"You've got some wrinkles on your forehead, why don't you do something about them?" a girlfriend inquired recently while we were out shopping. She said it rather nonchalantly as if we were talking about a new dress for the upcoming party. But I was a bit dumbfounded. I am indeed aware of those tiny little lines (a result of squinting a lot when I talk, a habit I inherited from my dad). But, honestly, I wasn't considering "doing something about them", at least not just yet.
Yet it turns out I am behind many of my female peers. An acquaintance, a 27-year-old girl with a flawless complexion and a killer body, has had a therapist coming over to her place five times a week to do anti-age face massages, among other rejuvenating treatments, for more than a year and a half now.
Another woman I know, who has not yet reached 30, recently turned to one of the top Moscow beauty clinics to do a $2000 lifting and mesotherapy course (a treatment that involves microinjections of various medicines, vitamins, minerals and amino acids into the skin's surface layers, purportedly causing a striking rejuvenating effect). Luckily, half-way through the first procedure, a therapist sent her home saying she was too young to do this. Yet another friend, an equally perfect creature has started injecting Botox into her dollish face at age 28.
Mind you, all these girls are not at all those bored tycoony wives whose body happens to be their major life investment project. These are normal, busy, professional women. Except that perhaps they all are victims of an alarming youth cult that's thriving in our society.
Is it insecurity, an unconscious drive to compete with the younger generation or simply a desire to fit it with the current trends? With an unprecedented beauty industry boom that took place in Russia over the last decade, our culture has become incredibly youth-oriented. Just look at TV commercials, billboards, magazine advertisements, and above all, the covers themselves - thoroughly photo-shopped celebrities mesmerize us with their convincingly youthful images. In one of my earlier columns I wrote about an emerging social trend labeled in the West "delayed adulthood" and "forty is new thirty, thirty is new twenty" meaning that many of my peers' lifestyle and behavior choices suggested they were at least ten years younger. When it comes to looks, it seems that for some women it's now more like "forty is the new twenty."
Whatever it is, I personally feel incredible pressure to act young and, more important, to look young, too. As I went through an extensive overview of up-and-coming anti-age treatments and "time-fighting products" in the latest issues of top women's magazines, I felt perplexed. What if I choose not to follow those tips and stick to my usual beauty routine? If I don't take the radical measures women's magazines and beauty industry professionals alike insist on, would I eventually become an outsider unable to fit in because my real age would show?
A friend of mine recently spent half day at a beauty salon to get ready for her birthday party. She came back looking amazing but with tears in her eyes.
"My cosmetologist scorned me that I haven't started anti-age therapy yet, and I am only about to turn 31!" she complained. "Do I really need it?!"
While I tried to console my friend that she didn't, I actually thought that the very notion "anti-age therapy” freaks me out quite a bit. Beauty industry experts claim the earlier we start fighting age, the later it begins haunting us. But isn't being obsessed about staying eternally young, we are denying some of life's fundamentals — continuity and transformation?
Anastassiya Kharitonova, director of the Health and Beauty section at Marie Claire/Russia, vehemently agreed with me. "The concept of aging gracefully has nearly vanished in our culture," she observed. She said many Russian women, just like their overly vain and/or insecure sisters in Southern California, also get addicted to aggressive rejuvenating procedures like plastic surgery, and the costs, side effects or pain don’t stop them. She suggested that in one or two generations, we might manage to accept aging as a natural process.
But I personally find great support looking at my mom. At age 68, she looks somewhere between 45 and 50. She almost never uses make-up and still washes her face with soap daily. When I interject that it's so 19th century, she just smiles and keeps doing her thing. She has never tinted her hair, still sporting just a few gray hairs in her regal auburn tresses.
Like most women of her generation, my mother's had a tough life, having spent her early childhood at a Gulag orphanage somewhere beyond the Urals. She frowns when I give her those advanced anti-age creams that cost at least three times her pension. When I ask her about the secret of staying young, she usually shrugs and replies rather casually with something like "getting enough sleep, being curious about life and not envying anyone."
Now, I find these beauty tips very inspiring for a change.
Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.
Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.