Growing as I get older
October 30, 2017 8:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm scared of getting older - what can I do to filter out all the unhelpful social stigma and age gracefully?

Aging is scary for me, and I wish I could "stop worrying about it" because obviously, due to current technological limitations, this is not actionable at all, but I don't know how! It seems so pervasive, especially in my culture, and especially when it comes to women.

So I want advice on:
(1) how do I filter out / neutralize those comments about older people that get under my skin? Those comments are unhelpful, but they do IRK me on an emotional level. Are there ways to fortify my bubble so that they no longer reverberate in my head and waste mental energy?

(2) This is not supposed to be important, but I am vain and proud, so, honestly, how do I age beautifully? I want to look like Julianne Moore or Michelle Obama when I am their age, but will I??! What can I do to tip the odds in my favour (I wear sunscreen and exercise already - any other tips?)

(3) how do I stay mentally... agile, free, and open-minded? I see certain older people that are very fixed in their ways and hardened, and I never want to be that way. I want to stay inquisitive and rigorous in my thinking - where do those people go wrong, and how do I just NOT? I want to keep growing up and developing, but how?

Thank you! :)
posted by Crookshanks_Meow to Human Relations (22 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Enjoy the process. I'm 45 and the way I comfort myself is to remind myself that my peers are all aging along with me. Having a strong social network is important. When you're 65 and feel 45, all of your friends will too.

On vanity: There is no such thing as anti-aging so keep using sunscreen and don't get trapped into buying expensive face creams. Apart from Retin-A, they don't work. How to look as vibrant as possible: exercise, sunscreen, eat right, don't take life too seriously, have fun, be kind. Stay at a steady weight. Do yoga.

If you're a rigorous thinker, what's to say that you won't remain that way? If it's important to you I'm betting you will keep be curious and open-minded.
posted by loveandhappiness at 8:58 PM on October 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

On the outside, stay out of the sun and never smoke cigarettes. Cigarettes age the skin terribly. I know two sisters that are 6 years apart. The older one has never smoked and the younger one smokes a pack a day. The younger one looks 20 years older than her sister.

On the inside, look for your happiness. Do things that make you feel good. Think things that are kind and loving. Laugh more than you frown. The lines that happiness make on your face are much more becoming that the wrinkles frowning makes.

Stay engaged in learning. Keep your sense of wonder. Don't be afraid to look silly and don't let unhappy people get you down. Don't only hang out with people your own age. While you're young, talk to children and old people. Try to see what is interesting about people. When you're old, hang out with younger people; it keeps you young too.

Try not to worry about what other people think of you. Mostly people don't really think much about anyone other than themselves or their inner circle. Be as kind as you can to as many people as you can and don't forget to be kind to yourself.

How do I know? I'm an old lady, overweight and in a wheelchair. But if you see me, you see a smiling shining face with few wrinkles.My eyes sparkle, I'm full of mischief and curiosity and laughter. I don't feel old at all!
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:04 PM on October 30, 2017 [37 favorites]

Actively seek out activities that will give you a chance to get to know women of all age, including some interesting, funny, vibrant women in their fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties. If all the old ladies you know from your own family are example of what you don't want - figure out where the cool people hang out and join them. My suggestions would be adult education classes, museum and fine arts organizations and possibly some of the activities associated with your local religious organization.

Plus, one of the bonus of getting older, for some people (the ones that are smart and/or lucky) is the chance to get more comfortable in your own skin and not so worried about other people think.
There is a reason Jenny Joseph's poem is so popular that it started a global network of Red Hat Societies. Aspire to become a member (in spirit, not necessarily in fact).
posted by metahawk at 9:21 PM on October 30, 2017 [6 favorites]

Plus, one of the bonus of getting older, for some people (the ones that are smart and/or lucky) is the chance to get more comfortable in your own skin and not so worried about other people think.

This, and also people trust you more to do this, so less getting second guessed about things. Basically being older is awesome.
posted by Toddles at 9:25 PM on October 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

The older people I want to hang out with are warm, thoughtful, kind, people doing interesting things that they care about. From where I sit it looks like they sort of work at staying engaged, trying new things, reading new things, exploring new ideas.
posted by bunderful at 9:38 PM on October 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

Wisdom. I’ve been interacting with women in their 20s lately and remembering how I thought about people my age (47) when I was in my mid-twenties. I always thought they were so OLD and different from me. TBH, I don’t feel 47, more like 30, and I wouldn’t trade places with a millennial for any reason. I’m embracing my experiences, the lessons I’ve learned and my life so far.

