Throughout all of recorded history, humans have been searching for ways to turn back the clock. The story of Spanish explorer Ponce de León searching for the Fountain of Youth might be the most legendary story, but most women have their own, personal versions of that story. Makeup, skincare, and pharmaceutical companies have been advertising the anti-aging powers of their products for hundreds of years. So why are their signs that companies are starting to change their tone?
Skincare giant Neutrogena exemplifies this trend with their latest slogan, “We’re not anti-aging, we’re anti-wrinkles.” That trademarked slogan sits underneath pictures of a trio of actresses ranging in age between 41 and 51. The message that Neutrogena is trying to send is clear, “we’re a progressive company that isn’t trying to shame any woman, no matter their age.”
In many ways, this is a commendable move, although there’s something more than a little lawyerly about the fact that they are trying to draw a distinction between being “anti-aging” and “anti-wrinkles.” They don’t want to come out against the aging process, but they will come out against one of the most visible signs of aging.
The worlds of makeup, skincare, and fashion are in a tough place right now. For centuries they have made their money by convincing women that they needed to be conventionally attractive to have value, breaking people down so that they could build them back up with their products. This approach has made companies like Neutrogena mountains of cash, but it has suddenly become a liability in today’s more socially conscious era.
As the fights against sexism and racism continue, more and more people are looking to expand the battlefield of social justice to include a struggle against ageism. After all, if people should not be judged based on their innate qualities then why is it fair to judge people based on their age? As more and more people come around to this way of thinking they’ve started to take a look at common phrases like “anti-aging” with new eyes.
No one wants to be insulted just for being who they are. No one can change their age. That is the stance that many people are taking and it’s hard to argue with them. The question is whether or not the marketing term “anti-aging” helps to inspire ageism in the general public and within the women who they are trying to convince to use their products.
Many people will point to the fact that companies advertise their anti-aging qualities as evidence that they think there’s something bad about looking and maybe even being older. It’s the same sort of logic that causes people to rally against “whitening” products that are targeted at people of color. It’s a complicated area because, on the one hand, the general belief is that people of all sorts should be empowered to pursue whatever look they desire, but on the other hand, people also shouldn’t feel ashamed of the way that they naturally are. But what are skincare products if not ways to fight against the forces of nature?
While skincare companies try and use more and more open and accepting language, they have to handle the fact that they aren’t going to throw away their leading product lines. This leads to the sort of language games that Neutrogena is engaged in when they try and re-brand existing products as “anti-wrinkle” rather than “anti-aging.” The products aren’t changing, just the words that are used to talk about them.
On the other hand, it could be said that this move is correcting language that has been inaccurate since inception. Many critics have pointed out that age just refers to how long you’ve been on the earth and no “anti-aging” product has the sort of time-warping qualities that might actually impact the human body’s natural aging. Viewed through this lens the shift to “anti-wrinkle” is actually more accurate and honest.
The matter of how makeup and skincare companies can market their products without shaming women for their bodies is a messy issue that will probably never be settled. But this doesn’t mean that real change is impossible, and a quick comparison of the average modern skincare advertising and advertisements made by the Mad Men of the 60s and 70s shows that things are much more positive overall today.
There is no telling whether or not the term “anti-aging” will soon be gone for good. It might be downplayed today before returning in a few years. But one way or another it seems like companies are working to be more open to women of all types. And in the end shouldn’t the entire industry be about making women feel better about themselves? If shifting away from a focus on aging helps this then it’s clearly a good move overall.