In our country, as in much of the world, products are sold by association with a beautiful or famous person. However, the power of American pop culture and Hollywood biases has led to a near equivalence of youth and beauty. This is quite easily seen by flipping through the ads at the front of nearly every news or fashion magazine. Or when you compare the ages of male and female leads in our movies… Though it is not explicitly stated, the converse is certainly implied by our media: age is not beautiful, and particularly not for women.
I was recently traveling in Japan when I was struck by a particular counter-example. In the city of Kyoto, more so than any other place in Japan, the traditional arts of Japanese society are venerated and maintained. In particular is the custom of the Geisha (known as Geiko in Kyoto dialect), which is familiar but frequently misunderstood. The practice involves a woman dedicating her life to study and performance of traditional dance, music, and acting, as well as a unique social role in conversation and platonic companionship. The apprentices in this career are known as Maiko, and study begins at the completion of secondary school (generally between 16 and 18 years of age). For a minimum of five years, the Maiko-san lives in a communal house and learns from the matron as well as other instructors. These teachers are generally Geiko-san.
A fascinating component of the progression from Maiko to Geiko involves the dress and adornment. As a young apprentice, the Maiko-san wears a more elaborate kimono (robe) and obi (sash), with a longer tail and more bright colors and patterns. In addition, she must use her own hair in creating the requisite, highly-complicated hairstyle, which is then further adorned with combs and flowers. The Geiko-san, however, wears a considerably less decorative outfit, typically uses a wig, and may wear less makeup. I inquired about this difference with a knowledgeable local guide, and the answer that I received was amazing: because the Geiko is an expert at her arts, is more graceful in her movements, and has the wisdom of her years of practice, she does not require the accessories and adornment of the novice; her beauty derives from her skill and experience. The contrast of this idea with the hyper-focus on youth and the veneration of youth culture in our country is breathtaking. I think there is a lesson to be learned here.