 billion more than pre-pandemic, with many experts claiming lockdowns and time at home with constant mirror access, the rise of self-care, and seeing yourself on Zoom all day have caused the boom.

Flawless, line- and pimple-free skin is a worldwide obsession. One driven by an almost trillion-dollar industry. This is unfair to all of us. The face is not a static entity that won’t change day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year. It is not realistic; it is not achievable for most. This ideal has created a destructive sense of optimism that the impossible can be achieved (and maintained).

Having put literally thousands of dollars of skincare on my face in my time, I’ll tell you what is possible with these beauty products. “Clear-ish” skin and maybe a tiny slowing of the development of lines on the face. Perfect is not possible – at least not for me, and not for more than a week or two when another problem issue comes up. A breakout. A crease or line I’ve never noticed before and thus am convinced is brand new. Irritation. Diet-related skin problems. Stress-related skin problems. Weather-related skin problems! It’s an endless, ultimately losing, battle.

Yet I’m not going to stop buying beauty products, and neither are you. At any given time, we all put on our faces what we believe is best. Also, in my experience, what worked somewhat three months or two years ago might just stop working today and you’ll need to try something new.

So, here is my plea. Do away with the concept that clear skin and anti-ageing is possible for you. Do not take seriously what’s marketed to you on any skincare packaging. It’s just fluff. Find products that give you clear-ish skin and pray to the gods that anything preventative might work as the years go by (although you’ll never know what you would look like otherwise). Don’t expect miracles. Don’t even get a deceptive sense of assurance with statistics on the back of boxes that say things like, “This per cent of users saw results in 2 weeks”. This stuff isn’t real; it’s all marketing.

Let’s all try to be a little more like Jamie Lee Curtis. Live in acceptance of the way we look. Anything else, I’m afraid, is only going to lead to disappointment and a much lighter pocket.

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