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Ageing badly: Why many of us struggle to embrace getting older

BY Esyllt Sears

31st Aug 2022 Humour

Ageing badly: Why many of us struggle to embrace getting older

Staring down the barrel of middle age, one comedian struggles to accept her stretch marks, grey hairs and society's fetishisation of youth

I’m not ageing well.

I don’t mean that I don’t still look palatable at 41, it’s more the fact that I’m not handling it well. At all.

I'm not at the stage where I'm ready to accept that my skin will never be firmer, my hair will never be glossier and my "ahem"... well, the less said about that the better.

And I’m worried I’ll never accept it.

In my twenties, I used to look forward to getting older, thinking that, actually, I’d really come into my own as a mature lady.

I would wear youthful clothes, I’d make sure to keep fit, and my hair would always be immaculate. I'd be the one to defy the ageing process. I'd age better than anyone had aged before.

No doubt all the 20-somethings out there think the same. But it’s easy to have that attitude when you still have copious amounts of collagen stores. Now I'm here, on the cusp? I'm terrified. 

The first signs of age

A woman inspects herself in the mirror looking for grey hairsFinding new grey hairs, wrinkles and twinges can be difficult to accept as we start to age

I'm a stand-up comedian and the other night, after coming home late from a gig, I found myself attacking a skin tag under my arm with nail clippers and suddenly thought to myself, is this it now?

Women in their fifties, sixties, seventies and beyond tell me I’m still just a baby but the process has started. I’m getting old.

The first wee of the day is now immediately followed by the second wee of the day; lying down in bed all night to sleep hurts my hips; and there’s this one persistent hair on my chin that gets a good plucking once a month.

"No amount of face cream will erase fine lines and wrinkles"

Twinges I now develop can never be cured, only managed. No amount of face cream will erase fine lines and wrinkles.

I can highlight, colour or lowlight my hair as much as I want, it doesn’t change the fact that underneath is an army of silvery threads waiting to infiltrate my head once again.

Granted, some women do age exceptionally well. However, they usually have one of two things—very good genes or infinite amounts of money.

I try and take solace in the fact that both my grandmothers looked young for their age as old women, but they still looked like… old women.

The cultural currency of youth

I grew up in the Eighties and Nineties when massively unattainable beauty standards were the norm—heroin chic was en vogue and every girls’ magazine seemed to be obsessed with the pencil test.

If the pencil test passed you by, it’s the idea that you can check the droopiness of your breasts by placing a pencil underneath them. If the pencil falls away, you are in the clear and very perky, but if the pencil is devoured by your fleshy bosoms, you are done for and sagging and nothing but plastic surgery or staying indoors can help you.

"We are constantly shown images of older celebrities who are defying time"

But, rather than being able to leave this anxiety behind us in our formative teenage years, it is now seeping into our forties, fifties and beyond. We are constantly shown images of older celebrities who are defying time.

Will I ever be free from the obligation to look hot and youthful, or will I still be waxing and fake tanning when I’m in a care home?

Why do I care? Some of it is still deep rooted in wanting attention and validation from the opposite sex. Again, girls’ magazines would often run features on what men looked for in a woman, and there is still an awful taboo among young men around finding much older women attractive.

The "feminine urge" to stall for time

Woman having dermal filler injected into cheekDermal fillers and botox are an increasingly popular option for people looking to stave off signs of ageing

One thing that isn’t taboo, however, is cosmetic procedures and botox. They are firmly in the mainstream.

Many of my friends and acquaintances are “getting things done”, and, as much as I try and embrace my stretch marks (which made me ugly cry when I saw them during my second pregnancy) and laughter lines and scars that paint a whole lifetime of joy and pain and everything else in between, I can’t deny I haven’t been tempted.

Especially as I’m increasingly seeing my mother and, dare I say it grandmother, looking back at me in the mirror.

"Many of my friends and acquaintances are 'getting things done'"

Typing that out, I actually feel bad. Why should I not want to look like my mam and mam-gu? They are faces I treasure, that I long to see, that give me comfort and joy.

I admire older women who talk about the relief of being invisible now that they’re older, but it gives me major palpitations.

In everything else in my life I am impatient—I hate waiting for food to cook, for my career to progress, for my fringe to grow out—but when it comes to ageing, I would gladly wait an eternity.

Writing this hasn’t really resolved anything but maybe, just maybe, one person out there will read it and make it their mission to never grow up to be like me.

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