April 16, 2024

Sit’s your old legs off, because I have some bad news: you probably look older than you think you do. Don’t shoot the messenger – blame the science. A recent study published in the journal Psychology and aging found that 59% of American adults between the ages of 50 and 80 believe they look younger than other people their age. Women and people with higher incomes were slightly more likely to say they thought they looked fresher than their peers; and only 6% of adults in the bracket thought (or realized) they looked older than others their age. In short, most of us are delusional.

While the survey only included people over 50, I reckon they would have gotten the same results if they had polled anyone over 30. Our brains have built-in denial mechanisms that prevent us from confronting our own mortality. Many people’s biological age tends to differ from their “subjective age” (or how old they are bird). Mine does: according to my passport I’m 40, but in my head I’m still a proud 29.

I’m not quite disturbed. I often have moments where I am reminded of my passing years. Eating in a restaurant tends to be one of them. Has restaurants become louder recently? Or have I just become more intolerant of noise? Either way, I’m pretty sure I didn’t grumble about decibel levels in my 20s.

Me skinny jeans (which you’ll have to rip off from me geriatric millennium pins before wearing barrel-pipe pants) is also a perennial reminder that I’m tragically over the hill in the eyes of Gen Z. Then, of course, there’s the trendy random aches and pains — and the fact that I can now get a three-day-long crick in the neck simply by turning my head too fast.

Pain, pain and fashion faux pas aside, nothing makes me feel older than other people my age though. I’m not talking about people I see often – you don’t really see how they’ve matured. I’m talking about an acquaintance from school or college popping up on social media and realizing with horror that the fresh-faced teenager you remember is now an old-looking adult. “Certainly, I doesn’t look so old?” I mutter to myself on those occasions. “The teeth of time were not so cruel after all I?” Then I study myself in the mirror and realize, oh dear, they did.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m not saying getting older – or looking older – is terrible. Far from it: aging has many benefits. I used to be terribly self-conscious and in my 20s I rarely left the house without makeup. Now I no longer have any proverbial ducks to feed, and run errands looking like a scarecrow. I wear so little makeup that when I do, my dog ​​immediately freaks out because he knows something weird is going on. It’s liberating to stop caring what people think.

But let’s not go overboard here! I don’t welcome every new wrinkle with open arms. I have several serums and retinol creams in my bathroom. I plucked out a gray hair or two in horror. I have internalized many of the ageist messages that society throws at us.

You probably have too. More than 80% of people between the ages of 50 and 80 subscribe to self-centered age stereotypes, according to a 2022 study. We start absorbing aging messages from a young age and thanks to social media, which is full of influencers showing off their skincare routines, those messages have become even more powerful. Dermatologists in the UK have said that children as young as 10 ask their parents to buy them anti-aging skin care products. One beauty chain told a Swedish broadcaster that 20-40% of its customers are now under 13 years old, and one of the country’s leading pharmacy chains recently had to place age restrictions on anti-aging skin care because so many kids have bought products that can actually damage their skin.

Internalized age doesn’t just hurt your wallet and confidence; it can be great affect your health. Indeed, a 2002 study found that people with more positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than others. Embrace your subjective age, in other words. There is a lot of truth to the cliche that you are only as old as you feel.

Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist

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