It’s once again NEDA Week, and my heart is heavier than normal reading about CHAARG girls’ journeys to overcome eating disorders. It’s so common, yet it’s still such a relevant issue. I’ve come a long way from a year ago when I first started opening up about my battle, but I have learned that this growing trend stems from a larger social issue of self-esteem — aging.
Even more than the diet and weight loss advertisements plaguing media, anti-aging tells both men and women that aging is not good. We are taught that despite living far longer than our ancestors, we are constantly expiring. Once we “peak” in our 20s, maybe even teens, we are downhill from there. Whether gaining weight, losing hair, or developing wrinkles, we try to hide these natural flaws. We are told it’s rude to ask someone’s age. Many anti-aging practices are truly healthy, like wearing sunscreen, limiting sun exposure, and not smoking. But all of the anti-aging creams in the world will not make anyone comfortable in their skin if they’re told they shouldn’t be confident without them (this is forceful marketing, y’all).
Regardless of all the botox in the world, we’re even encouraged to stay “hip” with trends, knowing what the teens are talking about so we’re not left behind in pop culture. It’s not cool to be old.
This is bullshit.
I don’t want to look like I’m 17 forever. I don’t want to look like I’m 23 forever. I don’t want to be one age forever. Isn’t that the fun of life?
I don’t expect my body to be skinny and strong but also fresh-skinned without bags under my eyes. It took me years to accept the stretch marks on my thighs from simply growing tall, and I don’t want to waste that same time accepting my body as it changes over the years. If I choose to have kids one day, my body won’t be the same. Duh. My life will not be the same!
There’s a common assumption that if someone (especially a woman) is fit, well-dressed, and well “put together,” she “has her life together.” The older I get, the more I find this opposite. More often than not, the women that try very hard to impress with their appearances are actually very insecure. They feel like they can’t control other aspects of their lives and happiness, so they instead fixate on controlling their appearance. They may not even seek validation from others, but they have compartmentalized their issues and use their appearance as an escape. The effects of aging are unknown, so people try to control them and avoid the inevitable.
When you remove appearance from the equation, consider the other effects of aging. Reflect on who you were at 17, who you are now, and who you will be in 10, 20, 50 years.
Honestly, I’ve always been terrified of teenagers, even when I was one. They are vicious fucking creatures and they are SO MEAN. I would never ever want to be 17 again. Hell. No.
Anyway. Even if you feel you “peaked” in high school, how oblivious were you? You may have been blissfully unaware of how harsh the world is, but were you blissfully unaware of all the wonderful things to come in life?
How you would learn to love your parents and your siblings? The lessons you learned in college — outside of the classroom? The amazing memories with your friends during crazy nights out or crazy nights in (with legal alcohol, of course)? The children in your life — whether nieces/nephews, children, or students? The thrill of your career and developing your passions in life? The ways you’ve been able to give back to your community and the world? The bags under your eyes from fearlessly following your dreams? The scars from the heartbreaks? The tears from losing a loved one? The laugh lines from hilarious friends?
Would you really trade all of the feelings and memories in your life — the highs and the lows — just to be young and look a certain way?
Your weight is going to fluctuate. Your schedule is going to fluctuate. The people in your life are going to fluctuate. The quality of your skin and sleep is going to fluctuate. You will fluctuate. You are a dynamic, changing creature, embracing each lesson and mistake as an opportunity for growth.
I am a firm believer that everything that happens in life can be a good story. Make your story worthwhile, and forget about your appearance. You are not expiring. You are not taking up space. You are you, and you are loved. Continue making each day the best day yet.
++ Mary K