“Bite your face to spite your nose. Seventeen and a half years old. Worrying about my brother finding out, where’s the fun in doing what you’re told?”
As Matty Healey, frontman of The 1975 (towards whom I have since developed a deep dislike, but that’s another essay), sang this Girls lyric on stage in Boston last fall, I had an unpleasant realization.
Surrounding me on all sides, so close I could smell their sweat, other fans also sang along—but they did so with a bittersweet nostalgia for this nine-year-old song that I did not share. The 1975 first hit popularity with their self titled record in 2014, and the largest demographic at this concert had been my age way back then. I felt (or imagined) disdain from these twenty-somethings for being a bandwagon fan. In retaliation for this possibly non-existent judgment, I relished my youth. I was seventeen and a half now, they were all past their prime, no longer worthy of being the love interest in a rock song. But instead of feeling rightfully guilty for haughtily parading my adolescence, I want to further investigate this irrational thought. After all, I really had nothing on the twenty-somethings, only a black X in Sharpie on either of my hands, making it explicitly clear to the bartenders that I was not allowed to purchase alcohol.
The value of youth in Western culture is undeniable. I don’t have an exact figure, but the youth industry (comprising skincare, makeup, plastic surgery, fashion, exercise, diet, the list goes on) is worth a disgustingly large sum of money. I’m told that everything goes downhill from here—wrinkles appear, metabolism slows, trendy clothes are no longer age appropriate, and the list goes on. I admit to crying on my birthdays, not because of an underwhelming celebration, but because I’m terrified of not making the most of my teenage years.
I have received remarkably contrasting messages on aging from two of the most prominent women in my life. On one end of the spectrum lies my paternal grandmother. She often makes negative comments on her appearance, bitterly searching for what once was in her face and body. On the other end is my mother, who recently mentioned offhand to me how content she feels in middle age, how comfortable with herself and her appearance she has become. As an all-in-all content woman, understanding my mom’s optimistic perspective on the whole getting older ordeal made it seem a little less daunting.
Even with the optimism my mom instilled in me, I still had trouble fully believing that aging wasn’t the horrific thing society told me it was, particularly as I transitioned from high school to college. I was acutely aware of this during my Harvest trip at the start of this semester, where I first had time to reflect on this transition after a tumultuous first few days. But precisely when I was feeling the most scared of getting older, I found an entirely new perspective on aging that cured many of those worries. I had never worked on a farm or interacted with plants in a meaningful way before this, and while pulling mature potatoes out of the ground, tossing ripe watermelons onto the tractor, and picking wildflowers in bloom off the side of the road to make tiny bouquets, it occurred to me that these were “old” plants. But instead of casting these plants aside for their age, we see them as all the more lovely because of it. Now, whenever the little voice in my head starts to say that youth is slipping through my fingers and I should be scared of getting older, I think of how delicious those potatoes and watermelons were. I shift my mind to look at aging more like what makes for a lush garden in bloom, with youth as just the foundational seedlings to something richer and more beautiful that I have still to reach.