Obsession Over Youth
June 11, 2021
Modern society is concerned about the possibilities of prolonging youth and defeating the aging processes. The pursuit of youth has become an obsession. The fear of aging creates stereotypes and, thus, leads to ageism that means age discrimination. The relevance of the problem is confirmed by an increase in the patients who get plastic surgery. The obsession with youth has a negative influence on the personal development, health, and psychology. Moreover, it hinders the development of the society through creating prejudices and stereotypes. The aim of the paper is to discuss the problem of obsession with youth, fear of aging, and propose possible solutions.
Obsession with Youth
The culture of modern society assigns a great role to youth in the system of universally valid values. Mass media replicates the cult of youth. Fashion, cosmetology, pharmacology, plastic surgery, and many other fields are aimed at the extension and constant reproduction of youth. Today, the pursuit of eternal youth is comparable to an epidemic. Many women and even men, having reached the age of 20, are trying their best to stop the time and to remain young forever. To remain young, people hide their real age with the help of wardrobe, cosmetics and plastic surgeries. Obsession with youth presents a crucial social and psychological problem as it is accompanied by an internal conflict and painful rejection of age-related changes.
In modern society, there is a cult of youth and physical attractiveness. Obsession with youth has reached an epidemic character, affecting not only middle-aged people but also young women. According to Diller, in 2010, a quarter of a million teens underwent cosmetic surgery in the United States and about 12,000 young girls received Dysport and Botox treatment. Moreover, there is an increase in the use of cosmetic surgery by all ages (Diller).
The focus of society on the lifestyle, interests, and life values of the younger generation is a manifestation of ageism. Ageism is a negative or degrading attitude towards people of a certain age group, related to the age of this category (John 16). Most often this term is used in relation to the elderly people. Throughout their life, a person limits himself or herself by age criteria that are accepted in the society. Stereotypes about old age are created by family and environment. They form part of the life scenario that determine human behavior. A high value of youth and discrimination of old people are widely spread in modern society (Honigman and Castle 116). It manifests itself in negative characteristics that are attributed to old age, such as illness, dependence, helplessness, loneliness, passivity, uselessness, loss of status, power, and self-esteem. At the same time, the cult of youth is a clich? of modern time that suggests a young person is always open, flexible, and ready to perform new roles and tasks (Smolik 206). The prejudiced attitude of a large part of society leads to the fact that many people do not want to put up with their aging. They try to hide the signs of old age in every way.
People, who have a fear of old age, have a certain stereotype of behavior. They are eager to postpone real aging. McHugh and Chrisler state that women consider the natural changes in the body as “defects in need of repair by experts” (7). The men are terribly afraid of the possibility of baldness and impotence. Such people are troubled by obsessive thoughts about aging, and their conversations revolve around old age. Diseases, which doctors describe as age-related, cause an inadequate reaction.
In connection with the increased life expectancy, the population of all developed countries is rapidly aging. It is impossible to exist in society and not meet with the elderly. Therefore, often, the fear of old age of a severe degree forces the patients to isolate themselves. Isolation of a person and his or her inevitable aging cause a constant emotional tension. Thoughts about the inevitability of old age and refusal to fight with the phobia lead to the development of depression and various addictions (alcoholic, narcotic). In severe cases, suicide attempts are possible.
Negative attitude to the natural course of life begins to form in childhood, if the child lived with the elderly and actually observed how helpless they were, or saw the painful relationship between the middle-aged and older generation. The pathological fear of one’s own aging, obsessive search for the its slightest signs is usually the result of fear of becoming lonely, useless, being a ‘burden’ to relatives, or fear of death. Fear of death is a universal fear of every person, even if he or she does not admit it. However, today, more and more often this fear is replaced by a real panic over such a natural process as aging. Aging is a universal, continuous process. All organs and systems of the body are subject to aging. This is an inevitable process, not caused by any diseases. As a result of aging, wrinkles and pigmentation spots appear, the skin becomes flabby, and internal organs begin to malfunction. All of this affects the person’s health, appearance and self-esteem. Fear of being ugly beats the instinct of reproduction. People are afraid of infirmity, which comes as a result of aging and disease. Aging of a person is not a purely biological process. It is subject to the influence of social and psychological factors. The time for the realization of one’s aging can be delayed by the existing tendency in society to increase the period of youth and maturity. However, there are times when a person is already old, but unaware of his or her aging. Their behavior is youthful. They continue to lead a lifestyle that is characteristic of a younger age.
A contributing factor to obsession with youth and perfection is the way, in which the human body is presented in mass media and advertising. These means have a crucial force in convincing. According to Honigman and Castle, “this has promoted increasingly impossible standards of beauty, which have progressively become more unrealistic and unattainable” (117). The emergence of fashion models served to develop ideal image that has a great influence on the public consciousness. Hollywood actresses and pop stars represent the desire to limit the process of aging. At the same time, businesspeople and politicians become concerned about their appearance as well.
