Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

My Future-Wrinkly-Old-Biddy Manifesto

with 10 comments

LA Times ran an article by Lori Kozlowski on Monday asking, “Are We Worrying About Aging Too Young?”

I’ve noticed ever-younger women (often 10 years my junior) worrying about signs of aging — even before they’ve lost their baby fat. Girls at the counter point to their foreheads or the sides of their eyes and say: “See, there’s a wrinkle right there.” These women are trying to prevent wrinkles years ahead of when they might be expected to develop them. They’re slapping on eye cream at 18 and planning to pay for their first Botox treatment with coins they collect in their dorm rooms.

Alas!—it’s a phenomenon that extends far beyond LA. Back in Ohio, I remember hearing my then-roommate and a friend discussing anti-aging creams at a bar one night. I was 23 at the time; they were both 22. These were not beauty-queen, primadonna girls, either. My roommate was a hippie chick with a curly fro who didn’t shave her legs or armpits and now often models for Threadless. The other girl was a pale, beautiful writer-type who did sketch-comedy and had a mohawk in college. When I told them my “skin-care regimen” consisted of soap, water, and Burt’s Bees moisturizer in the winter months, they exchanged a gentle, knowing look before ever-so-politely explaining to me that if I did not get with it I was going to look like an old shrew by 25. I brushed off their admonitions, smug my clearly-more-advanced sense of self-confidence, my refusal to be a fool parting ways with hundreds of dollars a year on snake-oil beauty creams.

And then I began to worry. Just a little. But the fear had been planted: what if they were right?

When I came to DC, I made friends with a wonderful group of young women who were smart, funny, low-key. The kind of girls not afraid to leave the house without makeup on, or to consume a couple pints of cheap beer and a cheeseburger at a happy hour. Not girly-girls.

But I soon began to notice this bizarre aging-worry in them, too. While they would hardly criticize another woman or a celebrity’s relative level of attractiveness, or weight, they were quick to lambaste those who dared to look older. Celebs and non-celebs alike were often branded “old-lady face.” And old-lady-face was an anathema, a fate we must fight at all costs!

Sun was to be avoided, unless one was coated in 16-layers of sunscreen and sporting a sun hat the size of a sombrero. Expensive skin products and devices were purchased; mircroderm abrasion treatments indulged. Comments from co-workers or stangers about looking younger than one’s actual age were always shared with the group gleefully—and she thought I was 24! Like in a teen-movie where the proper response to the mean girl’s “I think I’m going on a diet” is always “no, but you’re so thin!,” there was only one way to respond to these stories: but you totally could be 24!

It irritated me (and still does). There is very little physical difference, overall, between 22-year-olds and 32-year-olds. Some people are always going to look a bit more youthful, some people a bit less, but there is not, really, a grand variance. Were someone to mistake me for 17, or 42, I might be concerned. But 27? 23? 31? What did it matter?

And yet, again, it all began to worry me. At 24 & 25, people began to mistake me for 28, 29, 30. It felt like an insult. Even though their reasons were often not about physical appearance. Even though I had plenty of 28-, 29- and 30-year-old friends who were beautiful, and not at all “old” looking. I wanted to “look my age,” or look younger than my age, for no tangible reason whatsoever. For no reason other than that, for years, from my friends, and from media, I had been absorbing this message that “youth” was the most important look to strive for, and this had, quite slowly, quite without my realizing it, wormed its way into my brain.

I have, thankfully, avoided the urge to shell out for eye serums, wrinkle soothers, fine-line-concealing creams. I began to wear sunscreen on my face daily, to moisturize a little more. But for the most part, I took a defiant attitude. We are too young for this! There will perhaps be time to worry, later in life (though perhaps not; perhaps this contrariness can carry). This focus on age should not stand, this number as a proxy for a woman’s beauty. Do you remember what you, or the girls you knew, looked like in high school and college? For the most part, ladies look much better at 27 than at 17 (I, for one, actually weigh less now than I did in high school, grew into my nose, and figured out how the hell to manage my thick, wavy hair. I’m also no longer totally awkward). Most women (and men) I know would agree. So why do we do this to each other? Because it is not men who do this to us, it is almost always women who do it to one another.