I’m happy to be of an age where I can “let my freak flag fly,” to know that looks aren’t everything- though I do spend a ridiculous amount of money to keep my hair some shade of platinum- and where I can be that weirdo in my apartment building who flies their RC helicopter in the foyer.

Wisdom is your strength and IMO it’s worth way more than youth.
posted by bendy at 9:40 PM on October 30, 2017 [10 favorites]

I read a profile of the guy who started Patagonia. He claimed the secret of happy aging was to be the oldest person in the room. I think there's some truth to that. I'm in my 60s now and I find that I often have a better time in a room of younger people than in a room with people who are all my age or older. Because if it's all people my age or older we often talk about getting older. And honestly, that's fine sometimes but it's more fun to meet younger people and see what they are up too, IMHO.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:22 PM on October 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

1. When you were growing up did you have good role models for aging? Did your parents and grandparents age gracefully and beautifully? If yes, embrace those role models. If no, find new role models for aging. Examine your role models...interview them... write down how they accomplish good aging.

2. Have women friends of all ages. I'm a mid-fifties woman. My women friends in their 30s and 40s challenge me to be more active, and to try on the attitudes of younger people. My women friends in their 80s give me a role model.
posted by valannc at 10:26 PM on October 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

how do I stay mentally... agile, free, and open-minded

This blog post summarizing an interview with a geriatrician mentions several things that seem right to me: be a lifelong learner; prefer things that are hard; get out of your comfort zone; and be social. I'd add that occasionally adopting hobbies/interests associated with youth culture has the benefit not of making you seem young or cool but rather of supplying a steady stream of 'folk'/fan culture to appreciate and participate in as the target generation ages--i.e. it checks like 2-3 boxes off the list of recommended things to do. Oh, and one awesome thing about getting older is developing really long commitments to random stuff. Spending several years working up a deep interest in something almost no one cares about isn't really that hard, but it's a treat that older folks can enjoy many times. It feels like owning your own island and being able to retreat there whenever you like.
posted by Wobbuffet at 10:39 PM on October 30, 2017 [12 favorites]

You don't say how old you are, but I think the feelings you're having are really common. As I've gotten older it's seemed like more of a gift that I'm aging. In the last couple years, friends and acquaintances my age (mid- to late-30s) have had: leukemia, heart attacks, bowel cancer, brain tumors, and MS; plus, divorces, the death of parents, and even the death of children. It might sound cheesy but it really does make me grateful for the things I have and less worried about the things I don't (e.g., the wrinkle-free skin of my late teens). Admittedly, I was never someone who was very on-trend with appearance, but these days I'd much rather focus on enjoying the happiness and satisfaction I have in life than worrying about if someone cares what I look like. I'd even go so far as to add that the signs of aging are like little rewards for me--I remember exactly when my husband found one of my first grey hairs, and how much we have continued to grow and love and accomplish since then. I guess you can say that as you get older, you might get more comfortable in your own skin, even with its bumps and scars and dry patches. You might therefore be more confident, which goes a long way in your mental and physical presentation.

I'd also add that there's a funny point in life for women (early-mid 30s) when the biological clock does or doesn't start ticking. It's different for different people but the annoying thing (for me anyway) was that everyone in the world feels entitled to ask you about your plans for family and comment on your age and assessing whether you're making appropriate decisions re your career, contraception, etc. While there is some truth to this (drop-offs in fertility at certain ages), it is a really crummy reminder of how society perceives and values women as vessels for reproduction, and devalues them when their potential for this decreases. (I'm a midwife and deeply respectful of pregnancy, motherhood, and childrearing, but also don't think anyone should have the right to nose in anyone else's private business!)

