Photo credit: ekai
This is a guest post by Dan Miller, a real-life friend of mine who writes about philosophy, religion, physics, artificial intelligence and virtual worlds in his blog Artiphys. In this post, Dan is responding to my recent post on Ageism. Dan thinks “aging gracefully” backfires in today’s culture and argues that there’s nothing wrong with using the tools available to us to slow down the natural aging process.
The sense I get from your post, and from the majority of responses, is that it is somehow unseemly for someone to fight the visual process of ageing using surgery, or techniques such as Botox. Instead, we should gracefully accept God’s chosen aesthetics of age, and admire our craggy faces and sagging skin with the delicate acquired tastes of an aficionado.
Of course, we don’t live in that world. Instead, we live in a world that idolizes youth and youthfulness, and physical beauty as some sort of special achievement, and worthy of exceptional praise. In such a world, looking old is not just an issue of looking “bad” — it’s also a label. If you’re old, you are not only not beautiful and desirable, you’re also uncool, over the hill, washed up, and should do the polite thing by just fading away to Florida or a long cruise, or some other acceptable playground for the unfortunately aged.
Photo credit: notinponce
But what if you don’t think that way about yourself? Surely we’ve all seen the spectrum of attitudes to age — from the mid-40’s balding overweight fellow who is already counting the years to retirement, to the spry, energetic grandmom who loves to play with the kids, does watercolors, blogs incessantly, and generally enjoys life with the enthusiasm of a 12-yr old.
Now suppose you’re one of those forever-young types, but you happen to live in Hollywood, and your profession is tied mercilessly to your looks and the perception people have of your appearance. You are photographed constantly, in high-def, and examined for signs of decrepitude. Is it so terrible in that situation for you to choose to do what many others (your competition in some sense) do, and improve your appearance using the available tools? Or do you have an obligation to take yourself out of the race and let the young turks have a chance at the brass ring?
We don’t disparage people for getting hip replacements just so they can ski or play tennis a few years more. What if you’re approaching 60, but you still feel frisky, and want to be able to appear in a way that makes it easier for you to integrate with people whose perception of age is so deeply marked by society’s expectations? If it’s OK to take the risk of surgery to do athletics, why is it off-limits to have surgery to expand your options in terms of relationships?
I see this issue as something like trans-gender. If someone feels like they’re a woman trapped in a man’s body, and they will be happier looking like a woman (not usually a particularly attractive woman, as we all probably realize) — I say, that’s fine. That’s self-realization. And I see using surgery or Botox to look youthful as something along the same lines. Of course it can go too far (Joan Rivers, Michael Jackson) — but so can anything.
Jocelyn Wildenstein, the “cat woman”, took self improvement through plastic surgery to the extreme. Photo credit: feastoffools
There’s a big difference between a tasteful, subtle chin lift and the stretched-rubber-skin look of someone who just doesn’t know when to quit. I just don’t see the philosophical justification for saying it’s all terrible and hypocritical, and anyone who makes that choice is somehow guilty of some moral or ethical transgression.
I for one have little respect for nature’s (or God’s, if you prefer) idea of ‘graceful ageing’. Besides the looks part, the last year or two of life for most people I’ve known who didn’t die suddenly is nothing but a disgusting, shameful form of degradation and loss of dignity. That drives my feelings about euthanasia, but that’s for a different post. The basic point is, why take our nature as given, and refuse to improve upon it, if improvement is actually possible? We generally accept things like tattoos, body piercing, high heels, makeup and so on — is this really that different?
Much of what we do regarding our appearance is far from healthy (and I confess this goes more for women, but that seems to be a given in our society). I don’t care all that much about my appearance, and perhaps that’s because I’m a guy, but I’m sure going to use whatever I can get my hands on to prolong my quality of life and vitality. I think there’s an argument that one’s appearance is part of that equation.
Over to you now. What do you think? Are you in favor of “aging gracefully,” or do you agree with Dan that there’s no reason to accept nature’s aging process if we have the tools at our disposal to fight it?