The aging process can be obvious, pronounced, but a person may ignore it. This behavior is called Dorian Gray Syndrome. People suffering from this syndrome always strive for an ideal. Often, Dorian Gray Syndrome develops from the usual discontent with one’s appearance and the first visits to cosmetologists, which then grows into an obsessive desire to always look young (“Gray Syndrome”). Dorian Gray Syndrome is one of the dangerous mental disorders, which results in a strong fear of impending aging and physical wilting. The Dorian Gray Syndrome or the cult of youth is the consideration of the possibility of a longer retention of one’s own youth. When a person has this disease, he or she have a literally irresistible desire to maintain the habitual way of life, including taking into account certain characteristics (e.g. youthful bright clothes that do not correspond to the status of a person in society) (“Gray Syndrome”). People do everything possible to at least somehow improve themselves, but, as a rule, all their attempts are unsuccessful. They always find flaws in their appearance. These people are ready to sacrifice much for the sake of preserving their youth. Many pay a lot of money for plastic surgery, and there are even those, who are willing to sacrifice relationships with loved ones.
One of the types of protective mechanisms is the negation of aging. The denial of aging reveals a fear of old age, an attempt to oust the realization of aging from one’s consciousness. A person cannot easily abandon the needs and desires of youth. He or she tries not to notice the changes taking place in him or her. The rejection causes signs of physical aging. A person is afraid of qualitative changes in life, which are associated with the adoption of new social roles. The person sees fewer prospects and opportunities for himself or herself in the future.
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Every day, a number of people, for whom youth plays the most important role in life, increases. It literally acquires the status of absolute value. As a result, the search for any means that will slow down the natural aging processes that occur in the human body begins. In this case, there is a devaluation of everything that can be associated with maturity. It is not only the appearance, but also wisdom, experience, knowledge, erudition that are acquired throughout life. Most often, people suffering from this disease work in show business, trying to keep their youth and appearance in every possible way, while refusing to develop their own intellect. Many elderly people continue to buy clothes in youthful style believing that this will help them to look young. In more severe cases, people begin to resort to plastic surgery or excessive use of a variety of cosmetics. In the case when the patient began to use plastic surgery to preserve youth, it will be very difficult to stop, as wrinkles begin to appear again after some time. Maureen and Chrisler emphasize that the desire to maintain the youth is a primary reason for pursuit of surgery (227). To understand the scope of the problem, one needs to analyze the costs that people spend on cosmetic procedures. Thus, “cosmetic surgery in the United States alone is an industry that as of 2005 constituted $13 to $15 billion a year” (Kuczynski 8). People are ready to spend tremendous costs to preserve youthful appearance. The result of these actions is a change in facial features, which begins to resemble an artificial mask. If a person does not turn to a specialist on time, the disease can end not only with severe depression, but also with an attempt of suicide, as a person begins to believe that it is better to leave a young and handsome life than to live to old age and become weak and helpless.
It is impossible to change the age or suspend the aging process of the body. However, it is possible to change the attitude to aging process. Biological age is not a hindrance to a full life. No matter how much a person tries to keep his or her face young, time goes on. The important thing is to learn to appreciate each year of the life, because there are pluses and minuses at any age. Noble aging is a complex process, requiring serious changes in the external and internal world. Indeed, the true secret of youth is an interest in life, cheerfulness, the presence of loved ones (Conville). The less a person’s moral and material achievements are, the more he or she has a fear of old age and death. If a person with pride can look back at his or her past, list a few serious achievements, he or she grows old much more quietly. Old age is a state of mind.
To neutralize or minimize a person’s fear of old age, it is crucial to recognize its existence, both in the human environment in general and in specific people, and learn to live with it. There is a need of an integrated approach to the solution of the problem. The beauty is impossible without health. Strong health will be an excellent help in prolonging youth without additional financial and emotional costs. The elderly need to know that it is necessary to exercise. Exercise pushes back the aging of the body, keeps the muscles and skin in good shape. To remain a young spirit, one must train the brain: read, learn languages, and new gadgets.
Accepting one’s age is an element of the worldview, but at the same time a unique skill, which is largely connected with the ability to accept the new status – both age and social one. A person walks through life, ascending from step to step – a child (student), a young man or a girl, an adult (colleague, husband, wife, father, and mother), an old man (pensioner, grandfather, and grandmother). It is important to have a critical and constructive view of the behavior patterns that society has developed for each period of life. It is necessary to learn to resist negative stereotypes of aging. To love oneself means to accept one’s body, treat it with respect, give it proper nutrition, exercise, sport, rest, fresh air, etc. To be happy in adulthood, one needs to develop a positive approach to life. Not all people are willing to risk their health and beauty in pursuit of external youth. There are wise people, who accept the passage of time calmly and with dignity. Their faces shine with attractiveness, wisdom, and optimism.
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In modern times, the society becomes obsessed with the dream of eternal youth. Because of this desire, the health of some is lost. For many people, aging is a negative process. They are frightened by the prospect of disability, loss of memory, sexuality and intellect, physical inability, deterioration of health and dependence on other people. Obsession with youth is most often manifested in the application of a huge amount of cosmetics, youthful clothing, and frequent plastic surgery. This dangerous disease got its name from one of the characters of a famous novel. Dorian Gray Syndrome in psychology is characterized by a strong fear of aging, as a person simply refuses to accept the age-related changes taking place in his or her own appearance. The ability to live in harmony with one’s age allows reaching an agreement with oneself and others. Unfortunately, it is very easy to get lost in time. It is much more difficult to learn how to find positive aspects in each period of life.