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The Shock I Got When I Looked In The Mirror

I'm wondering if you can relate.

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Dilek Design
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I am heading out to run errands and take a glance in the mirror before I leave the house. For a moment, my reflection startles me. I stop and look a little closer. Who is that old woman staring at me in the mirror? I recognize myself, and yet … I don’t.

The difference between how we look and how we feel

Your age is your age. It’s basic mathematics. For example, I was born in 1966, so I have been on earth for 55 years, and therefore, I am 55 years old. It seems simple, right? Not exactly.

“People generally have a positive bias toward the way they look and feel,” says Margaret J. King, director of the Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis. “Whatever their chronological age, they feel 15 years younger and 15 pounds lighter.”

That explains why my reflection in the mirror caught me off guard. Mentally, I know how old I am, but I was still surprised because I don’t always feel my age.

Lisa Johnson Mandell, 62, editor-in-chief of ReallyRather, doesn’t always feel her age, either. Sometimes she feels like she is 27. Mandell explains, “Dua Lipa is my jam. I can explain NFTs and blockchain to Gen Z. I work out every day, I am trimmer and have more definition than ever.”

But there are moments when Johnson Mandell says she feels like she is 87. “I’m lucky if I can stay awake past 10 p.m.,” she says. “I can’t remember the last time I had a good night’s sleep. Sometimes every bone and joint in my body feels stiff and sore. Every time I look in the mirror, I lament the fact that — at some point — my lips, eyelashes and eyebrows abandoned my face.”

The antiaging bias

I’ll admit it. When I look in the mirror I get down, especially if a night of restless sleep has accentuated my dark circles or it’s obvious that my monthly hair color is overdue. I wish I could feel confident with these normal changes, but I don’t. Part of the reason I get upset is that there is a societal age bias. Instead of always recognizing the value of age and maturity, we are told to covet youth and vitality.

Helen Fritsch, 60, founder of Age Is Irrelevant, believes that society tries to convince women that when they turn 50, they become invisible. Fritsch says, “I refuse to be dismissed. While you can’t deny your age, I also won’t let my (chronological) age interfere with how I feel, act or move.”

We are not only told that younger is better, but also bombarded by the media of ways that we can capture our fleeting youth with “antiaging” products, articles, tips, etc.

Fitness instructor Jeanette DePatie says, “I think a lot of this is driven by an industry desperate to sell people — especially women — ‘remedies’ to solve these ‘problems’ that aren’t really problems at all.”

As much as I get upset when I think I look old, my mood is equally swayed by someone —  friend or stranger — telling me I look good, usually with the phrase “for your age” tacked on to the end.

While it’s meant to be complimentary, it is totally subjective. How should someone my age look? And what is wrong with a 55-year-old looking 55?

The mindset of aging

Some people feel empowered by leaning into the normal changes in appearance that can occur with age.

Makeup and beauty expert Claudia Fabian decided that she wanted to embrace her gray hair at age 53. Fabian states on Sparkling Silvers, “My gray hair doesn’t make me feel old. It makes me feel rebellious. It’s like a big middle finger to the unrealistic and ageist views we have about women.”

While Fabian feels confident rocking gray hair, other women may not — and that choice is OK, too.

Travel writer Nikki Webster, 47, hears from people all the time that she doesn’t look her age. She openly shares that she has had Botox fillers and laser facial eyebrows tattooing, and rocks hair extensions most of the year.

“Some people tell me to give it up,” Webster explains, “but my response is ‘Why should I if I still have it?’ They think I should embrace my age, and I say, ‘I do!’ I am not denying that I am 47. Society wants to put everyone in a category and then tell them what they think is appropriate. I disagree — you get to decide how you feel, and this choice is a mindset.”

Facing the woman in the mirror

Melissa Petersen, founder of the Human Longevity Institute, says, “What it really means to be an ‘age’ isn’t about good genes, a specific diet, cutting edge therapies, lotions, peptides or supplements — although, these all do slow down the aging process. Age is experienced, understood and expressed as a result of our perception.”

While your chronological age is nonnegotiable, how old you perceive yourself to be is totally up to you. And while attitude and mindset about aging come from within, outward appearance can play a role, too. If coloring your hair or doing some tweaks feel right for you, go for it! If not, don’t feel pressured.

And regardless of what you choose, let your peers do the same without fear of judgment.

Yes, seeing our reflection in the mirror as we get age can sometimes be a little shocking. But it should also make us feel fortunate. After all, not everyone gets the opportunity to grow older. So if you are seeing an older, more mature reflection, always remind yourself you are lucky, strong and beautiful — age spots and all.