arrow-right cart chevron-down chevron-left chevron-right chevron-up close menu minus play plus search share user email pinterest facebook instagram snapchat tumblr twitter vimeo youtube subscribe dogecoin dwolla forbrugsforeningen litecoin amazon_payments american_express bitcoin cirrus discover fancy interac jcb master paypal stripe visa diners_club dankort maestro trash


The Newsletter | Edition 115

The State of Aging:
A Veneer of Progress

Written by Joanne Bolens

Illustrations by Matthew Carter

Quick caveat: Everyone's views on aging are inevitably influenced by gender and cultural biases. As a woman in her 30s who was raised in a Western culture, my perspectives in this article are shaped by those experiences.

Aging concerns are nothing new, at least in Western cultures. Just take a look at The Ugly Duchess by Quinten Massys (created 1513) and you’ll see aging portrayed as a scary, disfiguring process—for women, at least. Fast forward 500+ years and our world is unrecognizable from Massys’ 1513. But has our relationship to aging also evolved? In 2024, what is the cultural State of Aging?


A quick cultural scan suggests that we’ve made strides: hype brands like CELINE and Aimé Leon Dore are featuring much older people in their ads, and beauty brands like Allure and Dove have ditched "anti-aging" lingo for "pro-aging." From Beyonce to Angelina Jolie to Pamela Anderson, more celebs are breaking the silence on aging, challenging our youth-obsessed culture to embrace aging as “cool.” As Julia Fox said back in 2022, “Getting old is fucking hot and sexy.”

Beyond the influence of brands and celebs, everyday individuals are also redefining aging, challenging long-held stereotypes, and prompting a less discriminatory outlook on aging. More and more older people are entering historically youth-dominated spaces, going back to college or creating house music, like 89-year-old DJ Sumirok.


But scratch the surface of shiny ads and celebrity posts, and you can't help but feel that we’re actually… regressing? People worry about aging from a much, much younger age. Tweens as young as 12 are using retinol, and Gen Z thinks they're “aging like milk” (rather than a nice Chianti). Extreme anti-aging treatments have become mainstream: getting vampire facials, sleeping only on your back to minimize skin friction, and even—believe it or not—avoiding smiling altogether. The numbers don’t lie: the anti-aging industry in the U.S. is expected to grow from $64B in 2022 to $122B in 2032.

In this era of ‘Aging Anxiety’ where signals often clash, the reality is more complex than meets the eye. To truly grasp what the State of Aging is today, we need to look at it from various angles and debunk the myths that come with it.

Debunking the
Five Aging Myths


The Myth: A Tool for Self-Empowerment
The Reality: An Illusion of Choice

Can plastic surgery be feminist? There’s an argument for it: being in control over one’s own body is an act of self-empowerment. My body, my choice.

But we can argue that choices like Botox don’t exist in a vacuum and therefore ultimately reinforce impossible beauty standards, trapping women into looking youthful to be valued in society. Since beauty is power, the fear—real or perceived—is that women lose their power as they age and “their beauty fades.” The issue isn't wanting to look younger; it's having to. Interestingly, some Eastern cultures, influenced by Confucian values, see aging women gain power and respect.

While no woman gets Botox with this intent, are we complicit in reinforcing expectations that ultimately will disadvantage us? If so, are anti-aging solutions, framed as tools for self-empowerment, merely an illusion of choice?


The Myth: Sexual Erasure
The Reality: Sexual Renaissance

In 1999, Jennifer Coolidge marked culture with her role as everyone's favorite MILF in American Pie. While middle-aged women always have had a place in male fantasies (hello, step-mum porn), senior sexuality has been erased from mainstream media, as if it doesn’t exist. Turning to Reddit for first-hand testimonials, the verdict is clear: yes older people have sex, and quite a lot apparently. The data corroborates, with a study stating that 86% of men and 60% of women aged 60–69 years report being sexually active. In comparison, a whopping 30% of American male Gen Z reported having gone without sex for a year.

Senior sexuality clashes with our youth-obsessed culture, leading the media to silence it. However, change is underway, with models like Paulina Porizkova proudly posting nudes, and brands like We-Vibe catering to older adults' sexual needs.

