Skip to main content


Anti-Ageing Strategies and Remedies: Interventions to Slow Down Women’s Ageing

The phrase ‘ageing gracefully’ is very well known. We hear it in media reports and during conversations with our friends. However, a current shift in perspective on the ageing process has led to the urgent need to examine what this phrase truly means. 

Ageing is, without exaggeration, one of humanity's most outstanding achievements. These days to age means that we are afforded the benefit of avoiding premature death. However, ageing remains something which people do not usually look forward to. This is mainly due to concerns about declining health but also because of the social stigma surrounding old age, particularly regarding visual appearance. Being old or even just ‘looking old’ is arguably a source of gendered disadvantage. 

While their populations age, current Western societies glorify beauty, youth, and particular forms of female embodiment. Women are bombarded with images of idealised feminine beauty that favour a young, slim, healthy body. The glorification of beauty and youth and the emphasis on physical attractiveness can have significant consequences for lived personal experiences of ageing and beauty; to ideals of femininity that are formed against a backdrop of socially constructed ideas regarding the ageless female body. 

As a woman, this blog’s author has personally experienced the visual judgment by others (mostly men): ‘If she were a few pounds less, she would be prettierWhat about the wrinkles? They should disappear. Are you not going to dye your hair?’ To a large extent, it is socially constructed ideas about the female body that influence how women experience themselves, their ageing, and their (ageing) bodies. Idealisations of youth and physical attractiveness often result in women (including younger women) feeling pressured to use various strategies to ‘improve’ their physical appearance in order to conform to particular beauty ideals through attempting to delay ageing. Given the breadth and depth of these ageing imaginaries, it is understandable that women yield to such pressures. There exists a medical speciality called anti-ageing medicine, which is a branch of medical science and applied medicine focusing on the alleviation of ageing-related conditions. This medicine seeks to discover ways to rejuvenate the human body both internally and externally. One branch of anti-ageing medicine that is currently increasing in demand is the so-called anti-ageing treatment known as cosmetic surgery.

Both surgical and non-surgical cosmetic surgery procedures purport to enhance beauty. Cosmetic surgery treatments are often known as plastic surgery. Unlike reconstructive surgery, which focuses on reinstating physical functionality, the goal of cosmetic surgery is ‘physical beauty’. In part fuelled by medical tourism, a situation in which women travel abroad to clinics in such places as the Czech Republic for high-quality affordable treatments, cosmetic surgery is a fast-growing medical speciality.

It appears that women are less concerned with actually undergoing anti-ageing procedures, and are more focused on where this will take place and how much it will cost. Nowadays, self-care, and how this relates to physical appearance, is not viewed simply as an everyday practice but can reflect a woman's worth. Therefore, I suggest that cosmetic surgery can be understood as a form of modern-day oppression for women and as such produces new configurations of gendered inequality. The more renowned the specialist and the more expensive the procedure (employing the latest technology), the more a woman can demonstrate her social status. Although more and more women can afford these procedures, they can still be viewed as a form of conspicuous consumption. Some commentators have even gone so far as to describe the 21st century as the age of cosmetic surgery.

However, the 21st century is also the era of other socio-political phenomena that allow the cosmetic/aesthetic industry to function and develop in unprecedented ways. These include the persistence of predefined gender roles and the resultant inequalities; an ageing population presented as a threat to economic stability and social cohesion; the rise of neoliberal discourses of individualisation and personal responsibility, particularly involving practices of self-care; the development of medicine and technology; and idealised notions of the 'ideal' body and face. All things considered, the cosmetic industry is one cog in a complex system of mutually supporting phenomena. 

The anti-ageing industry’s problematic nature does not solely lie in its socially distorted foundations (based on ageist imaginaries, youthfulness, and idealised visual appearance), but arises from the way it generates, and sustains, socio-economic inequalities. Beauty and physical attractiveness are important qualities that mediate status and, in doing so, influence the expectations of others. As such, they are specific forms of aesthetic capital that can be compared to other types (economic, social, and cultural capital). Beauty and physical attractiveness can also be advantageous to women through their ability to successfully find a partner, attain an education, and in their pursuit of labour market success.

However, despite women's best efforts to attain unachievable ideals of beauty and youth, it is impossible to stop the ageing process and maintain the body's youthful form. No matter how hard we try, the ageing body always wins out. This truism appears to be incompatible with the ways that beauty, which in many ways has become the privileged domain of ageing women in Western societies, is strongly associated with youthfulness. One day, women will have to accept the aesthetic consequences of old age and give up their pursuit of youthful beauty. On the other hand, however, this ‘aesthetic communism’ may bring justice to society, as the aesthetic differences between people apparent in youth and adulthood are blurred, thereby generating a transition towards health concerns. 

About the Author

Michaela Honelova was a Visiting Student at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing. She is currently a Doctoral Student in Longevity Studies at Charles University, Czech Republic. Her current research interest is the sociological approach of anti-aging aesthetic surgery in the Czech context.

Opinions of the blogger is their own and not endorsed by the Institute

Comments Welcome: We welcome your comments on this or any of the Institute's blog posts. Please feel free to email comments to be posted on your behalf to or use the Disqus facility linked below.