People Telling Me "You Look So Young!" Is Warping My Brain

I fear a lot of things, but aging has never been one of them, until now.
Publish date:
April 29, 2013
aging, success, youth

So this is what I've been doing at night.

After falling asleep on the couch at around 2 or 3 am, I drag my ass up and start my bedtime ritual.

First, I decide if I'm actually going to brush my teeth or just floss and rinse with mouthwash (am I the only one out there who just hates brushing their teeth?). Then I wash my face and slather it with coconut oil.

This is when the obsessing commences.

Lately I've been spending the last few upright moments of my night examining my face for wrinkles, bags and splotches.

I smile at myself in the mirror. I frown, squint, grimace, get so close to the mirror that I bump my head against it. I can see the little lines forming around my eyes and mouth. Is my forehead starting to look craggy? Is my mouth starting to look all puckery?

Even while I'm doing this I know, I know I'm being a little crazy.

I fear a lot of things, but aging has never been one of them, until now. Up until recently, I've actually liked my face more in my 30s than I did in my 20s. There was a time when I even liked the bags under my eyes -- I thought they made me look world-weary yet thoughtful, like a wise old owl.

Then what the hell is triggering my obsessing?

"You look so young!" -- that's what.

I don't know if I've been hearing it a lot more lately, or if I'm actually just listening to it more. But it's screwing with my head.

I swear this isn't a humble brag. However, I've always been victim to my own neuroses of living up to people's praise.

When my high school theatre teacher proclaimed that I would be "a published playwright by the time she's 30!" I spent the next decade freaking out about how I wasn't fulfilling my potential. Whenever an opportunity arose to succeed, I'd spend hours, days, weeks, fretting about the possibility of failure.

Usually I could get over myself, but the battle to actually START was often more exhausting than the task itself.

I've always been an overachiever, and up until recently -- moving away, leaving my fancy job with my fancy connections -- I've enjoyed the admiration of many of my peers due to my professional successes. I'd built so much of my own self worth on being more successful than the next person. Realizing that is humbling, and I'm kind of embarrassed to admit it.

But now here I am. Living, as one of my oldest dearest friends and mentors put it, "in the expectations of the future" instead of building on the present. I kind of like it at times, but the lack of control in my life can also be overwhelming.

Alright, what does this have to do with my face and its wrinkles?

This is going to sound a little coo-coo bananas.

Somewhere in my brain, I believed if I looked young, I could stay young. If I stayed young (and yes I realize 31 is nowhere near "old"…whenever that is) I wouldn't be competing against the writers and artists who are years younger than me but accomplishing the things I want to be accomplishing.

With so many people lately telling me how young I look, I've begun to fear that if I begin to look my age, or older, I won't be able to fool myself and others into thinking I'm still a young up-and-comer with adequate reason as to why I'm not doing more. It's all excuses.

It's a bizarre form of narcissism. Once again, I need to get over myself. There's no "cap" of productivity in relation to age.

But I can't stop fearing the day I stop getting carded for drinks, or someone calls me "ma'am" in all earnestness or I can't pass for a college student when I buy a movie ticket. I'm so afraid that will be the day that it's too late to "make it."

I realize now that my perpetual perceived youthfulness has been some weird badge of honor. You have no idea how silly I feel writing those words. It's no accomplishment, it's only genetics.

Through my latest bouts of obsession, I keep thinking of these words a friend told me concerning a gathering she had with a bunch of her friends from college and high school, some people she'd known for close to 20 years.

"I could see the age in their face, and it was beautiful. I got choked up because I felt so lucky that I GOT to witness them moving through life. The wrinkles on their face, the shapes of their bodies. I just felt so…lucky…"

She's so right, and yet I can't fully see that beauty in myself. I've always preached loving your body for what it is, not what you or others think it's supposed to be. Then why can't I just be OK with the inevitability of aging?

I guess I'm just holding onto something that makes me special. You can add the superficiality of that admission to the list of things that I'm more than embarrassed to admit in this post.

I'd like to say I'm going to stop staring at my face every night, that I'll get over the vanity. But it goes much deeper than that.

I know I just need to take my own advice in regards to compliments. Just take the compliment, be appreciative, say thank you, and move on.

As much as I'm struggling with it, there's no way I can fail at aging.