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PSA: Aging Gracefully Is Not the Same as Anti-Aging

It’s less about exfoliating and moisturizing as it is about dressing your age

There’s a reason why the nearly $300 billion industry promoting eternal youth is referred to as “anti-aging” and not “how to age well.” Because for every one article written about embracing your wrinkles or appreciating your salt and pepper hair, there’s at least 10 written about some new serum that uses a baby’s foreskin to keep your face looking younger.

While the majority of the anti-aging industry has traditionally been focused on women, these days, it’s far from uncommon for men’s magazines to discuss skin care too (in our case, all the insane ways men do it). Either way, though, these products and articles assume the skin-care taker is trying to turn back their physiological clock, rather than embrace it — an approach that’s led to a certain amount of backlash. Just last year, for example, Allure decided to stop using the expression ‘anti-aging,’ altogether.

“‘Whether we know it or not, we’re subtly reinforcing the message that ageing is a condition we need to battle,’ explained Michelle Lee in her editor’s letter. ‘Changing the way we think about ageing starts with changing the way we talk about ageing,’” reported The Guardian.

So what does an article on how to age well even look like? Unsurprisingly, GQ seems to think it’s no different than any other piece of anti-aging content: “Slather on a moisturizer with SPF 15 or higher every single day to shield skin from damaging UV rays, even in the winter,” writes Kristin Dold. Even the New York Times article on “How to Age Well” includes little apart from the usual stay out of the sun, eat better, exercise more type of advice — the same suggestions repeated ad nauseum by the anti-aging industrial complex.

But before discussing some ways to wear your age well rather than try to turn back the hands of time itself, it’s important to note that, based largely on societal norms and a few biological factors (like having thicker and oilier skin), men have a distinct advantage here in that they’re generally thought to get better looking as they age anyway. One study from St. Andrews University found that men are at their most attractive at 35 years old, reported Look. For comparison, one disturbing study by OKCupid found that men of nearly every age — but especially after the age of 30 — are most attracted to 22 year-old women. “And after he hits 30, the latter half of our age range (that is, women over 35) might as well not exist,” reports Jezebel.

Still, even the notion of men getting better looking with age has its limits: According to a survey conducted by hair transplant business Crown Clinic Manchester, after the age of 39, men become invisible to younger women. “The study says 52 percent of respondents believe that men lose their allure as they reach 40 — and 39+ men are viewed as father figures rather than sex symbols,” reported The Telegraph.

So let’s say you’re a man past your so-called “prime”: What steps — beyond just general wellness — can you take to look like the best version of your paternal self?

According to menswear stylist Julie Feingold, it’s all about realizing that less is more. “Every heavily printed pattern shirt has to go,” says Feingold. “And if you have salt and pepper hair, embrace it.” Another thing she suggests is finding someone you admire — and importantly, who’s of a similar age — that you can use as inspiration for your own look. “Maybe it’s a movie icon or someone whose style you idolize,” she says. “Take certain aspects of that person and incorporate them into your own look that works and speaks to you.”

In terms of a look, Feingold likes menswear designer Brunello Cucinelli, whose designs, she says, are rich but simple. “You’ll always look dapper if your clothes fit the right way,” she explains, adding that anything loud isn’t going to look as good for an older man as something simple and tailored.

But it’s not just about what you’re wearing. My own dad — who looks around 55 because he is 55, and who frankly, I’d be lucky to look like at the same age — tells me that his secret to aging gracefully has little to do with fashion or exercise. “I never think about age,” he says. “I just think about being alive and wanting to still play. I like cars and watches, but I also like doing things around the house that people tell me I shouldn’t be doing anymore.” One example he shares is that, just last week, he climbed a ladder atop his two-story house to hook a cable onto the roof. “I never think, I’m too old to be doing something. I don’t let my age or thoughts of my age stop me from doing the things I think I’m still capable of doing.”

To his point, a study from 1979 showed how effective a person’s mindset can be in influencing their aging process. “The men told to live like they did 20 years ago, however, ‘looked younger in the after-pictures,’” reported Big Think. A similar study from France found the same results. “Feeling younger than one’s real age could help to preserve memory and cognitive function as people get older, says a study in the November issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry,” reported the Wall Street Journal in 2014.

Of course, having good genes helps too. “I’ve been lucky, I still have all my hair,” my dad tells me. Here’s hoping that genetic stroke of luck continues.