Back when I was struggling through high school, (a dark time, I think, for all of us) I used to comfort myself with the fact that was young and that nothing real had happened to me yet, i.e. “I have no right to feel this world weary! I’m fifteen! Just slap on some blue lipstick and eat a bagel and everything will be fine.” And hey presto, I emerged from high school without a heroin addiction or an unwanted baby, so hey! I guess I was right-ish.
I’m in college. I’m surrounded by eighteen-and-nineteen year old freshmen, although the people I converse with in a meaningful way can be as old as, say, 22. Some professors notwithstanding, everyone here is pretty damn young. Despite the overwhelming youthiness here, I’ve already started to hear the anguished moan: “I’m getting so oooooooldddddddd!”
I guess there’s a point. It would be cruel to deny the fact that it really feels like we’ve been through a lot to get here. I don’t know if I feel young. I just feel like myself, the aggregate of ~18.833333 years of being a human being on planet earth. I’ve seen some bad things that certainly make me feel world-weary. However, as life goes on, I will probably many worse things. Yaaaay!
There’s a weird cult of youth in America, which is never more apparent than in that odious statement: “High school is the best time of your life!” Millions and millions of unhappy high schoolers have heard this and thought, “Seriously?… well, shit.”
And it’s not just my nostalgic grade school principal who gave me this message. I’ve been getting a lot from television, books, people over the age of 40. They look at me with dewy eyes and say, “You’re still young, this is the best time of your life., go do the wonderful things young people do.”What exactly is the fascination with youth? I’ve been told that youthfulness is when you are still figuring everything out. Absolutely right. So why is this incredibly shaky and uncertain time of my life constantly glorified as the best time I will ever had? Is there nothing to be said for being experienced and knowing what you are doing with your life? Is it because we aren’t wrinkly yet?
A man is as old as he feels, and a woman as old as she looks
Okay, seriously, fuck whoever said that!
I’m a teen girl, I’ve been made excruciatingly aware of how highly appearances are valued. Being pretty buys a lot of kindness from people. I know I have a certain privilege that involves people pretending to like talking to me because they are mesmerized by my boobs or something.
And, I guess, since older women aren’t seen as attractive, I will lose that. I will get wrinkles and lose my youthful sex appeal and many people will drop the pretense of enjoying my company. Several older women told me this more or less literally, and I’ve heard the stories. Older men who leave their wives because they are no longer young and beautiful. Older women complaining about how they would give anything to be skinny and young again.
The message I’ve been getting is that once my tits get saggy I will be undesirable, so I better Buy All The Anti-Aging Stuff! I resent the fact that 50 year old men can leer at me now and call me “darling,” but once I reach their age I will be deemed unlovely by the exacting standards of society. I resent the fact that my attractiveness carries so much cultural currency. I resent all of this. So what are we temporally-bound women supposed to do? I guess we have to learn to not put so much stock in acceptance from the generic Male Gaze. After all, I have a lot more to offer the world than T&A.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the side effects of getting older are undeniably unpleasant. Disease, more people you know dying, the advent of the next wave of shitty pop music. However, I will not resign myself to the idea that “The Zenith of my Life” = “The time when I most resemble Scarlett Johansson.” As I get older, I understand myself better, get better at the things I’m good at, and just learn to be better at Being A Human. Surely we can replace naïveté with experience, don’t make the same mistakes again, and learn to live in a more pleasurable and productive way.
I’m going to end this post with the wisdom of Ani DiFranco.
If you’re not getting happier as you get older, you’re fucking up.