In a society that equates sexuality with youth, how do we ensure older adults are not denied their experiences? How can we foster healthier conversations around senior sexuality?


The Myth: Liberated from Expectations
The Reality: Trapped in Self-Scrutiny

“Every year I gain is another fuck I lose to give. It's actually pretty great.” - r/AskWomen

When asked about the best part of aging, many say the freedom from expectations. The idea is that with aging comes a sense of liberation.

But, in an era where social media is inescapable, is letting go ever truly an option? We constantly curate, edit, and display ourselves, tracking every new wrinkle. We're trapped in self-scrutiny, comparing ourselves to filter-enhanced, botox-fueled, and ‘youthified’ alter egos.

“Sadly, I think my big concern with aging is not looking young i.e. pretty. I think looking young shouldn't be a standard of beauty for women. But the other day someone said I looked younger than my age, and it made me feel pretty.” r/AskWomen

With plastic surgery, fillers, and Facetune already skewing our expectations of beauty, will the rise of AI raise the bar even higher, further distorting our expectations of how we should look as we age?


The Myth: Revolutionizing Health for All
The Reality: Widening the Health Gap

Immortality might be distant, but the progress of science and technology promises us unprecedented longevity. In fact, in 2023, Harvard scientists reversed signs of aging in mice, giving us hope to disrupt the one immutable truth: we will all age, and we will all die.

Widely available anti-aging solutions are here, from face yoga to neuroplasticity exercises to calorie-restricted diets. There are also premium solutions, like supplements, retinoids, or senolytic drugs. But real breakthroughs will come from advanced technologies like cell reprogramming or CRISPR gene editing, which could extend our lives by 15 years by reversing cellular aging.

Billionaires are heavily investing in this quest, highlighting a stark reality: aging gracefully is becoming a luxury and a symbol of our class system. In a country where basic healthcare is not guaranteed for all, who will truly reap the rewards of breakthrough innovations? Will ‘healthy aging’ emerge as the new frontier that widens the gap between the haves and the have-nots?


The Myth: The Golden Days
The Reality: The Hunger Games

The dream of retirement as a time to kick back is rapidly fading, becoming a utopian fantasy for many. 38% of U.S. millennials will have “inadequate” retirement income at age 70. As Millennials worry, many Boomers already retire with financial struggles, forcing them to keep working into their 80s.

“I just turned 70. I live alone in a big city. I have very little money, a pension and SSA. Sometimes I panic a little. r/AskOldPeople

The shared anxieties are called for. According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund, which pays retirement and survivor benefits, will be unable to issue full benefits starting in 2033.

These concerns transcend economic realities, touching on existential fears about our ability to live in habitable conditions. 75% of UK young adults aged 16-25 reported to have intense anxiety about the future due to climate change.

For many, aging brings anxieties about their ability to maintain a decent quality of life, making retirement feel more like battling the Hunger Games than living out the Golden Days.


Today’s State of Aging is in flux, with progress on some fronts, and setbacks on others. This dynamic of push and pull is often the reflection of greater, long-term change. As stated in SYLVAIN’s last Impact Assessment, “backlashes are doomed to be remembered as little more than the death spasms of expiring ideologies.”

We are now at a pivotal turning point: where an old ideology remains strong but a new paradigm is rising against one of the last socially accepted prejudices.

So, is ageism headed towards its own death? And will you, as brand leaders and agents of culture, remain tied to the past or embrace a more expansive definition of what it means to age?

Progress Report is dedicated to providing inspiration for action. In this special newsletter series, The State Of, we dive a little deeper into the long-term work that comes after, in the places where we’re seeing new types of progress in action. From brand strategy to design, internet trends to sustainability, music to science, beauty to travel, and more.

Joanne is a Director of Strategy at SYLVAIN. Insatiably curious, she places creativity and experimentation at the center of everything she does, both professionally and personally. She has led a breadth of brand and service design projects for WhatsApp, Uber, Google, Spotify, Meta, and Nike, among others. Outside of work, Jo is a serial hobbyist—constantly trying new activities and exploring new spaces.

Shopping Cart