Model/actress Lauren Hutton attends the Calvin Klein show at New York Fashion Week on February 10, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Angela Weiss

And so it’s goodbye to the words “anti-ageing” and not a moment too soon. For years the term was an essential tagline on magazine cover-lines. But not any more. Numerous titles, from beauty bible Allure to Elle have declared a war on the words. Banning them from Allure’s pages was, explains editor in chief Michelle Lee, the first step towards changing the conversation around how we look as we get older. As she explains: the term “anti-ageing” reinforces “the message that ageing is a condition we need to battle”.

In this new dawn of diversity, the words seem negative and old-fashioned. As if further proof were needed, not one but three Steven Klein portraits of Lauren Hutton graced Vogue Italia’s “timeless” issue last month, each showing the 73-year-old actress looking sexy, dignified and happy. According to the magazine’s editor, Emanuele Farneti, the timeless issue isn’t about whether old age is having a fashion moment — it’s about being inclusive: “It relates to gender, ethnicity and religion, and it is also true for age — no one feels excluded.”

The feminist author Naomi Wolf first called out anti-ageing advertisements as insult-ridden in The Beauty Myth, in 1991. But the recent focus on inclusivism has seen the language of the industry come into sharper focus. It’s no longer acceptable to stereotype women according to ethnicity, gender or age. Older women won’t buy products that make them feel they’re being patronised, or no longer represent their sensibilities. And unlike their younger counterparts, they don’t shout about it on social media — they speak with their wallets.

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 14: Lauren Hutton outside Gabriela Hearst  on February 14, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Christian Vierig/Getty Images)
© Getty

In three years’ time, the over 50s will make up 50 per cent of the UK population and control almost 80 per cent of its wealth according to the Office for National Statistics. Yet sales in the highly competitive anti-ageing and facial skincare market have been dipping, according to Mintel, part of a trend that has seen a five-year decline in sales and a shrinking market share.

The anti-ageing phenomenon has become the industry’s biggest paradox. In principle, we still want products that promise a dewy complexion, and youthful-looking skin but we don’t want to be stigmatised. A recent survey by SWNS Digital of 1,800 women aged between 50 and 70, revealed they were willing to spend on average £1,783 a year on looking glamorous. But nowadays, when we hunt for a moisturiser, we are just as likely to buy something that will help with pigmentation, protect us from pollution, or deal with the effects of stress, as we are to buy a cream that promises, in rather banal terms, to make us look “10 years younger”. An older woman, who, let’s face it, was probably already using anti-ageing creams in her twenties, is more informed about products and ingredients. She researches cosmetics online. Many will have considered “non-invasive cosmetic procedures” such as Botox or filler.

“The reason the term anti-ageing is starting to feel antiquated is that it refers to an unspoken inference that a woman’s worth is in her looks, which ultimately have an expiry date. Not very modern,” says Alexia Inge, co-founder and co-chief executive of beauty etailer Cult Beauty. “The way to be modern and relevant is to completely overhaul the way one positions products, the stories we tell around a brand, and the imagery we use to illustrate everything”.

“You cannot fight ageing — but you can improve the side-effects of ageing and look your best at 40, 50, 60, 70,” agrees former L’Oréal and Lancôme president Sue Y Nabi who launched her skincare brand Orveda this year. “Labelling a product as ‘anti-ageing’ is not only dated and sexist, it’s unrealistic.” Nabi prefers to use words such as “glow”, “luminosity”, “light” and “healing” in her literature, holistic terms that reflect Orveda’s philosophy of working “with the skin not against it.”

Besides, look at a group of women in any given social setting today, and it’s increasingly hard to pinpoint their ages anyway. “Anti-ageing has become a meaningless umbrella term,” says Anna-Marie Solowij, co-founder of BeautyMart, who with co-founder Millie Kendall has just been hired by QVC to present a beauty-themed show for a more fashion-savvy audience. Solowij prefers to talk instead about psychographics (the classification of people by their attitudes and psychology) rather than demographics and thinks of ageing as “a state of mind, an attitude and style, rather than as a way of defining a woman”.

Of course, we’d be kidding ourselves if we thought that by eliminating a term we can protect ourselves from ageism.

But there’s no doubt that language can help to shift attitudes. And as we all know, a youthful attitude can take years off your face . . .

Photographs: AFP; Getty

If you are a subscriber and would like to receive alerts when Kathleen’s articles are published, just click the button “add to myFT”, which appears at the top of this page beside the author’s name. Not a subscriber? Follow Kathleen on Twitter @kathleenBM

Follow @FTStyle on Twitter to find out about our latest stories first. Subscribe to FT Life on YouTube for the latest FT Weekend videos. Sign up for our Weekend Email here

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article