Look young for your age? It’s your genes or wealth

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Look young for your age? It’s your genes or wealth” was written by Carole Cadwalladr, for The Observer on Saturday 30th April 2016 23.05 UTC

Recently, I had the opportunity to investigate the domestic habits and behaviours of a little understood human genus: Homo plutocratus. The super-rich, if you will. I spent time with them in their natural environment, observed them at close quarters and even managed to communicate with them in a form you might characterise as “light, social chit-chat”.

And, as a result of these in-depth investigations, I am now able to reveal the results of my research: they are better looking than us.

Sure, there are other unique features. Such as, they literally don’t have enough have things to spend their money on. There are only so many diamond-encrusted gewgaws you can buy. Only so many superyachts. Do any words convey existential despair so economically and profoundly as the new catchphrase that Philip Green bequeathed upon the English language last week: “Awaiting delivery of his third super-yacht”? Because what happens then? A fourth? A fifth?

But forget the yachts and the houses. It was their looks that fascinated me. Because it turns out that money may not buy you happiness, but it can get you a firmer arse. It can buy you fewer wrinkles, a more shapely jawline, better skin.

This was a particular sub-classification of the rich – New Yorkers. And possibly no people on Earth have ever looked this good. They were all of a certain age – but what age? It was impossible to tell; none of the usual signs was there – they were all firm and lean and toned and had faces like unruffled mill ponds.

I thought of them last week when I read the story about how a new gene has been discovered that holds the secret of “youthful looks”. I clicked on that headline. We all did. It was one of the Guardian’s top stories of the day. Forget the antisemitism thing or the BHS thing – the news we really want is the secret to looking hot, forever. Or, failing that, just a little bit younger.

And the news just in is that we can. Though there are a few ifs. If you had the foresight to be born with two copies of the MC1R gene, for starters. The scientists behind the study found a correlation between a single gene and having an appearance, on average, of someone two years younger. The lucky winners of life’s genetic lottery? The gingers – the MC1R gene is associated with red hair and pale skin. The study, sponsored by Unilever, carried out at the University of Rotterdam and published in last week’s Current Biology was proper fundamental science that increases the sum of human knowledge. But it doesn’t take a whole laboratory of PhDs to figure out Unilever’s interest in it.

Five years ago, the company launched “the world’s first anti-wrinkle pill” – yours for £37.50 a pop. The cosmetic surgery industry in the UK is worth more than £3bn a year, the beauty industry another £17bn. “We are hopeful that this discovery could influence future product development at Unilever,” said the study’s co-leader and Unilever senior scientist, David Gunn.

I don’t know about you, but I’m psyched. Because who doesn’t want to have one’s insecurities targeted by a multinational company seeking to deliver greater profits to its shareholders? Although when I say “one”, I mean “women”. We’re the target. They’re the market.

There was another finding in the study that didn’t make any headlines. It’s not just the MC1R gene that makes you look younger. Being male does. “People consistently rated women as being older than their years and men as being younger,” said Manfred Kayser, the lead author. Here’s another anti-ageing trick: try to be born with a dick – it will take years off you.

The report in the Guardian, trying to account for the result, explained: “The finding might reflect the media’s obsession with images of young women.”

It might. It might also explain the queue of ordinary professional women in my dentist’s waiting room. They’re not all there for their £19.70 NHS check-up, it turns out, but for a light touch of botulism in the head. Did you know that? I didn’t.

I thought Botox was for celebrities, Wags, cast members of Towie, narcissists. I hadn’t realised that half the dentists in London are now offering it: bridge work, fillings and would madam care for a £250 syringe of neurotoxin on the side?

Botox is the new hair dye. Another, non-tax-deductible expense that women are going to think they need if they have any plans on staying in the workplace. Or at least the kind of professions such as – let’s take a completely random example here – the media. Because, I don’t know how it is in your industry, but journalism feels like no country for old women.

It’s been a depressing week for capitalism. Or a good week for capitalism, but a depressing week for everyone else. What happened to BHS is simply the logic of the market. And the market is increasingly our bodies, our faces. A £20bn a year market that depends on finding new ways to make women feel bad about themselves.

Here’s something that would take years off any woman’s face: an anti-ageing pill that fixed the structural inequality of the workplace. How about that? A magic sweetie that made up the £300,000 less that a woman earns over her working life. A remedy to a media landscape that always, universally, even now in 2016, seats a younger female newsreader to the right of an older man.

Here’s some more news just in: there’s no gene for that.

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