A Case for “Pro-aging”
How to embrace your years, wrinkles and all, according to three skin-care stars.
We hear the term “anti-aging” a lot in the skin-care and wellness industries. And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with loving our bodies and taking care of ourselves throughout the years, the concept of anti-aging can be stressful—not to mention impossible. You can’t *really* stop yourself from getting older, despite what the marketing campaigns promise.
I want to think more about pro-aging and how we can embrace the way we look—and the way we feel—throughout the years. So I rounded up three experts on the subject: Shani Van Bruekelen, founder of genderless, vegan, cruelty-free skin-care company Ayond; Abena Boamah-Acheampong, founder of all-natural skin-care and wellness brand Hanahana Beauty; and Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, cosmetic dermatologist and chief medical officer and founder of PFRANKMD.
The three come from different backgrounds, but their collective message was clear: Stop spending so much time worrying about aging, and start finding a way to love the process. We discussed aging gracefully, toxic social media, and why you should probably be kinder to yourself.
The Term “Anti-aging” Is Divisive
“The term ‘anti-aging’ in skin care relates to combating the appearance of looking aged and has a negative connotation,” says Van Bruekelen. “It implies that everything of value is done before your thirties, and that growing older has no power or worth.”
For some, this pervasive ageism in the skin-care industry can result in internalizing those feelings. “This makes people insecure about this essential part of life and feel excluded once they ‘age out,’” she explains.
Frank agrees. “Anti-aging is a kickback to the negative connotation—burned into the psychology, marketing, and publicity of the society we live in—that aging is a bad thing. That you need to purchase, market, inject, cut, detoxify, and do anything you can to stop it.” Especially in the cosmetic dermatology world, this is generally the prevailing mode of thinking.
“This is how my colleagues and I were trained,” says Frank. But he wound up “upend[ing] that training into my pro-aging philosophy. Pro-aging is the opposite of anti-aging: It’s a change of perspective. It’s about health and lifestyle and self-perception—all key components to the overall quality of our existence.”
Look to Your Elders
Watching the people you respect and admire and who are also older than you can help with developing a pro-aging mentality. “I really don’t think about aging from a negative perspective,” Boamah-Acheampong says. “I look at my mom and my grandma, and they are beautiful, and they have aged very gracefully.”
This grace has a lot to do with inner beauty and self-care. “The one thing they have when it comes to skin care is not doing too much and just taking care of themselves—doing things that make them happy,” she says. “I feel like the focus needs to go away from aging and just be on overall wellness.”
But Also Be Real
It’s probably unrealistic to expect yourself to just automatically love every minute of aging, every wrinkle, grey hair, and creaking bone, especially in this society. “I think it is natural to go through different emotions when you notice changes to your body,” Van Bruekelen says. “It is really important not to put too much weight and value on youth or beauty standards imposed by society.”
A painful experience helped her start to transform the way she thinks about beauty, including aging. “This isn’t an easy thing to keep in check, but for me personally, going through a burn trauma in my twenties really opened my eyes to how defined I was by my appearance. I had to see myself in a new way and remember that I am beautiful regardless of scarring.”
It’s an Inside Job
Frank stresses that “how we think is the most important.” One way or another, finding a way to release yourself “from the idea that aging is a bad thing” is vital. “Pro-aging is harnessing the power of all the components of your existence—the way you look, the way you feel, your health and well-being, your sense of self, your relationships, the control of your ego—so you can be the best version of yourself.”
Pro-aging Is a Lifestyle
“With a pro-aging attitude, you can’t just do one thing—go work out or go to a cosmetic dermatologist or go to a psychologist or go to a nutritionist,” Frank says. “You have to do a little bit of everything.”
Like it or not, this translates into taking care of yourself, and there are no shortcuts. “Someone who eats well and gets enough sleep, for example, will metabolize their calories differently than someone who eats the exact same meals but barely sleeps due to stress,” Frank says. “Or someone who eats well and regularly meditates but does no exercise will find it hard to be strong and fit.”
Though it may be tempting to think expensive clothes or fancy face creams or even cosmetic procedures are the answer, Frank says they’re not—and he’s a cosmetic dermatologist. “My answer is different: What they need is sleep, exercise, reset time, and to kick-start their eating habits, or they’re wasting their time with me.”
“They don't realize it’s much more to do with what’s between their ears than anything else,” he explains. “What I want people to do is embrace the aging process, instead of looking at it as a bad thing.”
Van Bruekelen agrees. “Staying physically, mentally, and emotionally fit are all very important,” she says. “I try to work on the things I want to improve or change, and I am still working on being kinder to myself with elements that I cannot change.”
Plus, with age comes wisdom, and that has to count for something. “Youth is about experimentation and discovery,” Van Bruekelen says. “As I get older, I’m refining what I gathered in my early twenties and thirties, and I’m less concerned about other people’s opinions.”
Social Media Isn’t Helping
“Take breaks from absorbing social media posts, or unfollow accounts that make you feel less or inadequate,” Van Bruekelen suggests. “Don’t support brands that only promote superficial narratives.”
She has strong words for companies that don’t feature beauty in all its forms. “It is the person’s responsibility and choice to try and appreciate themselves, but it is also our responsibility as brands to create a visual message that celebrates the beauty in all ages, races, sizes, and genders,” Van Bruekelen says. “The more you normalize diversity—in all forms—the less people will compare themselves, feel devalued or not accepted.” Preach!
As Time Speeds Up, Slow Down
As Boamah-Acheampong grows older, she has found herself prioritizing “finding time for peace and family,” she says. She has also changed her outlook to “treat everything like a learning experience—it helps to reflect on things right away.”
We hear a lot about gratitude, but that’s because it’s an incredible tool, especially if practiced regularly. “I think giving gratitude daily for your age and how you age and your beauty” is vital, she says. “Giving gratitude shows a celebration.”
And you can never undervalue the power of drinking enough water and staying in your lane. “I know this seems basic, but don’t forget the simple things like staying hydrated and minding your business,” Boamah-Acheampong adds.
A little self-awareness is always a good idea, and being in the present moment is the surest antidote to future tripping. Pro-aging might not always be easy, but it is simple—and it’s a powerful outlook on life.
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