Why is ageing advice so contradictory?

You know that feeling when you pass a shop window and glance at the reflection in the glass. 

Who is that person staring back you think for a nanosecond, until you register that, yes, the old person, stooped over slightly, is you. 

Sometimes the shock is quite profound. Then you scuttle along to the next destination determined never to look in the windows again. 

Definitely distorted glass, you declare in your head, delusions better than reality.

How old do you feel, as opposed to what it says on your birth certificate or the rude numbers printed large on the back of your driver’s licence that give your age away?

I did a quick survey of a few friends and they all came back with numbers that bear no relation to their actual age. 

One friend declared she was six, despite being the proud holder of a Seniors Card (purely for discounts you realise). I know she grew up with Winnie the Pooh and the poems of A.A.Milne, where in one the poet declares, But now I am six, I’m as clever as clever. So I think I’ll be six for ever and ever. My friend is firm in her stubborn stance. Clever too, I might add.

Another friend decided she was really 19, the age when she was neither attached to anyone, nor responsible for a husband, children and all the other assorted relationships that have often plagued the lives of women and men. She still sees herself as fit and active, despite a bad back and the moans of arthritis quietly uttered in the dark of night. Dyes her hair too to cover the grey.

So, what is it about our perception of ourselves that is totally at odds with what the mirror reflects back to us? Is it vanity at work, like the wicked stepmother in Sleeping Beauty questioning the mirror – who is the fairest of all – or is it more to do with some primal survival mechanism? Do we need to have an unrealistic perception of ourselves to get through the day? A kind of existential angst in reverse where we lie to ourselves to ensure our survival. I have no answer.

Certainly, for centuries before the widespread use of mirrors and photographs, it was probably quite easy to have no idea how we looked. 

We might have based some idea of our declining image by seeing those of our friends and family of the same age around us. And the rich, of course, could pay to have their portrait painted. But methinks that it would be a daring or stupid painter who painted the truth. Sadly, today with our phones as cameras, the images rarely lie, though we delete any number of photos we don’t like in a vain effort to transform our reality.

However, does it matter how we look? I often try to describe some of my friends to new acquaintances and I do a poor job of conveying the raw truth of their appearance. To me, many of them are young, they are the age that I met them, still frozen in time if you like, the person that I met and liked and the friendships forged. It is the essence of the person that we see, their spirit and personality, that is what is important, not whether they have turned grey or succumbed to Botox. 

So, choose whatever age you wish. A bit like choose your own adventure. Someone will agree with you or pretend to do so out of politeness. After all, ageing will happen to the best of us.

What’s the best, worst and most contradictory ageing advice you’ve received? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: My daughter thinks I’m mid-century but I’m not a piece of furniture

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