One thing I’ve noticed since I turned thirty is that a lot of people now expect me to express anxiety about my age and to protest when they ask me how old I am. Whenever I have another birthday, I’m rather expected to throw up my hands and go on (and on and on) about how old I’m getting, all the while claiming that I still feel like I’m 16 inside.
Well, I do sometimes joke about getting older, but I don’t usually mean it in a negative way. Of course, like most people, I have fears about aging (as I found out when I stopped dying my hair) but in general I’ve been enjoying the changes that have come with leaving my early youth behind. I have no problem with admitting to being over thirty because I’ve been happier since I turned 30 than I was in my twenties. My twenties were difficult years, important and necessary, but I wouldn’t want to repeat them.
And I don’t feel like I’m 16 inside. I’m 33 and I feel like I’m 33. Every one of those years has left its mark on me and I can feel them all.
Sometimes, when I tell people my age they do that strange complimenting thing of telling me that I don’t look 33, and I’m supposed to be all pleased, as if I’ve gone and done something clever. I don’t know whether I look exactly 33 or not, but if I do appear any younger than whatever 33 is supposed to look like (not sure what standard I should be measuring myself against), it’s down to a middle-class lifestyle rather than anything else.
At the same time, it’s obvious that I do look older than I once did because I’m aware of more social pressure to make an effort to appear feminine. I think this is one of the changes for women as they pass thirty, and probably accounts for some of the angst about age. As our faces lose a bit of fat, those of us who had the kind of faces culturally perceived as being “pretty” come under more pressure to try and maintain that appearance, and those of us who were never allowed to be “pretty” come under ever increasing pressure to “make an effort”, or make the “best” of ourselves.
I’ve noticed a lot more gender policing in the last couple of years – as I go around in the jeans and hoody that have been my look since I was about 24, more and more people have referred to me as “sir”, or claimed to mistake me for male. Now, as I am not in the least gender-queer and really couldn’t pass for male, I think something else is going on here and it has something to with my age. I have this impression that people get angrier with you about gender presentation as you get older. What might be acceptable in a woman of 23 is not so acceptable in a woman of 33.