It’s the first big Internet fad of 2019. Call it the “10 Year Aging Challenge,” the “2009 v. 2019 Challenge,” “The How Hard Did Aging Hit You Challenge” or the “First Profile Pic Challenge.” The rules are simple: post either a picture of you from 2009 or your first profile picture. Next to it, post a picture of you today. Caption it. Congratulations! You’ve participated in the most popular viral meme of the new year! It was fun, wasn’t it?
The How Hard Did Aging Hit You Challenge — I’m going to go with that name, since that’s what seemed to cross my newsfeed the most — promotes all the worst parts of the internet, and none of the good ones.
Find a picture of yourself from 10 years ago, maybe longer, a picture that you thought looked good. Now compare it to a picture of yourself now, maybe a picture you think looks great now (your profile pic) or one you take on the fly (I’ve seen the contest done with both). Haha, don’t you look worse now now than you did 10 or more years ago? Doesn’t aging suck?! Look, you gained weight! Look, you got wrinkles! You used to look hot, now you look like someone’s frumpy, old mom!
Maybe you’re one of the blessed few — and I’ve seen your pictures — who either look exactly the same, or who love the way you’ve aged. I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to the rest of us who spent 10 years popping out 3 kids, gaining french fry weight, and sucking down modern beauty standards like Gywneth Paltrow and her designer oxygen.
Because modern beauty standards tell us aging does, indeed, suck.
Because modern beauty standards tell us fat sucks, too.
They tell us gray hair sucks.
They tell us wrinkles suck.
So no matter how we slice it, when you look at your profile pictures side by side, you’ve failed somehow. And you’ve failed through the basic passage of time. Except this meme makes you feel, instead, that the fault lies with you. Maybe you should have taken better care of yourself. Should have lost that baby weight, Susan. Covered up that gray, used better wrinkle cream, maybe taken better care of yourself. This silly meme encourages you to blame yourself for falling short of the unrealistic beauty expectations society already forces on women.
I’ve seen some funny plays on this meme. I’ve seen memes with actual photos next to large, puffy cartoon characters and animals like manatees. Hilarious? Totally. A sad commentary on the expectations we have and the way we see ourselves? Completely. The popular site Aborted Dreams posted “The How Hard Did Aging Hit You Challenge” above a picture of a dumpster next to a dumpster fire. Again: hilarious. Also, depressing.
The only great one I’ve seen? A dude. He posted a picture of himself next to a picture of one of the Avengers. That’s the self-concept he’s currently promoting: this random dad has aged into a super-sexy superhero. Excellent, man. Carry on.
But for the rest of us — and it seems to be mostly women who participate — this meme forces us to focus on everything that’s somehow “wrong” with us. Every way we look unattractive compared to 10 or more years ago. Every way, basically, as women, we’ve failed. It’s potentially dangerous.
This header picture is the first time I’ve done it, and honestly? It depressed me. I was so thin back then, though I thought I looked ugly (notice the profile pic is taken from behind). At least this recent pic is taken from the front, but damn, I wish I didn’t look so … old. I’m wearing sunglasses that obscure half my face. That’s because I still don’t like the way I look, after all these years. I don’t want people to see my eye wrinkles. I’m not smiling because I think I look stupid when I smile, and I hate my teeth. Welcome to America, where decent-looking women stare at our own pictures and think, God, look at everything wrong with me.
Because I’m older.
This isn’t fair to anyone. It’s not fair to me. It’s not fair to you. It’s not fair to all the women who look at their pictures with longing, who think, If only. Who stare at those pictures with pain, and then post them for everyone to see and — even worse — hope for the internet to assure them, through likes and comments, that they still look beautiful. That they’ve aged well. That they look great.
Many of us post these pictures, in the end, in a desperate search for external validation, when we really need to take a long, hard look inside (notice I didn’t say outside) and jettison those standards that tell us aging sucks, fat sucks, gray hair sucks and most of all, getting old sucks.
We’re not supposed to look like teenagers. We’re adults. We’re mothers. We’re supposed to look like this. And repeat this with me: There is nothing wrong with looking like a mother. That doesn’t mean you need to rush out and buy mom jeans and white sneakers. But it does mean you need to work on accepting yourself, wrinkles, tummy pouch and all. Do you want to spend the rest of your life chasing a youth that won’t return?
Because that’s what The How Hard Did Aging Hit You meme postulates.
That’s why this meme sucks.
That’s why you should step away slowly, go look in the mirror, and remind yourself, like Lady Gaga says, “I’m beautiful in my way/ ‘Cause God makes no mistakes/ I’m on the right track, baby I was born this way.”
And you’ve aged that way, too.