America is a youth-obsessed nation, and Beth Teitell says that is turning women against themselves. The veteran journalist takes a closer look at women and their war on aging in her new book.
"I was noticing a lot of women, once they hit 35 or 40, they're starting to experience what I thought as an age shame," Teitell says. "They felt like a failure just because they are getting older."
That inspired her to explore America's obsession with youth. She spent a year speaking to dozens of women and men. She met people who eat an anti-aging diet, a 25-year-old who had preventive cosmetic surgery, and a yoga instructor who teaches postures to smooth the face.
"I interviewed stay-at-home mothers, nonprofit executives who really feel they really need to have the same appearance as a movie star," she says. "It's sad that young people want to look older, and older people wished they had their youth back. People in their 40s feel that they should be carded [asked for ID to make sure they're old enough] when they buy a bottle of wine, or they somehow fail.
"One of the biggest complaints I heard from women I interviewed was, 'I'm invisible.' First of all, if you're invisible, it's good! You don't have to worry about your appearance."
Women engage in cosmetic procedure 'arms race'
Teitell's year of research resulted in a humorous book titled Drinking Problems at the Fountain of Youth. It's a play on words, linking addiction to alcohol to the desire to do whatever it takes to look young.
She concludes that there is a cosmetic-procedure 'arms race' of sorts: If one woman has a face-lift or a Botox injection and looks younger, her friends feel older and want to have something done to smooth the lines on their faces.
"There is such a focus on these fine lines - most of them are actually less than one tenth of a millimeter deep - when, really, what we need to do is not to worry about the fine lines, but you want to present an overall picture of youth," she says.
Forever youthful, if not young
In chronicling what it is like to age in a culture that demands women stay sexy and youthful, Teitell says she discovered that American society is beginning to change.
"I think in American society, particularly, [we] don't value older people, especially older women," she says. "Although things are changing. There are a bunch of successful animated movies and cartoons that are now showing older women in roles other than the kindly grandmother or the witch. There're actually powerful older women cartoons."
And, says Teitell, even if women can't stay forever young, they can be forever youthful.
"What I mean is, do things that are not going to bankrupt you," she says. "Do what you need to do to feel good, but don't hold yourself to a standard that you're never going to attain, because that leads to unhappiness."
Focus on kind words, not wrinkles, author says
Being youthful, she stresses, is not all about external appearances. It's a reflection of how we think and act. It's what keeps us interested and interesting.
"Smile! If you smile and engage people, they actually want to talk to you. You're not invisible," she says. "The key thing is not to spend your whole time bemoaning the fact that you're getting older, but actually enjoy the time that you have. If you are engaged in the world around you, interested, alive, curious about other people, that's actually what keeps you youthful, as opposed to just having the skin on your face tightened.
"That doesn't really make people look more youthful. What comes out of your mouth is actually more important than those fine lines around your lips that everybody worries about so much."
Though she didn't intend Drinking Problems at the Fountain of Youth to be a self-help book, Teitell did include many simple ways to stay youthful. They includes exercising, standing up straight, dressing appropriately and staying informed on current events, books and ideas. She says women can always enhance their inner spirit and express it in a youthful way. That, she says, is the secret to the Fountain of Youth.