If the aging topic comes up, now, I am sometimes prone to telling people, ‘I plan to be a wrinkly old biddy when I grow up, and I am just fine with that.’ I will not cut my hair sensibly. I will stop dying it after 50 or 60. I will wear it long and gray, or white (I hope white), and I will be a beautiful old hippie woman, with fine, tan skin from enjoying things outdoors, and if there are lines around my eyes, etched across my forehead and around my lips—so be it.


Written by Elizabeth

July 15, 2009 at 11:19 am

10 Responses

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  1. You explain the dilemma perfectly. You’re probably a lot braver than I (sorry – not all that difficult), but being a guy, I can’t say I’ve thought at any great length about it – until recently.

    Of course, being ancient, I’m way past the “protect yourself now to avoid wrinkles etc., etc., later” stage, but have you noticed that they’re now pushing all this crap onto men too?

    However, I can’t say I’ve ever been able to get past my mid thirties in my head, so when science comes up with the answer, if I should still be alive and sufficiently in possession of my faculties to be able to remember why – I think I probably will have a full body transplant (assuming I can afford it, of course).


    July 15, 2009 at 11:41 am

  2. My mom found out a few years ago that she was the only one of her 50-something friends who didn’t dye her hair. She’s also really confused by people lying about their ages to seem younger. Think about it- if you look 50 and say your 40, you still look 50. She says if she ever does lie, it’ll be in the opposite direction-if you’re 60 and say you’re 70, you look really good for a 70 year old. I love my mom.


    July 15, 2009 at 12:30 pm

  3. OK,

    1) You are of indiscriminate age – people do mistake you for 17 or 42.

    2) If 60 years of California sun, never dying her hair, and not wearing makeup creates this level of beauty: http://bit.ly/roommatemom, then I’m all for it.

    3) How does eye make up fit in to any of this?


    July 15, 2009 at 3:56 pm

  4. an excellent article! funny thing is, I was so concerned with getting wrinkles when I was in high school..now I am trying really hard to remember to wash my face. and sunscreen! which brings me to my favorite quote [from the book, “Lost Horizon”]: Everything in moderation, particularly moderation.


    July 15, 2009 at 5:20 pm

  5. Easy! This is obviously just an evolved psychological predisposition–people want to look young in order to attract mates in order to propagate their genes.

    Especially if they begin to look old before they’ve had children! Then the fear is even more acute!



    July 15, 2009 at 5:31 pm

  6. I’m pretty low maintenance about skin care (drugstore face scrub, Cetaphil moisturizer, a cucumber mask when I remember I have it), but I also have friends my age who regularly buy anti-aging creams. To each their own, I guess. Personally, I think Coco Chanel said it best when she uttered this phrase: “Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty.”


    July 15, 2009 at 11:53 pm

  7. I seriously had a guy tell me — as a compliment — that he thought I looked 17. I’m 20. It’s freaking ridiculous. I’m not even out of college and I’m supposed to wish I were younger? Are we someday going to tell women “Wow, you look fourteen”?


    July 18, 2009 at 3:42 pm

  8. I’m just trying to imagine what the male equivalent to not growing old gracefully might be…(men generally become “distinguished” looking as they age, I know,so unfair) Perhaps uh, becoming a daft old bore that people go to lengths to avoid? I suppose that would be mine…hmmm, that might explain the lack of traffic on my blog, but alas, I’m over-sharing again! tsk,tsk..


    July 25, 2009 at 6:51 pm

  9. Turning 50 8-29-2009 and I’m just an old hippie dude now, figured out maybe a year or two ago that I’m not 17 anymore, but who gives a @%#! anyway? Culturally, at least in the media, this does seem to be the time of the full-grown and mature woman, and I’m not sure what it means. I still believe that youth is an attitude as much as anything else, and I’m still giving the finger to the “adult” world in some ways….can’t wait to be actually elderly, I’ll be really annoying then!

    Dan Mage

    July 28, 2009 at 9:20 pm

  10. […] } I have a longstanding tradition of railing against wrinkle cream. Wrinkle cream and everything that goes with it, I mean – facials, laser rejuvenation […]

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