If you’re on any kind of social media right now, you couldn’t miss the 10-year challenge that’s currently viral: you put up a picture of yourself in 2009 and one in 2019 and voila, wait for the exclamations on how you look exactly the same. The haters are saying it’s an excuse to put up yet another image of yourself, a socially acceptable way to brandish visual proof that the changes are positively remarkable (which can only be, no change at all).
The very predictable and wholly tiresome criticism of this timepass game is how it feeds into the inherent narcissism of our times. Though it does raise the more pertinent question, since when did posting pictures become a challenge anyway? Typically, the most enthusiastic participants of this challenge were people who think they haven’t aged a day. From my own feed, what I could make out was the people who deliberately stayed away were all those who had improved — drastically. If your lips are suddenly bee-stung, cheeks a perfect matte and you are sporting a crease free brow in your forties, you certainly don’t want to draw attention to those days when you were at least in your own opinion, sublimely plain. Like the people participating in the Facebook challenge, I have reached an age that prompts reflection on the then and now. As a friend put it philosophically, “looks-wise we reached the summit a long time ago”. Mercifully, it doesn’t matter. Thanks to modern science, we may choose to descend downhill at a snail’s pace.
The 10-year challenge, more than anything, draws attention to how flawed the conversation around growing old really is. The culture subliminally (but unconvincingly) pressurises us into thinking that ageing is magnificent joy, not because of its hideous perils, but precisely because of them. The middle-aged are not supposed to be preoccupied by how they look. They are supposed to have learnt by now that there is more to life than striving to emulate youthful pursuits, like a six pack. The facts, however, suggest a completely different story. Silicon Valley, arguably home to the world’s greatest innovators, is currently obsessed with “curing” ageing. Oracle founder Larry Ellison very dramatically referred to mortality as “incomprehensible” while PayPal owner Peter Theil has invested millions to ensure he lives till he’s “120 years old”. The idea behind these tech billionaires’ investment in longevity sciences isn’t for the world to be inhabited by wizened old men lurching around forever on walking sticks. It’s to create a scenario where 90 is the new 50.
In Delhi, for example, it’s the plastic surgeons and skin specialists who command the highest fees among doctors. The wait for an appointment with top three dermatologists in this city can be 45 days and consultation is Rs 4,000. Contrast that with the fee of a heart surgeon in the city’s top private hospitals: it is usually under Rs 3,000. Who are we kidding? Looks matter, ageing is horrific and overtly or not, a lot of humanity is doing what they can to avoid it. Whether it’s going to the gym or teeth brightening, these are all anti-ageing precautions. Inexplicably though, the idea persists that cosmetic surgery is for the supremely vain.
Of course, physical perfection doesn’t protect you from heartbreak or cash flow problems. But neither is aspiring to it a moral failing. It could be argued choosing to go under the knife is no more shallow than buying a diesel-guzzling SUV or a 10-carat diamond with dodgy antecedents. Far too many people are consumed by the task of survival to worry about appearances, but for those who have the means to turn back the clock, often, it can be a worthwhile investment. Not everyone is born comfortable in their own skin. Like the recently deceased American poet Mary Oliver questioned: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” For starters, if something like the 10-year challenge is your thing, why be held back by something as fixable as wrinkles?