Of Brave New World’s many themes, one of the most momentous is Aldous Huxley’s treatment of ageing. Set in London in A.D. 2540, the society’s social engineers have managed to keep their citizens forever young. So, when the protagonist, Bernard, and his girlfriend, Lenina, encounter an old man in the Savage Reservation, Lenina is abhorred.
“What’s the matter with him?” whispered Lenina. Her eyes were wide with horror and amazement.
“He’s old, that’s all,” Bernard answered as carelessly as he could. He too was startled; but he made an effort to seem unmoved.
“Old?” she repeated. “But the Director’s old; lots of people are old; they’re not like that.”
When the novel was originally published in 1932, nobody would have guessed that within 50 years anti-ageing treatments would begin to appear and that many of the questions tackled with such insight in this work would become a reality. Together with longer life expectancy it begs the question — is it better to age gracefully, wrinkles and all and let Mother Nature take her path? Or should we do our best to remain forever young?
The Cult of Youth
Like Oscar Wilde’s infamous character Dorian Gray, who remains in his twenties due to the portrait that has captured his image as a young man, so the fear of growing old and the desire for perpetual youth has led to a number of well-known celebrities to take action. Best known are the likes of Madonna and Cher, all who have tried to maintain a semblance of their younger selves. As well as plastic surgery, they have taken advantage of a growing number of treatments now available on the market.
These range from moisturisers at the supermarket that promise anti-ageing results to chemical peels, non-evasive facelifts and surgery. Botox, the name more commonly used for the treatment Botulinum Toxin A, is perhaps the most popular of these methods, with the facial car crashes of many a celebrity splashed all over the tabloids. And now, even in Vietnam, skincare and anti-ageing treatments are catching on.
Says Dr Tran Ngoc Si of SIAN Skincare Laser Clinic, so popular are anti-ageing treatments, that it’s not only the middle-aged who appear at his clinic, but women as young as 25. He says that many people are cottoning onto the idea of preventative skincare, targeting problem areas before ageing occurs.
And yet, surely a preoccupation with youth is narcissistic and self-absorbed? Instead of trying to conquer nature all the time, shouldn’t we just learn to accept the inevitable?
Body Over Mind
Yes, there is an issue of vanity, but according to Stamford Medical Clinic’s Dr Mark Siefring, for many people, premature ageing can have a real psychological effect on its victims.
He recalls one patient who came to him with a deep furrow between his eyebrows.
“People were thinking that he was concerned or angry when actually he felt fine,” explains Dr Siefring. “After the furrow was fixed, it changed how he interacted with the people around him.”
Add to this the fact that side effects of surgical treatments are rare and range from allergic reactions to swelling or soreness immediately after the procedure, you have to ask yourself, is there really anything wrong with trying to look young?
The key thing, say the specialists, is when it comes to premature ageing. For the purpose of feeling good and increasing self-confidence it is here that skincare and various other treatments can have real benefit.
And in reality, the Dorian Gray factor or the utopia illustrated in Brave New World are purely theoretical. Likewise, the Madonna or Cher scenarios are restricted to the ultra-rich — few have the means or are fixated by the obsession of looking like they are 20 when they are in fact 70. Rather, using the various treatments available to us is part of looking after ourselves and providing a bit more longevity.
Body and Soul
But it is not just taking advantage of all the Body Shop skin creams and treatments available at the likes of SIAN and Stamford that are going to keep us young. Our lifestyle also plays its part.
“The battle against signs of ageing should be fought within the body,” says Dr Siefring. “Genes play a significant role in how we age. Looking at how our parents and other relatives have aged is often a sign of how we will age, but not necessarily a sure indicator.”
Factors such as diet, drinking and smoking have more control over the skin’s ageing process than any cream or balm that promotes anti-ageing properties, even though creams and facials offer moisturising properties, which are also beneficial to the skin thanks to them containing Vitamin A.
In addition, while both Dr Si and Dr Siefring agree that some sun exposure is beneficial to the skin’s health, prolonged exposure to UV rays permanently and irreversibly damages the skin, increasing the appearance of ageing. In Vietnam, the sun is particularly harsh — according to the specialists people should use at least a factor 30 broad-spectrum sunscreen and to avoid the sun in the middle of the day when rays are at their strongest. Indeed, there is some sense to the madness to all the covering up Vietnamese women do when they are outdoors.
But ultimately, the concept of age and beauty should be left in the eye of the beholder.