Women seem to have an urge to stay young and beautiful. But why do they do it?

First, of course, they do it for themselves. There has been a drive to promote self-care and what better way to do it than taking steps to maintain looking young, like doing more exercise, using SPF daily, or by taking it a step further—maybe using Botox?

Studies reveal that older people tend to feel younger than their age, and this incompatibility between how they feel and how they look can lead to mental health problems in later life.

In particular, middle-aged and older women report feeling invisible in their social circles, which makes them feel isolated, not to mention anxious and depressed. Interviews from older women often reveal that if money is no object, they would undergo procedures to look younger.

But women also want to look young and beautiful for other more practical reasons, say, to get a better job. In some job areas, being and looking young have a lot of favorable consequences. This is most noticeable in the entertainment industry—as actresses get older, they tend to be 'shifted' to different acting roles outside of being the protagonist, but this does not seem to be an issue for male actors.

And probably the most controversial reason offered for why women want to look young and beautiful is simply that our patriarchal society has made women think that they should. In a sense, there is an evolutionary function for this, where yes, women should want to look beautiful and young for men because being more attractive will help them get chosen as a mate. After all, in terms of evolution, men would want to reproduce and the 'most favorable' age for a woman to reproduce is in her younger years. You know, it's all about survival.

Be that as it may, our study suggests that men, in general, do not give a toss why women try to look young.

In Fact, It's the Other Women Who Care a Lot More

We asked 306 people between 18 and 75 years old to read a description of hypothetical middle-aged women who either use a less invasive method to look younger (a hand-held, home device that they can use themselves) or a more invasive method, in this case, Botox, to stay young, and the reasons why they do it. They then judged them on eight traits, like how admirable or foolish they thought the woman was. We then calculated their responses and the higher score they gave, the better they think of that target woman.

Overall, people think that using the home device is better than using Botox. Even though using Botox is more common now than in previous years, observers still do not like the idea of using it.

Interestingly, male respondents, in general, gave the targets lower scores than female respondents, which links to the idea that perhaps males unconsciously think that 'looking young' may not equate to being 'reproductive,' a trait that has been argued that males look for in a mate, but they also gave the same ratings regardless of the reason behind it. Female respondents, on the other hand, gave higher scores overall, but this depended on WHY the target woman wanted to look young. If they wanted to do it to improve their self-esteem, female respondents gave them the highest scores—yes, you go, girl!

BUT, when targets did it to feel better at their job or look for romantic partners, female respondents, especially those who were competitive, gave them much lower scores—no, thank you!

Think about it, when you're looking for a partner yourself and are highly competitive, you wouldn't want more people to compete with. You already have a population of young women to contend with, and now middle-aged women also want a piece of that pie. Not great for you.

But what does this mean for women who may choose to maintain looking young?

Sadly, how society views women, especially older women, affects their mental health in a negative way. Now that anti-aging treatments are less invasive, produce more natural-looking results, and are more affordable compared to what they were decades ago, maintaining a youthful look could be achievable. Research shows that an increase in self-esteem is a significant result from anti-aging treatments, with women who do it reporting that they feel 'like themselves again.'

In the end, it's a personal choice whether individuals would do it, or whether other people's opinion matters. If you are a woman, what would you do? 

For Further Reading

Childs, M. J., & Jones, A. (2022). Perceptions of individuals who engage in age concealment. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences. https://doi.org/10.1037/ebs0000305

Buss, D. M. (1989). Sex differences in human mate preferences: Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12(1), 1– 14. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X00023992

Michael Jeanne Childs is doing her PhD in Psychology at Swansea University in Wales, United Kingdom, focusing on perceptions of facial attractiveness, health, and age, and is currently working as a Research Assistant and Data Scientist in Population Data Science there.