Do women choose the fear of aging over health?

Photo via We Heart It
Every night at five o'clock I watch the news. I like to believe that I'm staying current with world events, or keeping an eye out for potential weather disasters, or even following local community news. Truthfully, I'm most interested in those salacious stories that come at the end of the newscast. You know - the ones which are solely focused on the seemingly innocent things in our environment that could kill us. Last night, for example, my local news screeched the terrifying prospect of coma and death if I didn't clean out my medicine cabinet. Eating microwave popcorn could KILL ME, it warned. Drinking too much water? Get ready for kidney failure, impaired breathing and ZOMG brain swelling. Even the simple act of packing my kids lunchboxes in the morning is fraught with danger.It's enough to make one consider a life spent breathing in purified oxygen in a plastic bubble tent, because WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE TERROR IN THE STREETS START STOCKPILING ANTIBIOTICS RIGHT NOW OR ELSE AAAARRRGGHHHH!

I suppose we all do things, wittingly or not, that could potentially harm us. Whether it's eating french fries, smoking, tanning, riding a bike without a helmet or keeping cosmetics past their recommended usage date, we take chances and court risks. We know that smoking and leading a sedentary lifestyle are bad for us. And yet there we are, lying out in the sun and couch surfing to our heart's content.

Last week, there was a delightful little read over at the Huffington Post which warned that the mere act of having good hair could kill you. Wha? Surgeon general Regina M. Benjamin recently warned attendees of the Bronner Bros. International Hair Show in Atlanta, Georgia that women who skip exercising in order to protect their hairstyles should focus more on their health. "Oftentimes you get women saying, 'I can't exercise today because I don't want to sweat my hair back or get my hair wet,' said Dr. Benjamin. "When you're starting to exercise, you look for reasons not to, and sometimes the hair is one of those reasons."

Multiple studies have shown that women focus more on their looks than they do on their health. A survey conducted last year by East Tennessee State University found that women are more likely to buy products that ward off "age spots" than skin cancer. According to Sociological Images, the study at East Tennessee State University found that "if you want to get women to stop using tanning beds, warning them about the risk of skin cancer isn’t nearly as effective as warning them about the risk of age spots and other forms of damage to their appearance." And a recent report shows that women spend way more on beauty products than health care: $540 a month on hair products, make-up, and fake tanners, compared to $360 on their physical well-being.

Although a healthcare spokesperson told, "So many of us are guilty of taking shortcuts to ensure we look good - often at the expense of our health" However, I believe the message behind these studies has much more to do with vanity and the fear of aging than a lack of concern over our health. Women purchase products such as anti-wrinkle cream, anti-cellulite lotions and cosmetics to look younger and feel more confident. And that's exactly the way these products are marketed. Advertisements crow that you can "Erase the years" and "Look ten years younger!" rather than point to the ways products prevent illness. The message is that we need these products to beautify ourselves, not to be healthier. For example, while Oil of Olay's Total Effects Daily Moisturizer contains an SPF 15 (presumably to prevent skin cancer) it is marketed on the Olay website that it "moisturizes to create visibly younger-looking skin and fight 7 signs of aging." Sure, the SPF is there to protect against sun damage...which is terrifying because it leads to "premature visible skin aging."

We live in an era in which there is a fascination with youth. Women around the world seem to worry about aging more than men do, according to the 2010 Bupa Health Pulse, a 12-country survey by the British health care company Bupa. Let's see . . . wrinkles. Saggy breasts. Gray hair. Permanent post-baby belly. Dry skin. Weight gain. Each change brought by time and gravity renders most women a bit more invisible in a culture that prizes youth. Enter the booms in plastic surgery, laser skin resurfacing, and "anti-aging" cosmetics.

And as women pass middle age, the pressure to look youthful doesn't end. Fear about appearance persists right into the 70s and 80s - when women add hearing aids, walkers, canes, and stooped posture to the dreaded "visible markers of being old," says geriatrician Laurie Jacobs, director of the Jack and Pearl Resnick Gerontology Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. "Women are always, unfortunately, more concerned about whether they appear old," she says. "Your sense of appearance is associated with your functional status."

So now I ask you: Do you buy more products with the purpose of maintaining health or are you more concerned with delaying the effects of aging? How do you feel about getting older? Have you begun worrying about the effects time will have on your appearance? What do you think of the studies which suggest that women are more focused on looks than on health?

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  1. I had a good laugh over the hair vs. exercise part. I sacrifice my hair all the time for exercise and have spent virtually the whole summer with hair scooped back in a ponytail or banana clip. I've had to work hard this year to stop believing my worth is in my appearance and have stopped wearing make-up daily and sacrificed my hairstyle as mentioned. I am also doing my best to accept my smile lines and grow older without any cosmetic enhancement. Of course women fear aging more than men. We are indundated with images that say only flawless youthful skin and hair is beautiful while images of men are often grey-haired and wrinkled and that is "sophisticated" and "distinguished". It's nearly impossible to feel beautiful as a woman since the images that surround us are so unattainable. But we keep trying. And the billion dollar beauty industry loves us for it.

  2. I am aware of all the commercials that surround me. I try to keep my mind on the health. Trends change from year to year, and I don't have either money nore will to follow them.
    I buy waht I think it is necessasry and what I like.
    Everything can be lethal: cosmetics, food, air, water..luckily, our bodies can deal with most of the stuff we take.

  3. I definitely spend more on beauty than health, but I think my DDF sunscreen at least counts for both. My style icon for aging well is Lauren Hutton and I hope I can be like her when I'm a few decades older!


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