When I was really young, I asked my grandmother how old she was. She said 29 and stuck to that answer with a smile, long past the time when I knew it could not be true. (She probably didn’t want my answer to “how old do I look?”.) I think she was maybe in her late 50s at the time. My mother has said that she feels like she is in her mid-30s, at least since she has been past that.
It seems that most people reach a point when they see themselves in a mirror and for the first time gasp with a new recognition, perhaps accompanied by a swear. When did that happen?! When did my outside stop looking like how I feel inside?
How old are you?
The implication here is that there is something wrong with our outside appearance as we age, that it betrays us. However, it does not lie; our bodies change and reflect our physical age. The problem is that we’ve bought into the wrong story that old outside means nothing useful inside. Age is not a reflection of value, good or bad.
When we complain about looking old, we are accepting the storyline that looking old means that we no longer have something to offer. It is a hard story to give up, considering all the pressure to look young. And, of course, not everything about aging is great. Aging does mean losing some things. (This is true of every age, not just the old, for what that’s worth.) However, there is more to life than just what we have in our youth. We carry too much baggage about how our worth is tied to being young. With age, we also gain things.
It takes many years past youth to fulfill our potential as humans. An older body may be past its prime as a speed skater, but it houses a mind that did not stop growing and learning before our 30s. Most of us would be in a lot of trouble if our understanding of life at 30 was all we ever knew. Our entire civilization would be badly off if no one learned or contributed anything past their physical prime.
How old do I look? How much does really tell you anything about who I am?
What does it mean to say you feel like you are really in your 30s? Perhaps, we don’t really mean to say that we’ve gained nothing since then. It is how we try to show that we are still relevant to a world that doesn’t really understand aging.
It is okay to be old
Let’s take a step back and try not getting angry at how old we look. Our minds do not age in the same way as our bodies. An older body tells you little about the person inside. There is nothing wrong with looking or being old. What is wrong is believing that our age is all that determines who we are.
(Buying into the old story about aging leads to ageism, against ourselves and others. Want to learn more about ageism? Read more in our blog and take action here.)
Sara Breindel, Changing the Narrative blogger