Are We Infatuated with the Idea of Eternal Youth?

Written by Liv Valencia

Let’s be honest. With the likes of Marilyn Monroe’s everlasting legacy as a symbol of youth, alongside the global market value of the skin care industry reaching $153.30 billion, it’s a no-brainer that vanity, vitality, and eternal youth are core aspects of today’s society. Of course, there’s the benefit of the doubt that such a statistic isn’t entirely fueled by a need to be a walking Da Vinci statue; it would be fair to say that some people are genuinely mindful of their wellness and having healthy skin, with no ulterior motives. However, with that being said, it’s undeniable that a significantly large proportion of consumers find themselves subjected to a variety of exaggerated marketing; from creams promising the reduction of wrinkles within mere moments of application, to lotions that boldly claim to tuck, snatch and firm a range of areas on the body. If one looks closely enough, it becomes more than apparent that such beauty rituals all boil down to one main objective: to eternalise youth. 

That’s not to say that this notion is exclusive to skincare. We see this projected onto various other industries, such as entertainment, and more specifically, Disney. Disney’s astronomical popularity has never wavered, despite the fact that the company has existed for almost a century. To say that they’re influential or prominent would be a vast understatement, since most recent figures highlight that they’ve amassed a staggering 221.1 million subscriptions globally. Much like the burgeoning skincare industry, Disney is far from exempt in their infatuation with eternal youth, often touting storylines or presenting characters with a heavy investment in this theme. This isn’t limited to just the world of fiction either, as many real-life stars have been subjected to such standards, and are even glamorized solely on this basis. One of the most prominent case studies of this occurrence is the late Hollywood actress, Marilyn Monroe. Many tend to disregard her acting accolades, noticeable performances and lifelong struggles, to instead immortalize her as an age-defying portrait of delicateness and fragility.

As of now, the cultural phenomena of skincare and makeup routines on media outlets such as Tik Tok and Youtube are at an all-time peak. This is especially highlighted once you consider that the hashtag ‘skincare’ has amassed over 65 million views on Tik Tok and the fact that millennial women (18-34) are the biggest consumers of makeup, accounting for forty-seven percent of all heavy buyers. Such prominent statistics could be chalked up to it being a hobby or lifestyle of sorts, as it certainly appears this way. On closer inspection however, one may note that alongside covering blemishes, makeup and skincare gurus tend to also enact another subtle change. They try to conceal wrinkles, dark circles and crow’s feet – all of which are explicit signs of ageing. Ageing with grace has been erased as a concept, as so many people spend their hard-earned money on reversing the process. This, obviously, is all in a bid to remain in a permanently fixated state of youth. In more dire cases, many consumers resort to extreme measures that may jeopardise their health, most noticeably plastic surgery. In the USA alone, over one-hundred and thirty-thousand people receive facelifts annually. Usually, this form of surgery tends to be reserved for those above sixty, however, there’s been a great surge of patients significantly under, opting for the surgery, to halt the ageing process. 

As previously mentioned, this objective is not just exclusive to skincare. A plethora of movies subtly hint towards the notion that the best of life begins and ends in your twenties. Think about it, you never see a fully-fledged follow-up of Disney Princesses thirty years later. This could be accounted for as the lacking demographic, since Disney films are catered towards children. Incidentally, adult tasks, such as tax returns for example, aren’t nearly as exciting a plot point as undersea adventures or fighting evil villains. However, if you truly consider the concept of age and age alone, one would notice that ageing supposedly causes its “victims” to lose their spark, their magic, and if you know Disney, that’s essentially what it’s all about. We can see this concept reflected in many memorable Disney films, most noticeably Peter Pan and Tangled. Both feature prominent notions to do with youth – in Peter Pan, this is portrayed in the idea that the kids never want to grow up, and thus travel to Neverland to do exactly that. It’s depicted as a whimsical adventure, with the lost boys being granted the ability to do whatever they please. This means that the fun never has to end, the clock never has to start, and the magic doesn’t ever have to stop. Despite the story being old, it’s still relevant now more than ever, since there’s a remake to be released in 2023. Alternatively in Rapunzel, it’s exemplified in the main antagonist, Mother Gothel, who goes as far to hold Rapunzel captive in an isolated castle, all in a bid to retain her youth. Mother Gothel is driven to commit a plethora of atrocities in the film, which in itself demonstrates the darker side of the infatuation of youth. 

Further expanding upon this, youthful protagonists, both in Disney and beyond, carry an adventurous, bright-eyed aura about them, an “I can take on the world!” attitude. This carries on into all the amazing thrills that they experience, such as their bustling love life, their abundance of friendships, and let’s not forget, the whole “Moving to the big city” trope that many coming of age movies adore. Of course, these same cliches are practically non-existent in older, more mature characters, which you’ll find are A. Stuck in a dead-end office job, B. Bitter and cynical about the direction of their lives, or C. Both. The bleak toil of office life is usually left to those in their forties, as a love life, the plot point a vast amount of films center around, can’t possibly exist in more mature characters. This subsequently explains why male characters in their forties only account for 31% of protagonists, whilst female characters in the same age group account for a minuscule 16%. These statistics shrink even further when you look at how many characters 60 or above are even featured in films, with the official figures being 10% for men and 6% for women

