Made up by men: the rules that tell women how to look

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The Independent Online
The cosmetics industry is still run by men, which wouldn't be a bad thing except for the predictability of the messages they broadcast - that most female flesh is gross or in need of repair. Leonard Lauder sent out an equally bizarre signal years ago when he referred to the stuff that bears his mother's name as products for "the kept-woman mentality". I found Lauder's less than bon mot in an old copy of Ms. That magazine exists without advertising (is it the only one?), so you could never claim that its point of view is compromised by commercial demands, unlike its cousins in the world of fashion and beauty. It set me wondering if our own visions of beauty and womanhood are capable any longer of evolving naturally, subjected as they are to a constant barrage of idealising claptrap from the cosmetics industry. What the industry sorely lacks is bravery, common sense and a reality check from real women.

As Usual, my favourite curmudgeon Christopher Hitchens had a perfectly logical point to make about the New Year. He wondered why we celebrate a withdrawal from our balance of time as vigorously as if it were a deposit. My husband is with Hitchens - he knows exactly how many Sundays he has left. So what drives the rest of us? Blind faith in the future? Or simply a schizophrenic attitude to the passage of time? With England swinging all over the international media again, it becomes obvious that the engine which drives this country's boomlets is youth. Yet there has never been a time when there were more people who weren't young, and our notion of the demarcation points between youth, middle age and old age is likely to be challenged still further. One grand expression of this is my mum at the age of 80, jumping into a hot-air balloon with a bottle of champagne in one hand while she honked her lungs into a handkerchief held in the other. "You worry too much," she assured her anxiously earthbound daughter.

At The University of California, Los Angeles, an experiment in life extension is using calorific restriction to the brink of starvation (lunch is a sweet potato), theoretically adding 40 years to the average life span in the flesh-mortifying process. The 60 volunteers around the world are being monitored over the Internet, where they'll presumably be swapping food porn fantasies in a few months. Meanwhile, up the coast in San Francisco, the Geron Corporation has found the Fountain of Youth (they call it "a cure for the disease of ageing"). Geron has won endorsement from the world's top geneticists for what is, in essence, a workable way to turn back the biological clock, make old cells young again and thus extend lifespan to a potentially unlimited degree, though the talk is about health span rather than lifespan. Concepts like that make me queasy. I couldn't care less about wrinkles and I can never see ageing as a disease. But I'm also intrigued. How will a cult that seems bent on making 40-year- olds feel obsolete cope with 140-year-olds? Picture them scrapping over fresh water with marauding teenage bandits as the resource- challenged 21st century unravels.

How's your bite? If you ever needed proof of holism at work, consider the impact of occlusion - or the way your teeth meet - on your entire body. Teeth should connect very lightly for no more than 10 minutes a day but grinding or clenching due to a poor bite or stress can bring them into contact for up to several hours at a time, which obviously subjects teeth, gums, jaws and muscles to much more pressure than they were designed to take. And that in turn causes muscle spasm leading to headaches, neckache, shoulder pain, sinus problems, tinnitus, even tingling fingers and toes, in other words the kind of chronic ailments that can continue for years without proper diagnosis or treatment. Dentists are almost as unlikely as GPs to recognise occlusal disease. Sufferers have often been classed as neurotics and placed on antidepressants, when all they need is "splint therapy" to correct their bite and ease their chronic pain. Here's one case history: after three years on Prozac, one woman was "cured' within two weeks by her dentist. My dentist believes greater public awareness of occlusal disease and its cure will put pressure on the profession to wise up. At the moment, fewer than 100 dentists out of a total of well over 20,000 have attended the relevant courses over the last decade, which suggests to me there are probably a lot of otherwise balanced patients labouring under a mis-diagnosis of neurosis. Challenge your dentist or contact the British Society of Occlusal Studies (SAE c/o 6 Union Road, New Mills, High Park, SK22 3ES) if you feel you may be one of them. Consider that my first public service announcement.

I've Been considering the lunacy of statistics. Like this one: the average number of ancestors a person has going back over 25 generations is 33,554,432, a number which should work wonders for any citizen's sense of social connection. Or the numbers thrown up by surveys conducted in the US for a book called What Would You Do? In reply to the question "If you had to be put to death, would you choose to die by...?", the vast majority of both men and women favoured injection, with "firing squad" a comfortable second for men. And women? They plumped for electrocution, a response which leaves the 14 English friends I've asked so far utterly dumbstruck. Another victory for the truth - it beats fiction every time.