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Saturday 10 December 2016

What Katie Did Next: In which a robot tries to guess my real age...

Katie Byrne
Katie Byrne

No doubt you've heard about the How Old Do I Look? app, which, over the past week, has been responsible for many column inches and much idle amusement.

The developers behind it seriously underestimated its popularity. They created it for a conference and sent it to some friends in order for them to try it out. They were expecting maybe 50 people to use it; over 210,000 images were submitted in the first few hours.

The small matter of the app not working very well didn't dissuade the masses. Besides, we're all partial to confirmation bias and selective gullibility when potential compliments are being dished out.

It's an instant winner, so I can't quite understand how the developers didn't account for the fact that this is the generation of digital narcissism, forensic self-disclosure and chronic selfie-ism.

Our brains are flooded with dopamine when we get a thumbs-up on Facebook, a retweet on Twitter or a Reddit gold star. How did they not extrapolate that an app that indulges self-interest and instant approval wouldn't go viral?

By the same token, I wondered why people needed an app that is the digital equivalent of getting sloshed in a restaurant and slurring 'how old do you think I am?' to the young Spanish waiter.

It perpetuates society's obsession with age by implying that younger is better and it... 24? 24! I'm 31 and the robot told me I was 24! Stop all the clocks and someone get this press released. I almost cried with gratitude. Surely I should win a prize for this? It has not been easy, let me tell you.

In order to test the validity of the claim, I chose the very scientific method of finding a photograph of an actual 24-year-old - the actress Jennifer Lawrence - and uploading it.

I made sure the photo of Jennifer was recent (even if my one was a year old) and I made sure she looked suitably mature (there's that confirmation bias again). 24! The robot predicted that she was 24.

I'm the same age as Jennifer Lawrence, which means we're practically the same person! Who cares that the app also told me that Madonna was 27...

How Old Do I Look? is symbolic of how my position on anti-ageing flip-flops on an almost daily basis. The rational part of my brain knows that I'll never look younger than I do right now.

The emotional part of my brain believes that under-eye creams work and scans glossy magazine articles for the parentheses that enclose the age of the celebrity in question.

Likewise, as much as I realise that an obsession with youth can arrest one's spiritual development, I still can't help but pull my skin taut in the mirror to see how I'd look with a facelift. The sensible part of me knows that the easiest way to look younger is to wear less make-up. The senseless part of me coos over wrinkle-smoothing foundations containing peptides.

Our culture fetishises youth and the objects of our attention are becoming ever younger. Forget Kim Kardashian - these days we're all about her 17-year-old sister.

Robert Harrison wrote beautifully about this infantilisation of society in Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Age: "For the first time in human history, the young have become a model of emulation for the older population, rather than the other way around," he wrote. "Culturally speaking, be that in terms of dress codes, mentality, lifestyles and marketing, the world that we live in is astonishingly youthful and in many respects infantile."

You know you're in trouble when you start comparing your skin tone to that of a 17-year-old. You know the world's in trouble when that 17-year-old has been alleged to have had cosmetic surgery.

We're all throwing the kitchen sink at it, with beauty routines that nourish the inside and frantically enhance the outside: oily fish, kale, Botox, Restylane, namaste. It's exhausting.

I read a piece in Allure magazine recently in which the editors praised their favourite beauty products and treatments. One of them puts on four different moisturisers in the morning; another recommends the filler Juvederm Voluma.

I'd be lying if I said I hadn't googled Juvederm Voluma on more than one occasion since, and sure enough, the women modelling it look flawless. But they also look like a little bit of their essence has been erased.

The strength, character and gaze of knowingness a woman's face develops as she gets older has been blotted out.

It's like comparing a painting in a gallery, with all its texture and contrast, to the screen print you can buy when you exit through the gift shop. Still... they look flawless all the same...

I KNEW I was starting to look older when people began saying 'do you mind if I ask your age?' I mind that they think I should mind. Worse, they always deliver the cursory 'you don't look it' when I tell them. It's akin to pointing out a rash on your nose and being told that it's really not that bad.

The etiquette around this subject only compounds the pressure, and the male of the species are often the worst culprits. To all the men that think it's charming to tell a mother and daughter that they look like sisters, just stop.

offensive

It's offensive to the mother, who has to smile gratefully even when she has just been patronised beyond belief, and it's offensive to the daughter, who has essentially been told that she looks at least 10 years older.

The fondness that older men have for younger women compounds the pressure even further. I recently read a piece on independent.ie in which the owner of a leading Irish dating agency said she had to manage the unrealistic expectations of her male clients.

"There are guys in their 50s and 60s coming to us looking for a woman 20 years younger," she revealed. This one really made my blood boil.

Are these men aware that they are not immune to the ageing process? Their testicles sag, for heaven's sake! I know it's not easy to hear - I only found out about this phenomenon myself a few months ago - but they need to face up to it.

Just as women have to contend with 'bingo wings' and 'crow's feet' and 'cankles', men must accept that, one day, they too will suffer from 'scrotal sag'.

Of course, they'll probably be some sort of surgical procedure for it in the years to come. In the future, we'll no doubt have nanotechnological facelifts with little to no downtime and we'll probably be able to perform laser hair removal on ourselves using our iPhones.

Why was I so grateful when a robot told me that I looked 24? On reflection, it was because for a fleeting and frivolous moment, it eased the pressure.

'Our brains are flooded with dopamine when we get a thumbs-up on Facebook, a retweet on Twitter or a Reddit gold star'

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