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A fate worse than death Or how I am surviving my first mortality crisis

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I found out over reading week that one of my distant cousins died. This, coupled with the death of two grandparents in the span of a year, has led to my first mortality crisis. “One day,” I said to myself, “you will die.”

Here’s the thing; I’ve been worried about growing old for a much longer time than I’ve been worried about what follows it. I wasn’t even particularly worried about a decline in quality of life with age (which has now arrived with Mortality Crisis 1.0). Instead, I’ve been worried — as long as I can remember — that one day I would no longer be a physically attractive woman. The scariest part? My fears are not unique.

Every woman I’ve talked to about the topic has expressed worry about what will happen to her body. Whether it be stretch marks, or frown lines, or less-than-perky breasts, I have yet to find a woman who is entirely comfortable with the future of her physique. I wish that I could dismiss my own fears as irrational, or label them as an individual case of vanity and move on, but as this seems to be a pandemic, that is clearly not the case. Where do our fears come from?

The depressingly obvious answer is that we are told that our value is in our appearance. From a very young age, everything in my world said that I am most important when I am young and pretty. Even seemingly small things like compliments to my appearance before my intellect all contributed to one message in my young, impressionable mind: being beautiful is the key to success. Every warning of spinsterhood told me something else: never get old.

Notably, the television I watched growing up dictated where I was to fit in this world. Every fictional female character I admired was a young, white, love interest, and in need of male assistance. They were never anything less than flawless in appearance, and none of them were over the age of 25. Mothers were conveniently wrinkle free, and the only older women I saw in Disney movies were either helpless or villains. It is hard to picture yourself as living happily to a ripe old age when you cannot find an example in your pop culture repertoire of a woman doing so, and god forbid we think about having a happy sex life past the age of 30. The message was clear; you are valuable for your youth, and when you get old you disappear, you stop existing.

Every warning of spinsterhood told me something else: never get old.

Fear of old age is hardly an exclusively female phenomenon, yet while I listen to my male friends complain about pattern baldness or a loss of muscle tone, I can’t help but see their complaints as part of an entirely different class of anxiety. It is much easier to handle the impact of ageing when you haven’t been programmed to see your appearance as your entire worth. When ageing actors like Sylvester Stallone and George Clooney are not only still valued for their contributions on screen, but are paired with twenty-somethings as love interests.

So what can we do? Firstly, cut your body some slack. You are not going to have the same butt that you had when you were 17 for the rest of your life, and that is alright. It is natural for bodies to change with time. Your body will not be better or worse, just different. Appreciating yourself as you are currently is an excellent way to accept what may come. Solidarity is also important. We need to build communities and networks with which to support ourselves and others throughout different phases of our lives. Without the ones I love, Mortality Crisis 1.0 would have paralyzed me. Instead, despite struggling with my future, I feel as though one day I might be able to embrace it.

 

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