I'm Not 'Aging Gracefully,' Whatever The Hell That Is

by Kristen Mae
Originally Published: 
Portrait of upset woman looking in hand mirror
Scary Mommy and George Marks/Getty

The internet is confused about what it means to “age gracefully.” Does it mean doing what you can to prolong your youth so as to maintain a certain “graceful” appearance, i.e., look young for your age? Or does it mean accepting the aging process and doing little to attempt to stave it off? (Side note: why have I never seen it suggested that men should age gracefully?)

Well, whatever aging gracefully is, suffice it to say, I’m not doing it.

I’m struggling. I thought the aging process would be slow and gradual, so subtle I would hardly notice, each step insignificant enough that I would have time to accept the very, very slow changes in my appearance and how I felt physically.

But no. That is not how aging happens. Aging hits you suddenly and without warning, like a door you thought was pull but is actually push and some asshole is bursting through it from the other side, slamming you in the face with it. It is sudden and shocking and painful and embarrassing, and your face will never be the same. There was literally a sign on the door telling you which way it would swing, so you shouldn’t be surprised when it does exactly what it’s been designed to do. And yet here you are.

Aging is just like that. You know which way it’s going to swing and yet it will still sneak up and surprise you. One day you’ll look in the mirror and be like Who the fuck is that lady with resting bitch face? The cute laugh lines at the corners of your eyes will have morphed into canyons you could paddle a canoe through, your skin will have lost all vibrance and elasticity, and instead of cleavage, you’ll have chest wrinkles. CHEST. WRINKLES. That is some sacrilegious shit and I don’t want to hear about how it’s a normal part of aging. Graceful, my ass.

I creak and ache in places I’ve never creaked and ached before, and no amount of stretching or self-care eases it. This is who I am now. And all of it happened suddenly. Not gradually. Suddenly. One day I could do the splits and now any attempt to navigate into that position gives me a Charlie horse in the butt. Fuck this shit.

Maybe I could do more with diet and exercise to improve how I look and feel. I sleep like shit and am vaguely stressed out pretty much all the time, so I’m sure I have high levels of cortisol fucking with me at various levels of my person. Cortisol is poison. But also, I’m tired of self-maintenance. I’m tired of being my own self-improvement cheerleader. I’m tired of the beauty hamster wheel. I’ve spent most of my life exercising and drinking veggie smoothies. Now I want to paddle around in a swimming pool-sized vat of cupcake batter, taking giant gulps with every stroke.

That’s the other thing about aging that no one warns you about—you get tired of trying hard at certain things just by virtue of having done them for so long. When you’re young, it’s impossible to know what that feels like because you haven’t lived enough years to experience it. I’m tired of giving a fuck, and though I want to learn to accept my belly pooch and neck wrinkles, I don’t know how. I know how shallow and ridiculous this sounds. It’s so fucking stupid.

This is what I mean when I say I’m not aging gracefully. My head holds too many paradoxical thoughts. I have all these feelings I don’t think I’m supposed to have—sometimes I look in the mirror and am a little bit disgusted with myself and then I hate myself for hating myself, because I know I’m supposed to love myself unconditionally and not be an appearance-obsessed douchebag, and then I think there’s something wrong with me for not loving myself unconditionally and I hate myself for that too. Why am I so much harder on myself than everyone else? What is this bullshit?

And it’s not as though I’m not trying. I read up on body positivity and age positivity, exercise regularly-ish and tell myself it’s “for my mental health,” take supplements, and meditate. I’m trying to accept the changes that have been thrust upon me so suddenly and forcefully. I remind myself that aging is a privilege not afforded to everyone, that physical beauty is superficial and meaningless, that I should just be happy to be alive. For Pete’s sake, I get to be alive.

Honestly though, sometimes trying to accept these wisdom-rooted truths is even harder than trying to fix whatever superficial flaws I perceive in myself. If my goal is to use up as little energy as possible thinking about my physical self, most days, trying to make peace with my aging reflection feels like more work than going through the fruitless but familiar routine of attempting to keep myself young. The amount of energy it would take to squash my stupid expectations about how I am supposed to look is just a little bit greater than going for a jog and counting calories and giving myself an acid peel, even though all of that is exhausting too.

I suppose with aging comes knowing more about some things, and that’s… nice, I guess, except half the time I still feel like a baby bird that just got shoved out of its nest. Every year that passes, I am more aware of how much I don’t know, like I’m getting smarter about how dumb I am. Is that wisdom—letting go of ignorant bliss? This is very uncomfortable. Thinking about it is giving me frown lines.

So that’s it. I’m aging gracelessly. My youthful glow has morphed into large pores and under-eye circles, and I’m annoyed about it and mad at myself for being annoyed about it.

Whatever. I’m going to go mix myself up some cupcake batter.

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