As someone who struggled with acne and perioral dermatitis for much of my adult life, I’ve never had much headspace to think about aging. While my friends entered their 30s with standing Botox appointments and retinol serums in their medicine cabinets, my attention was focused on preventing breakouts through whatever means necessary. And I was always so preoccupied with the number of zits I had that I guess I just failed to notice the more subtle shifts changing the landscape of my face over time. That is until those 10 Year Challenge posts started appearing on Instagram.
You know the ones, where people post a photo from 10 years ago next to one from the present day. I love a good TBT moment, so I was initially stoked to throw my own before and after shots into the ring—and I decided to go even further back than a decade, choosing my first-ever Facebook profile picture as the throwback. But when I actually placed my 2006 and 2018 shots side by side? Not gonna lie, it was pretty jarring. In the high-def image of my 36-year-old self, all I could see were the giant pores on my cheeks, the bags under my eyes, and the deep lines around my mouth. I knew all of these things existed, but they were especially obvious when collaged next to a soft-focus, black-and-white photo of myself at 24. Yes, Insta, I most definitely do want to delete this photo.
My angst grew even worse over the coming days, as more and more #10YearChallenge pics started infiltrating my feed. The worst were the celebrity posts, which mostly looked like they were taken 10 days apart, as opposed to 10 years apart. (Often accompanied by a smug caption reading something like “#samesame” or “Not much has changed!”) Of course, these are people who have $1,000-per-session facialists on speed dial, people who most likely are being injected and lasered with things that smooth out their wrinkles and sculpt the contours of their faces. I’m not judging this at all—whatever makes you happy!—and, to be honest, I might do the same if I had unlimited funds. But I also hated the idea being presented: That it’s realistic for a decade to pass with zero change to one’s face or body.
So I decided to post my 10-year composite after all. No Facetune, no filter. I wanted to give an alternate narrative to the one I’d been seeing—one that celebrates the beauty in aging, rather than low-key bragging about how little change had happened over the years.
And the more that I studied that photo of my older self, the more love I felt for all of my self-proclaimed imperfections. The lines on my forehead were hard-won during hours of sitting at my computer, brow furrowed while concentrating on work that I really care about. The wrinkles that have cropped up around my eyes and mouth? They’re a reminder that I have people and animals in my life who make me laugh so hard that I scrunch up my face, like, a million times a day. I might have less-visible pores and more abundant collagen if I spent more time out of the sun, sure. (This was definitely a wake-up call for me to stop skipping SPF.) But my best memories have been made while basking in UV-A and UV-B rays for hours on end—dancing at music festivals, traipsing around foreign countries, spending lazy afternoons on the beach having the kind of conversations that change you.
As I looked even closer at my 2018 photo, I realized that the transformation wasn’t just physical—there’s a totally different energy to that photo. I look at the picture on the right and I see strength and knowing in my eyes, whereas I was sorely lacking both those things in my mid-20s. I see all the ways I’ve grown up over the past decade, the struggles and sadness and loss that eventually gave way to confidence and wisdom and inner peace. I’m grateful that I haven’t remained frozen in time since 2006. And I hope that when I’m 46, if the #10YearChallenge still exists, I won’t look exactly the same as I do now. Because a life without evolution sounds really boring, no?
Another reason to welcome aging? Happiness increases after your midlife crisis (science says so!) Besides, longevity is what all the cool wellness kids are aiming for now, not “anti-aging”.
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