“Guess what, cookie? You’re going to age, too.”
Wise words from XO Jane’s Mandy Stadtmiller, as part of an awesome essay on why she isn’t afraid of aging and doesn’t lie about her age (or Botox).
Normally, “wise” isn’t a word I’d use in conjunction with either XO Jane or Stadtmiller, whom I find alternately funny and a fun case study in how the Internet amplifies ego (if an admirably savvy self-promoter). But as Stadtmiller rails against perpetual-29-year-olds and our whole ageist culture, I found myself cheering along. Here’s a taste:
“She’s old, though, isn’t she?” a young girl asked me with the same inflection that she might have voiced, “Oh, but she had a terrible accident, didn’t she?” about one of the most powerful editors in New York.
The OLD woman is in her 40s and could crush the young girl with her Rolodex alone. But it cracked me up. I’m sure I would have probably said the same thing when I was in my early 20s. And both sides of the aging spectrum definitely have their advantages. She knows more current pop culture references because, well, YOLO. And I might have a little more savvy negotiating relationships like the one I had with this ancient decrepit 40-year-old female editor.
I just hope this young woman realizes — as I eventually did when I stopped being 20 — that when we start saying “old” with the same inflection as “terrible plague” that we are truly only fucking ourselves.
Standtmiller points out to the young one that “man, oh man, does this editor know her shit.” Good. It’s easy for 20-somethings to forget that just because older people in their office or field may not have been an early-adopter of Twitter, may not know the hippest spot to grab a drink in (insert-hip-neighborhood in your city) or may not always have seen the latest Internet meme, they still know shit. A lot of shit, and shit we can only dream of knowing — the institutional knowledge that comes with years at an organization, the social etiquette learned and relationships built over years in a career and, well, what it’s actually like to grow older.
That last one is overlooked but important. When you’re young young, like early 20s, the thought of getting older tends to either terrify or not seem like a big deal. There are those who are sure aging is hell, and those who are sure nothing will change.
They’re both wrong. Of course aging isn’t universally terrible, as billions of cool, contented, successful older people demonstrate. But — and I say this from my robust old age of 30 — it’s unpredictable. The things you think will bother you don’t. The things you never thought would bother you do. I’m remarkably less sad than I thought I’d be at 22 about not being an ingenue, but I’m also shockingly insecure about any potential signs of skin aging.
Maybe that’s a rational response. I believe in myself more now (i.e., not having been an ingenue is okay because I like the work I’ve done, am doing and plan to do) but I’m also more conscious about how “old” I look and how that effects others’ perceptions of me, even within a work context.
Which brings me back to Stadtmiller’s piece: She mentions all the women she’s interviewed over the years who refuse to divulge their age or who lie about it. But it’s not just vanity, she says; it’s what real estate agents and actresses and medical researchers feel they have to do to compete for clients and roles and grant money in our youth-worshiping culture. And it sucks.
I think when you lie about or refuse to give your age as if it is some sort of death knell, you are part of the problem. Why perpetuate the idea that you’re “done” when you are no longer 21-24 demo bracketing it up? Why contribute to the stigma of women aging? I mean, holy Jesus, I’ve actually talked to more than one 22-year-old who told me life was over now that 21 was “long gone.” Twenty-two-year-old women. I kid you not.
Listen, I absolutely understand how delicious it is to wear that sexy billowy totally blank youthful slate that everyone can then vampirically latch onto, projecting all their hopes and dreams onto your very untarnished existence. It’s the best. You don’t even have to do anything to inspire envy, and you have this asset that other people can’t have no matter what they do. Or no matter how much Botox they get.
And yet. I know what being my age and owning my age stands for. I know that “37″ isn’t code for “over.” Or “only a few more years of being able to have babies tick-motherfucking-tock.”
Who gives a shit? I’m happier, more successful and even more beautiful than at any other point in my life. That’s what 37 stands for to me. That’s why I don’t give away those awesome qualities by lying and saying I’m 30. Fuck that. Let the 30-year-olds be jealous of my 37-year-old ass.
Goddamn. Yes. Read the whole thing here.