Impending Doom On Your 18th Birthday

I’ve put a lot of thought into the public perception of how women age recently. I think this came to my mind after I saw quite a few videos online of kids who appeared to be no older than 11 doing skincare videos and middle schoolers who you think could be adults. What happened to that middle school awkward phase? Personally, I think that era was vital to my own personal development, and I’m sure other people would agree. After seeing all of these videos, I got to thinking…what is it with the public perception of aging women?

It seems everyone is afraid of aging. I’m absolutely familiar with the fear. On my 18th birthday, which was only a year ago, I had a pit in my stomach the entire day with an impending sense of doom. Like something earth-shattering was going to occur. I guess the fact that I was now a legal adult could be it, but I actually felt terrified of the fact that I was aging. At 18. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it was a persistent anxiety that bothered me after that day that I couldn’t seem to get control of.

 I’m not here to criticize people because I’m equally as scared of it as everyone else. My question is, why are we so afraid of it? 25% of women under 25 are scared of showing signs of aging, and that number increases up to 54% between the ages of 35-44. On average, about 41% of men fear aging.

Aging in what we consume

The fear of aging is deeply rooted in our fear of death. Numerous psychologists have come out and said that the fear of death is embedded in our brains. “We have this evolved imperative to stay alive,” said Thomas Pyszczynski, who is a psychology professor. I read an article weeks before writing this that brought up some more points about how aging is reflected in pop culture. “Look at any number of glossy images in magazines, newspapers, television, or online. Older people are noticeably absent from them (translation: they don’t exist).” I really had never thought of this before. You rarely see models, for example, past 40 years old. In movies, older women start being depicted solely as the parent character, or if they are much older, they’re the grandmother character. They lack their own story the way the younger characters get a plot. Popular books rarely involve middle-aged characters, nor do you ever see a famous novel today being published by someone in their 50s or older. I’m not saying these situations don’t exist, but they are drastically fewer.

Running out of time to complete your goals

Subconsciously, that’s always tied back to my own fears of aging—the idea of being pushed out of society because of a number. After reflecting on this, I’ve wondered if my perfectionism and desire to push myself to write books now instead of waiting until I’m in my 20s the way most people do is tied to this, on top of several other issues. So that leads me to believe that part of the fear of aging is associated with running out of time to do what you want. The common way we’re taught today is that you have 13 years (if you count kindergarten) to figure out what you want to do, four years to study what you want to do, and then you do it. But what if you don’t do it right away? Ten years out of college, 20 years, or 30 years. If we do not follow the expected timeline, it becomes a ticking clock before it’s “too late.” “It seems that the hope and excitement of what is to come is so much better than when it comes. This may be why we romanticize the beginning of life but rarely the end, and there are few glorified images of what the end looks like.” This quote worded my thoughts perfectly. In case I rambled.

The Physical

We grew up watching celebrities and their drama. It’s hard to avoid it even if you want to, but at least once, a celebrity has probably shown up on your Instagram with their “shape wear” brand or a “What I Eat in A Day” video from a celebrity who drinks bone broth and eats five almonds. And as much as we hate to admit it, we as people want to be like the famous, wealthy people living lives that only a handful of people can live. We consume their lives like water; part of their lives is their appearance. 

We seem to forget that celebrities have money to throw away on plastic surgery and other maintenance, but that’s because they don’t like to tell us why they look so young. I’m not sure if this is true, but I have a theory that they have brand deals with skincare companies to say that, “Oh! I use this and I look 20 years younger!” When in reality, they literally get Botox every month. When we consume celebrities’ lives, it’s so easy to get caught in their own obsessions to look young.

I think it goes even further than celebrities themselves, though, because remember, they’re just people too. I think it ties into how prominent ageism is in Hollywood and that these celebrities are afraid of losing jobs, so they cave into the obsession with youth. “Acclaimed actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, for instance, revealed in 2015 that she was turned down for a role because she was deemed too old to play the lover of a 55-year-old man, despite being only 37 at the time,” an article from BNN said. “After turning 40, Streep found herself being offered primarily witch roles, a far cry from the diverse and complex characters she had portrayed earlier in her career.” Witch roles. Charming.

This all ties back to the idea that youthful people are more attractive to the public eye. 


When I think about this case, I think about Leonardo Dicaprio. He’s pretty famous at this point for solely dating women under 25 (or is it 27?), and he dumps them once they turn 25. A more recent girlfriend he had he knew her since she was 11, and he was 22. 

I regularly see him getting praised by people online for this for “continuing to be able to get models even though he’s almost 50.” But something about this has always felt disgusting to me, but I’ve never been able to put it into words. Because yes, there are a lot of age-gap relationships in the world, and some are entirely healthy, so it’s hard to pick apart someone else’s romantic choice. But certain cases throw me off because, in Dicaprio’s case, it’s consistent. Like he’s obsessed. A counselor in San Diego has his own theory about why so many men choose to date women much younger. “Michel argues that men like DiCaprio are “not interested in women that have dialed in who they are and what they want so tightly that there is nothing for the man to contribute.” This idea that Michael presents comes from a need to control women. Other celebrities besides Dicaprio who have similar predatory behavior are James Mardsen, David Schwimmer, Nicholas Cage, Zach Braff, and more. These relationships are romanticized in various forms of media, which, as I mentioned, are consumed by an audience.

I find the attitude these men get in regard to dating younger women is like night and day compared to older women and younger men. Older women and younger men typically get shamed much more than the other, but statistically, these relationships have proven to be healthier. So why are people so quick to judge these relationships and claim these relationships as grooming when there are men getting away with it right in front of us?

Confusing appearance and health

A few months ago, I was doing my usual weightlifting routine when I paused and asked myself, “What’s the point if I’m just going to lose my muscle as I age?” I was surprised that I could think of something so appearance-rooted because I like to consider myself an advocate for working out for mental health. But the thought was there, and it was real.

I often see things like sunscreen being promoted as a way to prevent premature wrinkles rather than something that can help reduce the chances of skin cancer. Running is often promoted as a way to lose weight and stay thin rather than a way to improve your cardiovascular health and overall well-being—the same thing with a healthy diet. Appearance seems to prioritize health, which ties in greatly with a fear of aging. 

Instead of encouraging healthy habits as we age, it’s promoted as a way to look younger and beautiful, which is not the right way to encourage healthy habits at all.

I’m still not perfect when it comes to challenging this mindset, but I certainly wish it was something that I recognized a long time ago. 

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