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Terrifyingly Beautiful: An Ode to Ageing

Holly Mitchell peers through the looking glass to the first moment in her life when aging became a thing to fear, and follows the thread of this memory to song lyrics, beauty standards, and beautiful wrinkles. 

My fear of ageing stemmed the day I was able to grasp the fact that over the course of my life, I will gradually transform into a wrinkly elderly woman who will someday pass away. No nine-year-old girl whose biggest problems concerned which Bratz shirt she wore that day would ever be ready to celebrate this information, but I was especially shaken by the news. I recall countless nightmares of nothingness and being petrified with fear about the future and its endless “what if’s.” This did not help in 2014, when the frightening episode “The Time Song” was released from the web series Don’t Hug Me, I’m Scared and altered my brain chemistry. “The Time Song” begins as a Sesame Street-esque lesson about how the flow of time works, featuring colourful puppets and a singing clock. All is well until the clock sings: 

“Look at your hair grow, isn’t it strange? / How time makes your appearance change.”

This is when the puppets’ skin dramatically droops, their flesh falls off, their fur is shed, and one puppet’s eyeball proceeds to pop out. Their previous cheerfulness is replaced with gloom and despair, so it was safe to say that watching this episode did not alleviate any of my fears of ageing. Neither did watching Twilight a few years later than everyone else – is it too much to ask to be an ageless, porcelain vampire playing baseball in a thunderstorm forever? 

Cut to now, where it feels like young women should have every reason to be afraid of ageing. Advertisements constantly pushed down our throats about how beneficial it is to maintain your youthful appearance. Jade rollers and guashas to iron out the lines under your eyes and on your foreheads. Drinking straws that prevent wrinkles from forming around our mouths. Labels that literally scream “ANTI-AGEING” and “MAINTAIN YOUR YOUTHFUL GLOW” at us. Preventing hip dips, stretch marks, or any other marks that dare show how a woman’s body has lived a carefree life. It is news to no one anymore that the beauty standards of our world are impossible to upkeep, with its ever-changing nature and countless impracticalities. Social media is thrilled that people are spending their money to look like they have just stepped out of Barbie’s flamingo-pink dreamhouse; if Margot Robbie is there, we all would love to live there. Let's be honest. All plastic-y and perfect, what better way is there to be, right? However, the wise Lana Del Rey famously begged the question:

“Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful? / Will you still love me when I’ve got nothing but my aching soul?”

With nothing but an aching soul left, the fear of ageing could be taken to some serious extremes. The plot of X (2022) comes to mind – a slasher film in which an older woman named Pearl (portrayed by Mia Goth) goes on a murderous spree against an attractive group of young people as she feels she has lost her “X factor” in her elderly age. Pearl particularly envies the young Maxine (also portrayed by Mia Goth), who is now the pretty young thing with the “X factor.” Goth acting as both the elderly, resentful Pearl and the young, beautiful Maxine paints the disparity quite clearly for audiences: everyone has a grocery list of regrets in their life, and seeing a younger version of yourself tick them off with ease would anger just about anyone. Personally, I wouldn’t be pushing those young, erotic-moviemakers into the fangs of an alligator or the tips of a pitchfork as Pearl does. Her motivations, however, have probably been felt by any person who has ever noticed even the slightest wrinkle appear on their face. 

Frankly, it is depressing that this fear of ageing replaces living a fun and happy life. It is said that every scar tells a story. Thanks to my two-year-old self for being clumsy outside one afternoon and causing a small crescent-shaped scar to live on my left cheek, I can vouch for that concept. In the 19 years that have passed since I was roughed up by the concrete and my two left feet, not once has the idea crossed my mind to get that scar lasered off. Maybe it is because I, being two years old at the time, don’t remember a life without that scar. Maybe it’s because I enjoy telling new friends the story of it, how I was and continue to be a tad uncoordinated. All of this is to say that the changes in your face tells a story. A wanky statement, yes, but stick with me. Think about the smile lines that exhibit the times you sobbed tears of laughter. The dark circles under the eyes that remind you of the daring nights you regretted the next morning. The wrinkles that remind you to slip, slop, and slap a little better next time you bring a book to the beach. Every divot and crease in your face makes you an irreplaceable and beautiful person. Picture yourself sitting idly in one room forever and never emoting – you’d be absolutely perfect, but so miserable.

“Can the child within my heart rise above? / Can I handle the seasons of my life?”

I am no longer that little girl in the Bratz shirt, and as such I have to come to terms with this fear of ageing. I won’t always have this smoothness to my skin, and my youthful stride in the streets will eventually turn into a stagger. Bony fingers will one day stop reaching for the anti-ageing products, since the point for it will feel lost. Hairs will grow grey, skin will sag and droop, but it is my hope that each physical change tells the story of a fucking cool life that has been lived in between.


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