September 6, 2013

Oh, Grow Up, Please.

A few weeks ago, I penned a piece mentioning the number of grown women who walk around using perpetual baby voices.

As annoying as I find this phenomena, I am more concerned about the number of women (and men) I see who look like they are perpetually stuck in late adolescence.

Many of you may know the type.

Indeed you may even be one of them: I am talking about the woman who is pushing 40, but still insists on shopping in the juniors department and/or raiding her daughter’s closet. Or the 30-something man going to work in jeans slung so low there is a serious likelihood of a wardrobe malfunction.

Why is it I wonder? Could it have something to do with the fact we are all living longer?

Regardless, I have to disagree that 30 is the new 40 or 40 is the new 50.

Yes, life expectancy is on the rise, but that does not mean that we have a long period of adolescence or young adulthood. Rather, it means we have a longer period of late adulthood.

While I have never been one to obsessively follow fashion—though I freely admit to the guilty pleasure (that I don’t intend to give up) of thumbing through fashion magazines—it is true that fair or not, we are judged by how we present ourselves to the world.

That includes what we wear.

Just like no one would go to court in a pair of cut-offs and a tank top, no one who wants to be seen as a mature adult should expect to be taken seriously looking like they are about to go clubbing or a Hello Kitty fan club gathering when they are on the wrong side of 35.

Lest anyone think I am joking, I live in a town where I have seen several people older than my 36 years actually appear in public in what can only be called costumes, and it was neither Halloween or an attempt to get publicity for a charity.

Even more interesting is that I saw many of them take offense when they were looked at strangely or asked what the occasion was.

I am all for individuality and creativity and indeed, it is a free country, but please don’t expect me to take you seriously or not to laugh inside if you appear like this public and I happen to see you.

And before anyone gets the impression that I am suggesting everyone over a certain age must look a certain way to confirm their age, I am not.

In fact, I happen to know an amazing woman who is close to 70, who dyes her hair vivid shades of blue and purple and wears elaborate outfits that on me or anyone else, would look absurd.

However, she gets away with these creations because she happens to be very comfortable in her own skin and has the pizazz to carry them off. In other words, her appearance is merely an extension of her naturally exuberant, creative personality. Although she has an ageless quality about her, she isn’t trying to be 18 again.

In contrast, the women and men I see largely seem desperate to hold on to their youth, rather than a true joy for life or comfort in their own skin.

As a woman, I know that aging is hard.

In fact, it can be downright depressing.

While I am hardly old, more than one person has told me to enjoy it now because it’s all downhill from here. I live in a college town where the average age seems to be 22. I marvel when I see the incoming freshman class and it hits me how young they are.

While being half-Asian probably has something to do with the fact that my skin is in pretty good shape, I can see the effects of sun damage on my forehead in the form of lines that weren’t there when I was in my 20s. Also, I know that in 10 years time, there is a good chance I may go completely grey or become best friends with Miss Clairol.

I don’t indeed to get a head start on my “golden years” and start wearing turtlenecks in summer and get blue rinses. However, I am not going to attempt to hang on to my fading youth by trying to dress and act like one of the teenagers I teach.

Like the 70-something woman I mentioned, the people I have met who are genuinely young at heart have a sense of natural curiosity and wonder and accept themselves for what they are rather than what they want others to think. This includes being comfortable and accepting the fact they are growing older.

Recently, I had a conversation with a close friend and confessed that there was no amount of money that would make me want to repeat my teens and 20s. Yes, I had some fun back then, but I was still immature and naive about a lot of things.

While I am no where close to a sage, I do feel a tad wiser than I was back then. Therefore, it’s kind of a small price to pay that I have to be in bed before 12 a.m. or wake up looking an extra on The Walking Dead.

Yes, we live in a society that simultaneously fears aging and death even though, logically speaking, the only way to avoid the former is to meet the latter earlier than we would wish.

We need to change society so that aging is seen as a privilege and not a curse, and that isn’t going to happen if so many of us hang on to the remnants of youth until they have to be pried out of our hands.

Plus, we really aren’t fooling anyone by dressing like teenagers—the vast majority of us aren’t good enough actors to perpetuate something we aren’t feeling. Even if we are, it’s a burden to try to pretend to be something we’re not.

So, in closing, if you really are comfortable running around dressed like a 20-something, ignore everything I’ve said and carry on. If, however, you are not and dressing this way is a means to ward off aging, think twice.

Know that the real key to remaining young at heart has everything to do with the inside and not your outward appearance. There is nothing more attractive than someone who is truly comfortable with themselves.

You’re not a teenager or young adult anymore—thank your lucky stars.

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Ed: Catherine Monkman

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