Anyway, as others have said above, using sunscreen and not smoking will be your friend to some extent (and are good for your health anyway) but a huge component of physical aging is just genetics. If you lined me up with a bunch of my peers, there'd definitely be a spectrum of agedness in our faces. Same is true for Michelle Obama and Julianne Moore (along with good lighting and makeup!) So do the things that are good for you and enjoy what you can but don't force yourself because too much cortisol is not good for you. Ignore the comments that irk you about older people--or better yet, correct them and tell people you know some awesome oldsters and they're much more than the boring old doddies they're cracked up to be. Keep reading books, do some puzzles, find a career you love and that loves you back, and keep doing things that keep you happy to keep your mind fit and well. Things look really good from this side of the hill.
posted by stillmoving at 2:34 AM on October 31, 2017 [6 favorites]

One way to stop being afraid of getting older is to spend more time with older people. We spend so much of our lives being segregated by age, it starts as soon as we go to school or even earlier.

Many years ago -you probably weren't born yet-I read a whole bunch of scholarly articles on gifted children. One thing that stood out was that gifted children are more likely to have friendships with people of varying ages than other children.

As children, most of us view adults as aliens. This probably promotes a top-down hierarchy way of viewing the world, good preparation for living in the various hierarchies that permeate our lives like business, military, social class.
posted by mareli at 3:31 AM on October 31, 2017 [5 favorites]

Older people often get happier, I believe, and from my vantage point of 60 I think it's mainly because you tend to stop giving a shit about things that don't matter. You get a better perspective, you forgive yourself a bit for mistakes that seemed dreadful when you were young and intense. You don't care whether you look cool any more. Not many people impress you much, either. They're mostly just kids, after all.

Hope that helps.
posted by Segundus at 3:34 AM on October 31, 2017 [14 favorites]

Getting utterly fossilized in your ways is bad, but so is falling into the fallacy that you must renovate all your tastes and opinions every few years in order to fall in line with whatever the current crop of 25 year olds think.
posted by thelonius at 5:41 AM on October 31, 2017 [4 favorites]

Have a wide variety of friends of all genders and ages, older & younger than you. Learn new hobbies. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Every decade I've hit a bit something zero age I've gone well that was the best decade of my life it's all down hill from here, and every decade I've been wrong.

Also I have this comic on my wall.

Find a dermatologist that specializes in aging skincare. Get on retinols or tretinon depending on your age. Sunscreens, all the sunscreens, applied properly on your arms, hands & upper chest. They also get chemical peels, botox, injectibles & laser treatments, find an beautician you trust now & get regular facials. Also pray you have good genes that helps too. Julianne Moore looks like she does because she pays a lot of people that are good at what they do to make her look like that. Which is fine, if you have the budget, but you have to work at it. Which is great, see you wanted to learn new things the whole to keep your mind active and area of anti aging skin care and make up is fun to learn as is fashion. Keep that mind active & your skin looking great.


The best part about getting old is you don't worry what others think about you. Seriously the most liberating part about getting older is the ever decreasing number of fucks I give about anything. Stuff that was high drama in my 20's barely raises an eyebrow in my 40's. You've been through shit, you've seen things, you know you can survive it. What someone else thinks of me is irrelevant, I've walked through fire baby (literally & figuratively). Of course I come from a family whose mother got her first tattoo at 60 so I have a good role model.
posted by wwax at 7:11 AM on October 31, 2017 [7 favorites]

The wisest thought I ever had is related to aging. Like, literally, it's one of the only times I ever had a thought and then thought, damn, that's wise. I'm so proud of this wise thought that I want to go around telling it to everyone and I'm grateful that you have given me the opportunity to share it with you. Are you ready? Ok.

So the setup is this: I had just turned thirty. I was having the usual anxious thoughts about my life's directions and hitting the milestones I was supposed to hit and oh man should I start dyeing my grays and do I look ridiculous in this outfit, and then one of my friends started dating this 24 year old who just pushed all my buttons and made all these catty comments about women who looked "good for their age" and all this other bratty shit and she just drove me up the frickin wall and made me feel old and miserable and resentful and unhappy and I felt like I was clinging to my youth with my fingernails and slowly sliding down a wall.

And then I had my wise thought, which I will now share with you. Here it is:

Every single resource in this world, every single desirable thing - wealth, beauty, power, intelligence, talent- every single thing in this world is distributed unfairly...except for time. Unless we die early, we all are given youth in the exact same portion; we have the exact same number of minutes of being children and teenagers and good looking young people and middle aged and elderly as everyone else in the world. Nothing else in the world is fair, or universal, but the process of aging is. It's the one thing that's inevitable, and the one thing that as humans we all share: this process of moving through time.

