I saw a tweet recently that showed screenshots from a TikTok of a teenage girl saying that she hoped to age like the cast of Bridgerton, displaying a photo of the actress who plays Daphne Bridgerton, age 25. The tweet’s caption jokes, “why do they all think ppl rot at the age of 21.”
While, on first glance, the notion of a 25 year-old being seen as “aged” would cause any twenty-something to laugh, this Zoomer’s analysis didn’t come out of nowhere. Our late teens and early twenties are often posited as the most fun, defining and important time of our lives. These years are supposed to be a time to experiment and find your true self — whatever that means. So it would stand to reason that after we hit that horrifying quarter century, it’s all downhill.
Between coming-of-age movies depicted by deceptively old actors and rom-coms that try to make you believe the main character could have a lucrative career in the publishing industry before age twenty-five, pop culture places a lot of emphasis on those early years. If you watch film after film of people finding love, reinventing themselves in a new city and making a name for themselves straight out of college, it may start to feel like that’s the natural progression of everyone’s lives but yours. This sort of thing makes it seem like there’s some cap to the time you can experiment and make mistakes in your life. So, once you reach thirty you need to settle down, join the corporate machinery and start going to jazz brunch for fun until you die, I guess.
Add on to all of that stress of your supposed physical peak, for women especially. The age in which women are seen to be most attractive is astonishingly low. According to a study covered in The New York Times assessing dating app use by heterosexual people, a woman’s desirability peaks at 18 and falls steadily from there. So the moment we become legal, it’s just a ticking clock counting down until our sexual obsolescence. Whether you want to blame this on reproductive biology or near-pedophilic beauty standards, it’s enough to make you gag.
I know simply saying something is a “social construct” doesn’t do much to liberate people from their actual anxieties, but it is true that this timer put on your life is completely arbitrary. Whether it’s in relationships, career or just being a bit of a mess, it’s nearly impossible to fit that all into one decade, and why would you want to? While, yes, many amazing and identity-forming things will happen to you in your early twenties, that doesn’t mean they automatically need to stop at a certain age.
Our culture’s focus on youth stifles us from enjoying the fullness of life in our later years. I hope to continue to be curious and a bit chaotic well into my last years on this planet. Yes, I want a stable job and to not eat as much instant ramen as I currently do, but I’m done putting a fixed date on when this era of my life needs to end.
Graphic by Taylor Reddam