Last year, Leonardo DiCaprio, then 47, caught the media’s eye during his quest for a romantic partner who matched his preference for women under 25. However, he is far from being the only one to treasure youth as an ideal trait in a woman. It is no surprise to anyone that ‘youth’ is an intrinsic concept to the standards of beauty imposed on individuals, especially women. Through greater accessibility to movies, social media, and even pornography, this aversion to ageing has taken on ever-increasing proportions in the 21st century. This situation is evident even in the smallest glimpses of everyday life, from the numerous anti-wrinkle creams always added to the list of essential skincare products to wax strips for body hair removal hidden inside bathroom drawers.
Rather than being regarded as a natural process of human life, the ageing of women is deprecated and characterised as undesirable. Women’s bodies that radiate infantilised traits are connoted as the ideal of beauty, with one of the prime examples being the adoration of hairless bodies and smooth skin. The younger they look, the more acceptable they are in a patriarchal society. In magazines, women are often seen in childish poses such as knee bends, head cants, absent gazes, and juvenil smiles. This pattern is not only prevalent in Western societies, but it has also recently also pervaded Asia for instance, as seen in South Korean magazines.
It is important to highlight that these rigid standards do not seem to impact everyone equally. We can find an example that illustrates this harsh reality in the beauty industry. Women models with girlish features such as small breasts, slenderness, and narrow hips are more desirable by mainstream media and beauty advertising companies. When they reach their mid-twenties, though, they have a hard time maintaining their jobs. Men models, on the other hand, continue their careers after reaching their 50s. Moreover, we can also notice this discrepancy in perception between the ageing of men and women in the world of romantic relationships. According to a study made by Christian Rudder and released in the book Dataclysm, which analyses the numbers from the online dating-site OkCupid, heterosexual women’s taste for men typically evolves as she ages. However, heterosexual men of all ages are consistently more attracted to women in their early 20s.
Singer and songwriter Lana Del Rey has been featured in a trend on TikTok for her song “Young and Beautiful,” which reflects how her worth to society is lost as she ages. Ironically, many of the viral videos, which include juxtapositions of how celebrities look now versus how they were earlier in their careers, were called out for being ageist. Critics of the trend pointed out that many celebrities featured in the videos (most of them women) are still relatively young and haven’t aged much. Some merely seem to have gained weight. Even Del Rey herself, 37, was used as a subject in a video.
This appreciation of youth also converges with racial issues. Problematic comments like “Black don’t crack” and “I can never tell the age of Asian people” not only reveal the idolisation of youthful glow, but are also manifestations of the stereotypical visions directed at the visual identity of the varied BIPOC communities, serving at times as a form of sexual fetishism.
Although the obligation of youthfulness is stricter for women, it is crucial to point out that we see similar beauty standards imposed within the men gay/queer community. For instance, it is possible to see in the media a rise in the representation of the daddy/boy fantasy, as well as of the so-called twinks who can best be described as young, attractive, hairless, slim pretty queer men. While young people like Timothée Chalamet in “Call Me By Your Name” and Nick Robinsons in “Love, Simon” are esteemed as the ideal of juvenil beauty, the so-called “ageing twinks” are seen as an object of derision and pity. As they age, many of the individuals in the queer community not only anticipate their bodily decay and fall victim to mockery, but also risk their own health in an attempt to revive their youth. From plastic surgery to ingestion of anabolic steroids to increase muscle mass, they take drastic measures in the name of youth and beauty.
This idolisation of eternal youth at the expense of maturity not only damages an individual’s self-esteem as they become older but also results in the exacerbated sexualisation of young people. The negative implications of this rigid standard of beauty will continue to dictate the appearance of groups such as women, BIPOC, and queer individuals unless we begin to recognise these standards and actively work to dismantle the patriarchal society that rests on a distorted view of youth.
More than ever, it is necessary to mark a distinction between beauty and childlike features.