What that means is that every time I envy youth - and I still sometimes do - whenever I wish I was younger than I am, what I am asking for is more than my share. My brain is flinging itself against the universe and demanding more than it deserves, asking to be special, making itself unhappy because it's not getting more of this precious quantity than everyone else on the planet has had in the exact same measure since the beginning of time. If I look at that twenty-three year old and her skin and hair and resent her for it, I'm literally looking into the purest part of grasping irrational ego that says: fair isn't enough. I want more. And every time I look in the mirror and I scream internally, "no gray hair! no wrinkles! I don't want to get old!" I'm literally banging my fists against the one thing in the world - the progression of time - that is guaranteed.

That's not to say I don't do it - I do. But when it happens, it triggers a moment of reflection: the moments when I have irrational thoughts about aging tend to be the moments when I see myself most clearly. I'm kind of a low-stakes Western Buddhist, and those moments are now the ones when I remember what matters. Every time I see an anti-aging cream ad on TV, I think: "Anti-aging"! The absurdity of all of life under capitalism is, like, captured in that phrase. Pay money to escape your inevitable fate! Every time I see an ad that uses it, it serves as a kind of memento mori, a reminder that the world is a liar that wants you to believe it's enough. We all age, we all die, and there's nothing we can fucking do about it. All truth starts there. That's why it's literally the first of the five subjects for Buddhist contemplation:

I am subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging...

You, me, and everyone else. We don't get beyond it. Don't avoid it or deny it; look deeply into it. It's the first step on the path to truth.

And, yeah, sunscreen.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:39 AM on October 31, 2017 [45 favorites]

Re:2- it is ok to care about your looks. It is ok to want to age as gracefully as possible. Anyone who tries to make you feel bad about it is an asshole.

I'm going to quickly go over the current basics. You have to decide how deep into this you want to get and build your own routines, decide for yourself if a medspa is a place for you, do your own research and experiment to see what works for you. Remember too that new information and better science is coming out all the time.

So: maintaining the collagen layer in your skin generally is what sustains the shape of your face. For this protection (sunscreen), controlled damage (microneedling, radio frequency facials), deep exfoliation (retinoids), and deep and surface antioxident action (vitamin C, CoQ10).

Maintaining surface texture, smoothness, softness, decreasing visibility of pores, staying hydrated, diminishing scars, pigmentation, sun damage and fine lines: resurfacing procedures (microdermabrasion, chemical peels, laser facials, PRP facials, oxygen facials), AHAs and BHAs, vitamin C again, hyalauronic acid, niacinamide. See also masks, glycerine, the wide world of oils (jojoba, avocodo, coconut, and mineral) are some examples.

For dynamic wrinkle prevention you want preventative botox. I started getting it done when I noticed that I was scowling even though I didn't intend to. I know lots of people who started in their late 20's/ early 30's. It's a lot easier to prevent the wrinkles than to try to get rid of them.

Fillers become helpful when and if you start noticing serious volume loss, if you have deeper wrinkles to fill, or deeper scars to fill out.

Don't neglect your hands, feet, and back of your neck.

If you find yourself with stretch marks, start addressing them immediately, while they are still red. Silicone scar sheets, microneedling, vitamin C, hyalauronic acid. I had stretch marks and didn't realise what they were so I didn't address them. Now I'm stuck with them. It's not the end of the world but it's not what I want.

A big part of fighting the effects of gravity is not being subjected to it. Get your beauty rest.

Drink lots of water, eat healthy, exercise, don't let your weight yoyo too much, take cool showers, laugh a lot. Think about beautiful things, it shows in your eyes.
posted by windykites at 8:59 AM on October 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm an age (37) at which I'm still considered young in my profession/career, but I'm no spring chicken in other contexts--for example, in my graduate program. Last night in class, I revealed to a bunch of 23-year-olds that I applied to college in 1997. (It was relevant to the discussion, I swear.) It was a moment in which I decided that I'm not going to be coy about my age. I am never going to be coy about my age, from 37 onward.

That's my personal response to being bombarded with terrible, wrong messages about age and aging. To say, screw it, I'm not going to conceal the number of years I've been trudging around on this planet. Come at me, youths!
posted by 2or3things at 9:33 AM on October 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

Notes from a 49-year-old...