It is evident that this occurrence is a by-product of the stigma of ageing itself. The unwavering belief that life ends when an individual is middle-aged, and that growing older alleviates any excitement or adventure is supported by many a case study. One of the most famous being that of the talented Marilyn Monroe. Since the mid-1940s, she’s been recognised as an eternalised image of beauty, talent, and glamour. The characters she majoritively portrayed were depicted as coy, innocent, and rather bubbly twenty-somethings. This is significant, as these are traits we predominantly associate with youth, as with age, we often see that individuals become refined and mature, which is the exact antonym to the characters Marilyn depicted. This is even reflected in how her features were moulded to suit the role – her makeup amplified her eyes to make them appear large and doe-like, whilst her facial expressions were often exaggerated to set the scene for her wide-eyed demeanor. We find that her appeal often arose from this; the fact that she was explicitly unhinged and innocent. We’re often led to believe that when you age, the fun has to come to an end, and maturity must settle, in its place. In short, you must ‘Act your age’. However, in Marilyn Monroe’s case, the fun never had to come to an end, as in her movies, she constantly exuded a persona composed of bubbliness, bashfulness, and innocence. Marilyn herself often wished for more roles and opportunities in order to be taken seriously and to diverge from this trope, however directors only wanted to push this fantasy of eternal youth. This is primarily exemplified in the roles assigned to her in The Seven Year Itch(1955) and Some like it hot (1959). In both movies, the persona she embodies is  “preposterously and joyfully innocent” and there are frequent “Innocence gags”, in which she simply lacks the maturity to be able to comprehend the dubious intentions of the leading male roles. These kinds of roles were assigned to her in abundance, regardless of the film’s plot which all the more enhances the ‘eternal’ aspect of the trope. Decades onwards, and we’re still seeing this adoration with youth and the qualities it brings about in a multitude of media formats. 

The infamous Netflix Movie Blonde has come under fire for allegedly doing the same. It perpetuates this image of her, transforming her day-to-day life as a further extension of this caricature. With the vast majority of the biopic film being either her crying, weeping or sobbing, and Marilyn herself constantly calling the men in her life ‘Daddy’, many felt that it heavily infantilised her. In addition to this, they believed it only contributed to the already exploited image of her. In one explicit display of disappointment, one twitter user stated “Take a shot everytime Marilyn Monroe says “Daddy” in Netflix movie Blonde. What a shame to infantilize her like that. Marilyn was an intelligent woman.”. Another user, in reference to the fragile and immature image she exuded in the film, tweeted “Many would have us believe that Marilyn was helpless, even dumb. But she was the first woman since Mary Pickford to found her own production company.” Currently, Blonde holds an approval rating of 42% on review platform Rotten Tomatoes ,and has sparked numerous debates still questioning its ethicalness on Twitter. All in all, many felt that Blonde directed its focus on accentuating this notion of her being not much more than a whimsical airhead, rather than showing us her truest self. That in actuality, she was just human, and not a figure of what everlasting youth looks like. 

In an ironic twist, perhaps such an uproar demonstrates that many are no longer in favor of being sold the lie of eternal youth. There are thousands of criticisms, negative reviews and essays dedicated to dismantling the biopic film. As such, it would be reasonable to say that despite the majority still being indoctrinated with the belief of  ‘eternal youth’, there are many who will still reject such a notion. This is no extraordinary feat, as there have been times the public has shown backlash to this idea being thrust upon them, as shown in the reactions to Blonde. However, regardless of how controversial the concept may be, many will still turn up to watch the eternal youth trope being pushed onto Marilyn. It goes without saying that no matter how upset the public may be, we still find this story entertaining, time and time again. 

In short, the obsession with eternal youth completely diminishes everything else that a person may be. It compresses all the other qualities that a person may possess, and turns them into a mere display of said youth, with many often seeing their pain and tragedy as just another spectacle of their lives. Those subjected to the eternal youth phenomena devolve from being seen as actual people, and are instead regarded as mere paintings to be admired and adored, but nothing more. They’re dehumanised, and doomed to never truly be understood. They essentially become their faces, and their entire lives become just another fairy-tale. Sadly, it’s something that many people will romanticise and even fetishize. Marilyn Monroe was simply just another unfortunate case of the latter. 

Listen. It’s okay to take care of yourself. Use self-care products as you wish, and watch as many rom-coms in the young adult section as your heart desires. Take joy and pride in rejuvenating your skin, and letting your inner child run rampant. These are not inherently bad pastimes, and it would be misleading to portray these as so. But when appearing young becomes an all-consuming obsession, maybe one should take a step back, especially in this day and age, where many things can be primarily superficial. There’s an unspoken beauty in the ageing process, as it’s unfortunately not a privilege that everybody gets to experience. 

To conclude, the infatuation with eternal youth is perpetuated virtually everywhere, from the products we purchase, to the films we watch and even the celebrities we admire. It influences our lives more than we initially realise, down to our very rituals and behaviours. Ultimately, this infatuation can be extremely detrimental, as many of the standards are simply unattainable, and quite frankly, harmful. We obsessively throw away billions as a collective, in hopes of erasing even the slightest sign of aging. We continuously consume films depicting dreams of achieving a state of forever agelessness and consistently take them to heart. We neglect the representation of older generations, to the point of practical inexistence. And we can see that even decades after Marilyn Monroe’s untimely death, she is still being exploited as the poster girl of what eternal youth looks like. Are we infatuated with the idea of eternal youth? Yes, irrefutably. Undeniably.  However, there’s a power that comes with realising this truth, as it means that we as a society can cease to glamorise the obsession. It’s in our power to let go of these normalised customs, and be able to age unapologetically. If we refuse to give into these standards, and instead embrace each stage of life rather than trying to halt it, we can dispel these harmful conventions altogether. It’s simply a matter of letting go of what we’ve been led to believe is the pinnacle of expression, and aging, happily, with grace. 

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