In accord with a scholarly article, written by Cecil G. Helman, on the topic of cultural aspects of time and ageing, he asserts that “much of the research into ageing—and into ways of extending longevity—has focused on physical phenomena of the human body, particularly at the cellular or molecular level.” Try as we might to distinguish between or separate the biological process of ageing and our culturally conditioned attitudes towards retaining youth and beauty, they are heavily intertwined. It seems as though within western society the “eye” constructs the “I,” and we both shape and are shaped by our societally formed conceptions. Consequently, ageing ceases to be a natural occurrence in which cells degenerate and something that takes place in a broader social and cultural context beyond the body.
For instance, unlike the West, Eastern cultures founded on the religious principles of Buddhism and Hinduism, in which a cyclical view of life is adopted (i.e. we pass through the seemingly cycle of birth, death, and rebirth), ageing is viewed as a process of loss and acquisition, of physical degeneration and spiritual growth. Yet, this more spiritualist view exists alongside a more westernised conception of growing older. For example, two emerging representations of women in China—that is, “tender” women (nennu) and “ripe” women (shunu).
Academic writer J Yang argues that social patterns suggest that shunu women may become nennu by “consuming fashions, cosmetic surgery technologies, and beauty and health care products and services because tender women represent the ideal active consumership that celebrates beauty, sexuality, and individuality”. Therefore, ageing is reduced to merely a state of the body, a matter of appearance and something that can be remedied and cured through consumerism.
How should we understand ageing? Is it simply a state of mind? Or is it purely a physical, or aesthetic occurrence that we can alter by seeking to mimic youth? I feel as though perhaps we should aim for a mid-point between these two somewhat polar views of ageing, and accept that while ageing a natural process that takes place partially in the mind (both our own and collective society) and brings about emotional maturation, we can still try to look younger, and the best we can.