1) Emotional resilience
- The primary emotion I have about media and comments about women/older women is anger. What I do with it is channel it into physical activity and weightlifting, which also has the benefit of increasing my bone density and serotonin levels.
- The other emotion I feel is compassion or patience. Many of those comments are from people who are not yet “old.” We all look back on the comments and beliefs of our childhood and teen selves as unformed by experience and not fully aware. Thus we tell our older, womanly selves that those people Don’t Know What They’re Talking About and Don’t Define My Unique Experience. Basically a “flag it and move on” attitude because my life awaits my living of it. I no longer waste my time living someone else’s opinion about my life. (Pro tip: the older you get the less you care what others think, anyway.)

2) Physically graceful aging
- It’s not a lifestyle I recommend without reservation (it can be socially painful for decades) but the life of a boring, dorky, vice-less woman starts paying dividends around the age of 40. I never liked the taste of alcohol, I was never cool enough to smoke, and I was too much of a dorky bookworm to go to the beach with friends. As a result, I tend to look about 10 years younger than I am. If it’s in line with your personality and your commitment to aging slowly, go for it.
- As others have mentioned, bonus points for diligent sunscreen use and finding a cardiovascular hobby you can maintain into old age. I walk and bicycle.
- Accept that it's ok to enjoy 'beauty' and spending attention on your physical appearance. In retrospect, many of my younger, less successful attempts at make up and skin care reflected my shame at wanting to look good. So I got crappy lipstick, eschewed coverup for spots, cut my own hair—all as a way to prove that my intelligence and personality were not kowtowing to vanity. Oh well. I've come to believe that cherishing my physical self and being playful about my looks is healthy and whatever: it brings me joy.
- A meditative practice will serve you well.
- Having a relaxed, low stress life will show on your face. I went through five difficult years and my face looked angry and pinched. When I shed some relationships, I treated myself to botox in some key spots. Kind of re-do button. I no longer get treatments and my efforts to be more relaxed, and to not take on more negative emotions than absolutely necessary means fewer lines. Do what you can to minimize drama and stress.

3) Mental agility
- Spend time with people 1-2 decades younger and older than you are. The knowledge, conversations, interests, issues, concerns, delights, struggles, and opinions will expand your thinking a lot.
- Learn a new skill. Something with a strong mental-physical interrelationship like dancing, morse code, semaphores, bicycling, etc. has been better for me than, for instance, just crossword puzzles or learning a new language. Be willing to laugh at your mistakes, cheer your own successes, and have fun.
posted by cocoagirl at 9:57 AM on October 31, 2017 [6 favorites]

I asked this question a couple of years ago and got some fantastic answers to your first question.
posted by rpfields at 6:23 PM on October 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

As someone approaching 70 I can perhaps give a few pointers. Don't deny the young their youth. Don't try to tell them things they don't want to hear and can't yet understand. Smile and appreciate them. Time and genetics will determine your body. There is little place for vanity amongst the old. It is a pointless exercise. Eyes dim, joints stiffen and skin sags. But you can be graceful and gracious to the end. And you can always smile. As with the rest, the mind is also beyond your control. Indulge your interests and banish boredom as you can while you can. Serve as a repository of the past while continuing to curate the present and ponder the future. Mortality is universal. It is why you were born...
posted by jim in austin at 10:35 PM on October 31, 2017 [7 favorites]

There’s nothing so magical about youth that you should strive to remain that way forever. I’m 51, look 51, feel like I’m 51 and that’s how it should be.

The secret I think is to stop feeding your brain with all the nonsense (advertising, films, magazines, etc) about eternal youth being desirable. And read Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray
posted by Kwadeng at 2:09 AM on November 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Find people who look how you want to look.

They likely do four or five things in common that help pretty much everyone.

1. Moisturize and use sunblock; skincare is a thing.
2. Eat stuff that's not crazy healthy, but that's rarely crazy bad, and even odds on low-carb diets.
3. Work out. This might not be all cardio or all weights, but generally something to keep active.
4. They tend to keep their minds active, too; keep learning and keep changing.
5. Maybe: they sleep well. I've met a few who don't, but most well-aged folks? Yeah.
posted by talldean at 7:02 PM on November 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

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