Perhaps it's my sensitivity to these kinds of issues, but did anyone else interpret Justin Bieber's offhand remark about Prince Williams' thinning hair, as a reflection of larger cultural issues? A bit of ageism? Maybe even a tendency by youth to bully their elders?
For those of you who missed this London-based story in the midst of Bolt and Gabby, Bieber was recently quoted as commenting about Williams' receding hairline, saying, "I mean there are things to prevent that nowadays, like Propecia. I don't know why he doesn't just get those things, those products. You just take Propecia and your hair grows back. Have you not got it over here?" Justin asked Rollercoaster magazine.
The pushback in England was strong. How dare America's Canadian-born darling Bieber give advice to Britain's darling Prince William? One journalist, Jessica Callan said, "Wills and Prince Harry may joke about William's thinning hair, but that doesn't mean a kid like Justin can come sauntering in and join in the joke. It's like inviting someone over for dinner and they tell you how awful your carpet is. Even if you agree, how dare they say it? So the Biebs had better watch out!"
Callan, along with thousands of others, focused on Bieber's impudence -- the proverbial ugly American, a little punk criticizing a mature, respected Brit -- not to mention his lack of knowledge about how Propecia really works. (While delaying further hair loss, Propecia does not typically help it grow back). I agree Bieber's careless remarks were rude and inappropriate, and yes, Bieber should get his facts straight before shooting off his mouth as if an authority about anything. But little is being discussed about the pop idol's comment as a reflection of a growing cultural trend that to me is even more disturbing.
Today's youth assumes that aging is a disease that needs to be fixed. They not only fear getting older, but will go to great extents to avoid, delay or remedy any signs of it.
Does Bieber, or any of these youngsters, really understand the risks and complications that can arise when medical interventions put youth and beauty before all else? For Propecia, there may be long-term sexual side effects. For other age-defying procedures, there can be more serious and sometimes permanent consequences, ones that are not just physical, but psychological as well.
Some of the press compared Bieber to an annoying, buzzing fly that should be swatted away. But do these flies reflect a larger group coming up from behind that believe if you don't have perfect physical features, or that when aging changes them, you make necessary alterations and don't stop at any cost? Overweight -- get lipo. Sagging breasts -- implants solve that. Hanging jowels -- why not just lift them? It's a kind of youth-obsessed, cultural buzz that may not only be annoying, but can be downright dangerous.
Remember Karen Klein, the middle-aged woman recently bullied by kids on the school bus, an incident that led to a great deal of attention, sympathy and even financial support? That incident was caught on tape and posted on YouTube, just as Bieber's comments were available in print for all to read. What about all the other remarks hurled toward everyday imperfect, aging men and women, comments that are equally hurtful, but without anyone to defend them? Shouldn't we be addressing the larger cultural imperative that fuels this growing attitude among our youth that leads to this sort of cruelty?
The UK Telegraph put it well, referring to Prince William's growing bald spot. "Prince William's 'island of tranquility' has famously been evolving into a 'sea of tranquility' since his early twenties, a fact which hasn't stopped him [from] becoming a top international heartthrob and snaring a total McFittie for a wife. Plus he even knows there's a country called Germany where they speak German -- a fact Bieber was totally unaware of..."
This is not about Bieber-bashing, though one had to chuckle when he announced, at age 18, that he was writing his memoir. It is not about star-slamming, though one can recall a very young Tom Cruise lecturing Matt Lauer about how he knew much more than his "Today Show" host about psychiatric drugs.
This is about encouraging our youth to be thoughtful before assuming that aging is a problem that requires fixing. Or that they know, from their many years of experience, the magic potion, pill or procedure that would best provide the sought after fix. We all age -- yes, Bieber and his fans too -- but hopefully we can do so with grace, tranquility, and most important, with respect toward one another.
What is your reaction to Bieber's comment about Prince William's hair? Do you view aging as a disease to be fixed?
* * * * *
Vivian Diller, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in New York City. She serves as a media expert on various psychological topics and as a consultant to companies promoting health, beauty, and cosmetic products. Her book Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change (2010), edited by Michele Willens, is a psychological guide to help women deal with the emotions brought on by their changing appearances.