Don't Have Kids, Don't Eat Meat, Don't Get Married: How to Look Young at 45


Elizabeth Wurtzel is 45. But she’s not one of those 45-year-olds. You know, the ones who actually look like they have been alive for 45 years? She’s different. She’s figured out the way to stay young “for her age” —the Holy Grail of all concerned agers, everywhere — by doing two insanely simple things you never thought of: avoiding most of the hallmarks of typical adulthood, and being pathologically herself. Will it work for you, too? Only one way to find out.

In a Wurtzel-y piece called “I Refuse to Be a Grown-Up,” she details her secret to getting compliments at parties in a style I wanna say reads like Cat Marnell if Cat Marnell ran out of drugs 10 years ago but still needed to feel interesting/relevant.

The deets: Elizabeth Wurtzel went to a party in Williamsburg, where no one over 25 is allowed to exist without feeling deep shame. She was brave to do this, because she knew she was guilty of committing the crime of being 45. But when she confessed her heinous act to a guy nearby, he was “shocked,” which she immediately took as 100% genuine confirmation that there’s no way she could actually look her age. What follows is a Proustian reflection on her own boldly age-defying tactics, all sprung from the madeleine of pride-swell granted her by some well-meaning partygoer.

Uh, maybe he was being nice? Isn’t that possible? I can’t count the number of times I have watched people feign shock at someone else’s clearly-what-it-is age to make conversation, to curry favor, to just pass the time. Little white lies: the fabric our lives. I’m not saying that she doesn’t look great, or beautiful, or 39. I’m not saying she can’t like how she looks or be proud of having gotten a compliment or that she has to give in to aging or do anything she doesn’t want to do.

I’m saying that here we have an interesting woman who could be talking about how interesting she is, how she hopes 45 shows because she’s lived one hell of a life. But instead we have a piece in the usual tradition of being deathly afraid of a wrinkle, one that let’s us know that she isn’t a sucker who sold it all out for the trad-life (ewwww, old people), and that, by the way, the secret to eternal youth is just the right mix of insouciance and carrot juice.

OK you crazy kid. Let’s take a gander at those tips, shall we?

In a nutshell, she:

Refuses to be a grownup
Didn’t get married = avoided unhappiness
Thereby avoiding divorce
Didn’t breed
Was promiscuous on purpose
Did too many drugs, doesn’t do them now
Is preternaturally truthful
“Screams and yells”
Apologizes sometimes, even when it’s not her fault
Spends a lot of money
Wears short skirts, high heels whether it’s appropriate or not
Has too many pairs of jeans/platform boots
Doesn’t eat meat
Eats salad
Drinks wine, red wine NEVER THE WHITE WINE
Doesn’t drink it for breakfast anymore
Drinks cocktails with fruit in them, the kind serious drinkers sneer at
Isn’t “serious”
Used to do coke and go running, now just goes running
Is loyal
Is vicious sometimes
Solves problems with duct tape
Honor is deepest principle
Is ridiculous sometimes
Lives with a wolf and a panther
OK, just a dog and a cat, but they’re “wild” and thats “better”
Is interested in EVERYTHING
Doesn’t want to know a dude she’s fucking’s line of work
Can’t be told what to do
Some stuff about voting or not voting
Doesn’t predict trivial matters
Does not worry
ENJOYS things
Does not prognosticate, OK? Only idiots do that.
Is going to die a very dirty blonde
Is Steve Job’s bitch, AKA, likes Apple products, like the young’uns
Considers that most things are not her problem
Thinks “people are self-involved”
She will “die screaming”

OK, OK, hold the phones. Look, Wurtzel pieces are pretty easy fodder because she just won’t stop “preternaturally” mixing up batty self-absorption with proscriptive information about How to Live, while always inadvertently indicting herself without realizing it? It’s confusing.

But I’m just going to take seriously her concerns for aging, because it’s something all women deal with. Yes, it’s harder for women to age. It’s especially harder for women who are told they are beautiful and given attention and validation for it. It’s especially hard to go from being wanted and lusted on the daily to straight-up being invisible — do not collect $200.

So while it’s easy to mock her “beauty tips” as just another in a series of itemized neuroses on display here, I know that for all women this is an issue to some degree or another, and it takes an almost bulletproof self-esteem to age gracefully and not care about the way you’re treated/ignored. And none of us is going to be sad when someone tells us, at 45, that we don’t look 45.

But that doesn’t change the real talk train coming into the station: it’s fucking inevitable. Figuring out a way to deal with your own aging/mortality is one of the things you have to do when you’re alive. That’s part of the thing about the thing you have to figure out for yourself. Yes, sure, no one has to feel cool about becoming a decrepit invalid, and in some ways you could argue that all efforts at healthfulness are merely a way of staving off the inevitable decline.

But while we can (sorta) control our quality of life while we’re here, aging can’t truly be undone. There’s no one who looks younger than their age that’s actually fooling anyone — not really. Even the best looking, most worked-on or genetically blessed seeming non-ager still basically looks their age. That’s the thing about telling someone they look great “for their age.” It’s weird.

If you look great at any age, it’s because the way you look is a way a person can look at 45. That’s one way 45 looks. Round up 100 different 45-year-olds and you will see a wide range of aging evidence based on lifestyle and genetics and plastic surgery, but it’s not as if any of them looks 18 or something. At some point, it catches up in one way or another, and at best, you’re only buying yourself five to ten years. And even if you trotted out some compelling exceptions, it doesn’t change the fact that aging is still happening on a cellular level.

And we all have insecurities and weak points on the subject, and we all have different ideas about how to age, whether it’s not giving up without a fight, or making sure we get the right blend of turtlenecks and wide-legged pants. And women get it stuck to them either way: If you care about aging and fight it you get called desperate, and if you don’t care about it, you’re invisible, and may as well be dead. I know it’s a sticky trap, and I know I’m walking right into it.

But as women, I think there are more options than those two. I think we can control something about aging: We can rewrite the narrative about our value and worth as we age. We shouldn’t forget what makes aging/being alive so great: the wisdom that is supposed to come with it. Some of my favorite conversations are with women older than me, because I love hearing the kinds of interesting lives they’ve had, their world-weary conclusions, their resilience, their outrageous mistakes, their pithy comebacks.

Wurtzel claims “Evasion and avoidance are hallmarks of youth.” But I’d say it’s actually the opposite. Evasion and avoidance are the hallmarks of the desperate. Youth isn’t about avoiding or evading, it’s about living precisely as you are, in the moment. Aging is supposed to bring with it bonafide cool shit: the realization that mortality is real, shit matters, how you spend your time actually counts.

But if the only thing you want to focus on after 45 years of moments is how good you’ve been at fooling everyone about how long you’ve been on earth, and how nicely all those choices add up to a tidy sylph-like transcendence of nature, without even acknowledging the very dance you’re doing, well then, in a way, it’s you who is really showing your age. And according to you, that’s about the worst thing you could ever do.

Image via Getty.

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