A friend of mine and fellow blogger* has, upon occasion referred to herself as an “unfunny feminist“–riffing on and mocking the dismissive “Can’t you take a joke?” bullshit that so often erupts when we dare to read some bit of cultural quote-unquote fun through an anti-kyriarchal lens, only to observe (quelle surprise!) that said fun isn’t really fun or funny, and instead just reinscribes some horrific piece of the miasma of misogyny in which we all soak daily.
Now, I’m not gonna steal my friend’s slogan from her, but I gotta say that I am definitely feeling the “unfunny feminist” vibe today. (Maybe I’ll call my own expression of this kind of sentiment the “Humourless Hag” chronicles.)
I’m sure we’ve all been seeing this on Facebook:
The “How Hard Did Aging Hit You” Challenge! Upload your first ever profile pic and your most recent profile right next to it.
And with one cruelly ageist, lookist phrase, what might have been a charming invitation to sharing nostalgic photos becomes framed as a way to comment on how you do (or do not) measure up to our culture’s beauty standards
The ageism is the most obvious: the entire way this is framed is based on the presumption that getting older automatically means you are getting farther and farther from the standards of attractiveness, or even, quite frankly, from the standards of acceptability. (We all know that fuckability has gone well by the wayside…)
But the really insidious thing here is how, once judging our own and each other’s attractiveness has been explicitly been put on the table in regards to age, how quickly we are accustomed (acculturated, really) to sliding on down the hill to invoke other unwritten laws of attractive: thinness, sexiness, makeup use, and so on. When posting there then-and-now photos, I’ve seen various folks in my life beat up on themselves for weight they’ve gained over a dozen years; apologize (jokingly, I think) to their husbands for looking so sexy and made-up in their first, pre-meeting-each-other photo; and poked fun at their younger selves for being clueless about how to style themselves to look good.**
Given all the ways the cultural messaging brainwashes us to feel bad about ourselves, it’s a tiny little bit heart-breaking to see something that could have been fun and sweet instead set us all up to go to this place of self-judgement and self-criticism.
I have also seen some awesome stuff. More and more folks taking the invitation to post then-and-now but stripping away that awful “challenge” name. Someone commenting how much joy she’s taking from seeing how much happier and more centered the older pictures in all the pairs are that she’s seeing. Some brilliantly articulate call-outs around how ageist this whole bullshit set-up was. Passionate reminders how the human body is a miraculous and sacred thing, no matter what age, weight, wrinkles or grey hair that body carries. My favorite line from those reminders? “Aging is a GIFT, assholes!”
And it is. However melodramatic this may seem, but I honestly spent most of my young adulthood convinced I wasn’t going to live past 30. Part of that was stupid kid stuff, where I didn’t see myself as getting old, and to my eyes, 30 would be ancient….***
But this conviction was much more sincere than it was superficial. My depression wasn’t formally diagnosed till I was 22 or 23, but I probably started realizing there was something “wrong” with my brain by the time I was in middle school. So somewhere in that mixed-up broken brain of mine, the expectation took root that my lack of focus, life purpose, life partner, were all subtle signs that I was fated for an early-ish death: my inability to see my future was a sign that I didn’t much have one. Academically driven as fuck, I knew I was drifting, and my expectation of “short time” quietly grew over my late teens and twenties.
Then, a few months after my 30th birthday, I was as low as I’d ever been. I was limping to the end of my graduate school career, feeling entirely useless and un-hireable for anything else. And a recent breakup had left me 100% certain that I was irrevocably fucked up and un-loveable. And for a brief week or two, I pondered over that long-held conviction that I’d never see past 30, asking myself if it was up to me to ensure that timeline was adhered to.
I don’t want to oversell this by implying that I was ever on the verge of committing suicide. (‘Cos I wasn’t. Something in me just hasn’t ever been wired that way.) Still, even though I didn’t get dangerously close to that precipice, I got closer to it than I’m comfortable about. And then I backed away from that precipice and very very slowly built this beautifully messy life of mine.
Now I’m almost 20 years past that age I never thought I’d surpass. And, to honor that, here’s my earliest and most recent profile pictures:
Younger leopard-print me was already past the crucible of lonely, listless, is-this-my-last-year 30. Still, there was so much goodness and laughter—and sorrow and tears—so much LIFE ahead of her. I can only hope that blonde, smokey-eye me has as much messy, glorious life still up ahead of her.
* Although, to call her “fellow” blogger would imply I considered us to be peers, which, when you consider her incredible talents as a writer, would be giving myself a lot more credit than I deserve. And that isn’t a #humblebrag: just actual appropriate humility.
** This last choice I kinda get. I certainly look back at lots of my old high school and college pictures with an affectionate mantra of “what the fuck was I thinking?” running through my brain.
*** Yeah, sometimes I wanna smack teenage me, too.
Image credit: Photos property of the author, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.