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will life be better in our twenties or our forties?

Image: ArtisticZen via Wikimedia Commons

Image: ArtisticZen via Wikimedia Commons

I turned 20 recently and I am so ‘old’. Old, old, old. Or at least, that’s how the majority of my 20-going-on-80-year-old friends would lead me to believe. I am the youngest in my circle, and as such they kindly passed on some knowledge of the other side (of adolescence, that is) to me:

‘You’ll wake up and your boobs will sag down to your knees.’

‘In lieu of birthday presents, ask for Botox.’

Yeah, not quite. Much like when I turned 18 and had so anticipated to become “changed” or a “woman”, 20 has given me little else than the gift of questioning age.

I went to a psychic this year who told me I would be more confident and achieve more as the years went on, decade after decade. That’s a slight letdown when you see 20 shaping up to be an awesome year with all you have planned – some travel, work experience and a whole load of fun with said friends. Perhaps why this was such a letdown was because I was being told that the prime of my life (if you base it on all that Hollywood crud) isn’t now, it isn’t going to be in my 20-somethings when I’ll be able to revel in the fact that I may be best presented: young and comparatively photogenic to my supposed future achievements.

Twenty-somethings are the predominant species in our popular culture and for what reason – in recent years – I cannot tell. The trajectory of life is no longer straight forward birth, breed, death. We are having children later in life, if at all, so why is the pseudo-virginal face of post-pubescence still gazing at us from the telly, on the silver screen and on billboards across the globe as the only thing that is desirable? Smooth-skinned and free from the ravages of either acne or the creases of “character”, beauty is youth and so youth is only beauty as it is free from the responsibilities that await later in life. One needs only look to social media for evidence: the amount of “selfies” this culture generates is not so much narcissism as a symptom of the need for approval of their visual representation.

This isn’t to say that there are no exceptions to the rule. There are always inspirational young people on television or in newspapers who have accomplished amazing feats. Think of Jessica Watson, or young people who have overcome adversity to get their very own character profile in the papers. But then there’s me. Even though I have always been guessed to be older than what I am for my mannerisms, once my age is revealed I become infantilised. The gravity of my words are reduced to goos and gahs in the ears of my elders as they tell me how beautiful my skin is and ask me about uni and if I have a boyfriend. I could think of one million better things to discuss, but for the most part I am thrust into a conversational playpen.

In typecasting youth as the beautiful or brawny yet (typically) brain dead lead in the play that is life, young people seem barred from the more intellectual roles they might like to play. When young people do accomplish things beyond being nice to look at, it is seen as amazing or inspiring rather than a standard that should be expected. But the youth are not the sole inheritors of this curse in the cast and crew. In this production, the middle-aged become stagehands and producers: of value only to keep the damn thing going behind the scenes. Consider the hardworking executive or the parent who laments their loss of a carefree existence in their 20-somethings where there was supposedly little to worry about other than using condoms and just having enough money for food and shelter… or travelling. Now with looks supposedly fading and a world of stress in organising the rest of society – young and old – they feel disempowered, or underappreciated. Similarly, the elderly are an audience to life and an audience only. Beyond inheritance and a biased account of the human family history, the value of our immediate ancestors is barely enough to get a ticket and that is sad. Compound this with the frailty and health problems often associated with this group in society and you’ve got yourself someone who is so cruelly barred from the theatre. Again, this isn’t to say there aren’t exceptions to the rules of ageing, but it’s hard to deny such things when such voices themselves stress the wonder that is youth.

Our obsession with youth marginalises so many, and hence, no wonder my peers feared twenty. Before you know it, 20 becomes 30 and 30 becomes 40, 40 becomes 50, 60 and the league of the invisible. I once interviewed a youth worker who told me a good measure of any society is how it treats its young people and its old. If treatment of either in Australia is something to go by, I cannot wait to do as my dear advisor the psychic said and age. I’m not wishing my life away, because hey, I am so not ready for carrousel yet (Logan’s Run, anybody?). Cheesy sci-fi aside, I do want to prove these theories wrong: there is value and beauty in life beyond 20-something.

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