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Why do we care about skincare?
Aging skin, let's talk about it.
Looking after your skin can be a normal form of self-care, similar to how we exercise to maintain a healthy body or how we eat certain foods to support overall nutrition. But I want to talk about why skincare can extend beyond simple maintenance and into the realm of obsession. Besides spending hours thinking about vitamin C, retinol, and serums galore, I’m here to examine why we actually care about our skincare so much. Maybe it’s vanity. Maybe it’s a ritual of self-care that not-so-secretly helps with anxiety. Are we actually obsessed with looking young forever? Why? I’m not saying that caring about skincare is a bad thing, but I do want to cast a critical eye on why we want to look so dewy.
In the past, I’ve explored beauty as the ultimate power tool and this is actually a great place to begin this discussion. Our obsession with looking young forever, unfortunately and unsurprisingly, has a lot of negative historical baggage. Over time, beauty has been so closely correlated with our worth as women that it begs the question of whether or not our beauty can be separated from the desires of others. We have to literally look in a mirror to “see” our own beauty, so do we maintain and move and polish our bodies and faces for the sake of other people? Well, since beauty is so related to perceived youthfulness, it’s not hard to see why many of us are so obsessed with trying to control our long-term physical outcomes.
But of course, our collective obsession with youthfulness extends beyond physical looks. From technology to fashion trends, society’s overall fixation with youth is everywhere. Indulge me in a brief but relevant spiral into cultural history! If we look at the wider effects of this youth obsession over the last 70+ years, our obsession is not all bad. Professor, Robert Harrison, has traced the cultural history of our obsession with youth and examined the cultural forces that have helped turn our society into the "youngest" society on earth. He states that for the first time in human history "the young have become a model of emulation for the older population, rather than the other way around.” He claims that the process of “juvenescence” in the post-war period has “unleashed extraordinary youthful energies in our species and represents one of the momentous revolutions in human cultural history.” On the one hand, youth is essential for culture's innovative drive and “flashes of genius.” At the same time, however, youth – which Harrison considers more protracted than ever – is a luxury that requires the stability and wisdom of older generations.
Are we afraid of aging skin because it’s a daily reminder that we’re closer to irrelevance (and ultimately death)? While I really believe in respecting those younger than us, I wholeheartedly believe we need to respect and seek guidance from those older than us too. We see a lack of respect all the time in how we generally tend to view older women. While this claim might feel farfetched, skincare can easily be viewed through the lens of self-preservation (with the most extreme version of preservation being transhumanism). The narratives we are told about getting older as women have undertones full of fear, loss, and irrelevance. This results in us continually internalizing the concept that we should not show signs of aging, and instead, we should just preserve our youthful, dewy glow. But by criticizing older women, we’re actually just rejecting our future selves. There is no escaping from our own aging bodies, no matter how many treatments you might be privileged enough to afford.
Does your skincare routine help with that specific, beauty industry-fueled anxiety? Is it actually just a means to exert control when you feel you have little grasp on everything around you? Skincare brands saw a spike in sales in the early days of the pandemic, and while I’m sure some of that purchasing behaviour can be chalked up to quelling boredom, I’m also sure a lot of it was self-care oriented as people sought to develop anxiety-reducing routines. “Routines take away the uncertainty, which is why they are so important for us during this period of uncertainty we're all living through,” said Dr. Dimitrios Paschos, a psychiatrist, who was interviewed during the height of the pandemic. If your grasp for control comes in the form of a serum bottle, all the power to you.
I truly believe it’s totally okay to love things that aren’t necessarily rooted in healthy practices. I think we’re all flawed, complex individuals that have been conditioned to believe certain things via an imperfect, societal landscape. But I believe it’s also important to question everything in the pursuit of uncovering power, or in this case, building our own confidence. Getting over our collective fear of aging, and separating it from our self-care practices, is bound to take some time but starting the conversation is a step in that direction…
But with all that said, I do genuinely still want all your skincare hacks. That’s why we started a Diem Doc for skincare hacks & musings. Hop on in, share your perspective on why we care about skincare, your personal skin stories or products that changed your skin forever.
WTF is a Diem Doc, you may ask. A Diem Doc is a resource populated by the voices of our community. We want others to benefit off of your lived experience, suggestions and secrets. Your knowledge will collectively contribute to forming a social search engine that mirrors the way women have passed information to each other for centuries. You (yes, you!) can personally contribute here. The information you share with us will be made public, but you can contribute completely anonymously if you want.
What we’re reading…
How Russian trolls helped keep the women’s march out of lock step (NY Times)
Women who stay single and don’t have kids are getting richer (Bloomberg)
‘Pick Me’ women just want to be chosen. So why are they judged so harshly? (R29)
Leave Marilyn Monroe Alone (The Cut)
Russia’s war on Ukraine has increased sex trafficking and is being under tracked (Business Insider)
The beginning of the end of influencers? (Embedded)
The outcry in Iran is about more than just grief (Time)
From last week’s Diem Doc on Adult Friendship…
Not every friendship is meant to last forever
Fairy tales and childhood have us thinking that friendship, like romantic relationships, should last forever. The more life experience I get, the more I can accept that not every friendship is meant to last forever. You'll change, they'll change and sometimes drifting apart happens naturally. If and when you notice a drift and reach out to try to reconnect without much response (this has happened to me!), it's okay to feel sad, to experience grief and then go to the friendships in your life that feel warm! –– 40, Brooklyn
You can read the rest (or contribute), here.
See you next week,