Sunday, March 02, 2014

30, something

Finally! A "30" essay (see also: the "40" essay with the gratuitously transphobic or maybe just weird last item) not devoted to the loss of looks that happens instantaneously upon leaving one's 20s. Erika L. Sánchez has "come to terms with the grey hair and the faint appearance of wrinkles," but not with the expectation that 30-year-olds have it together in all life areas:

Thanks to TV and film, I keep foolishly believing that 30-year-old women are supposed to be ultra-successful, live in immaculate homes, and wear expensive high heels. They're supposed to be married, and either have children, or start planning for them. People who are 30 are not supposed to live hand-to-mouth or have panic attacks about their looming student loans. This is not what grownups do.
30-anxieties are real, but more gender-neutral than one might imagine. "30 under 30" lists. Precocious novelists and the stark reality that you will never be one. Or even - as Sánchez points out - the measure of basic settled-ness expected after 30. The 30-is-great counter-message tends to be, sure, you don't look or feel 22 anymore, but at least you own a home and a car and are settled in your career. Even the silver-lining articles can be dispiriting, because chances are, you'll at least not meet some of the milestones. Both because times have changed - that job the dad on "Leave It To Beaver" had probably wasn't waiting for you upon graduation - and for so many personal, individual reasons, like, for example, maybe you spent your 20s getting a not-so-practical advanced degree.

My 30-worries, then, aren't particularly gendered, either. This, despite a whole industry devoted to the idea that 30, in a woman, spells decrepitude. In beauty writing, 30 - even 29 - is the age at which one must start putting money towards the alleged problem. (Note the comment to the Julia Restoin Roitfeld profile: "Wow, she looks great for 30!" The woman looks a well-lit, well-photographed 30, which doesn't look 80.)

Thanks to hair dye and retouching, we don't have much of a sense of what each age looks like, and end up considering all aging premature. Consider Lena Dunham's response to the Photoshop debacle: "I felt like, thank you for removing the one line from my face because I’m 27-years-old and shouldn’t have that there." I could well see not wanting whichever line, but there's nothing outrageous about its making an appearance at 27. Or, conversely, we're told that 30 is so ancient that when what we see in the mirror is quite similar to what we did at 25, we figure we look 25, and 25 looks 20, and really, we could totally walk into a high school unnoticed, except of course we could not.

My sense, from having seen a lot of rich women of all ages, is that nothing has yet been invented that allows you to control the age you project. Most people - men and women, of various degrees of tobacco and sun exposure - look the age they are. Somehow the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. While you may think a particular feature is giving you away as not 14 , that's not it at all. There are things one can change to be healthier, or to look better - some of which may be categorized as "anti-aging," some not - but you're not going to look younger. What you accomplish before 30 is kinda-sorta up to you, but you're not responsible for looking 30. It's just inevitable.

So it's not, for me, that I'm somehow above the desire to avoid aging, nor that I, as Sánchez does regarding herself, think I look better at 30 than ever before. I don't think I'd be above pressing a look-10-years-younger button. It's just that I'm convinced no such button exists. So the money I might otherwise spend on "lifting serum" I'd much rather put towards, I don't know, coffee beans so expensive it would almost (but never quite) pay to just get coffee out. Stumptown and Intelligensia readily displace any Clarins or Estée Lauder budget.

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