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We're lucky to be free of the tyranny of the body beautiful

Pity the singer-songwriter James Arthur, who within hours of winning the X Factor on Sunday had publicly pledged to get his teeth "sorted out", by which he means straightened and whitened.

I'm not his mum, and I don't even know him, but it breaks my heart to learn that the 23-year-old is self-conscious about opening his mouth.

"It's just a thing I have," he said. "Everyone has their hang-ups and this is mine." He added he was now on a mission to lose at least a stone. The thing he might find more difficult to change about his appearance, even if he wanted to, is his many tattoos.

It seems to me he's teetering at the edge of a slippery slope. No doubt cosmetic dental practitioners around the country are licking their lips in anticipation of lucrative work, not only from angsty Arthur but also potentially from his legions of young fans (the show is liked by six million Facebookers, and has almost 2.5 million Twitter followers).

Insecurities about body image used to be the prerogative of pre-pubescent girls but, with the rise and rise of reality television and the ongoing obsession with celebrity, it seems the age of discontent has widened its reach to ensnare vulnerable 20-somethings and even 30-somethings of both sexes. In striving to copy the appearance and mannerisms of their pop or sports idols, whose every style triumph and disaster is replicated in magazines and posted online, children of our time are becoming high-maintenance, competitive clones of each other before our very eyes.

Yes, everyone has their hang-ups. In my youth we more or less just had to put up with it, give or take the odd face pack.

The difference now is that youngsters really can do something about it, and I'm not sure it's a good thing. According to the market researchers Mintel, a quarter of men aged 18 to 34 have had a manicure or pedicure, and 38% have had a facial or body treatment.

Apart from the outrageous cost of the hair dyes, shellac nails, fake tans, tattoos, dental veneers, micro-dermabrasion treatments and "face candy" accessories such as fashion spectacles and nose studs – all of which have become de rigueur in the race to conform – the sorry result is that they all end up looking the same as each other.

I thank my lucky stars that my generation has escaped all that. And before you look at Madonna and snort "Aye, right", listen to this latest piece of genius research. Apparently 59 is the age at which we women ditch the age-inappropriate styles we've been desperately clinging onto for way too long, and radically rethink the way we look - though the process starts long before that.

Women in their late 40s and 50s said they didn't think bleached hair, eye liner, tattoos and miniskirts did anything for them, and the vast majority claimed they'd avoid cosmetic surgery in favour of a good diet and a strict skincare regime. Dressing according to our age was the best way of becoming a latter-day WAG (woman ageing gracefully).

As a child of the 1960s and 1970s I find this poll of 2000 British women aged over 45, conducted by Nurture Replenish Skincare, both mildly comforting and deeply disconcerting.

Comforting because it seems to promise future relief from constant self-scrutiny and a mutual consensus to down tools for good –a kind of pre-senile solidarity movement (which on reflection brings with it terrors of its own).

On the other hand, older women are painfully aware of their fading looks and are determined not to conform to the stereotype of the previous generation. If dressing appropriately means pulling on elasticated slacks and having a pom-pom hairdo, as our mothers might have done, we're having none of it.

We're lucky to be free from the tyranny of the body beautiful our children are exposed to.

Better then, surely, to nurture our inner wild child and teach them a thing or two about bucking trends.

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