I Updated My Website Photos and Discovered How Old I Really Am
A Startling Contemplation
I am the kind of person, if there is a kind of person, that doesn’t spend much time looking in the mirror, or at photos of myself. One part of me thinks that it is a way of dissociating from the aging process, yet another part of me recognizes that this tendency has been consistent for much of my life: the tendency to hyper-focus on things that interest me, and tune out the things that don’t, like looking at my reflection in the mirror.
I visit my website a fair amount to make ongoing edits. And every time I do, my (former) picture on the home page stared at me and I’d think the same thing each time: “That doesn’t feel like me.” And while this may seem like a form of dissociation, my previous photo was taken during a relatively short phase of my life where I had a hairstyle I hated, that never felt true to me. And, when I’d see it, Id think over and over that this doesn’t look much like me anymore, especially since these photos were 5 years old and pre-pandemic A lot has changed since then.
But when it came time to have my photos re-taken, I felt very shocked to see the proofs. “Is that really me,” I thought? I was consumed by thoughts like “If the old profile pictures no longer felt like me, and these new ones felt shockingly unfamiliar, who am I, really?” It was getting pretty deep.
There were a number of issues at play, but the central theme that kept emerging for me was aging, a topic that frankly annoyed me a lot when I was younger, particularly because I knew a number of people socially, back then, who were considerably older than me, and the talk about aches and pains was irritating.
And as I put fingers to keyboard this month, I thought a lot about whether I even wanted to write this article, because of my own discomfort with my aging process. “Wouldn’t it be nicer,” I thought, “if I had an inspirational message about aging that I could tie up with a bow? A message that would not force me admit to my own internalized ageism?”
But, I decided it might be good to get vulnerable about why seeing myself as old, or at least older, has been difficult, but maybe a little interesting too. And I’d like to emphasize that my experience, is simply my experience, and is not meant to be representative of anyone else’s.
When I saw the proofs of my photos it was hard to stomach that I looked older than I feel inside. I think that I’ve aged a lot in response to the pandemic, not helped by the fact that it hit when I was already middle-aged and going through my own naturally-occurring aging process. A double-whammy of sorts.
In looking at my photos, it dawned on me that people likely see me different, and older, than I see myself, although yeah, when I’m honest, I don’t move as fast as I used to, which is hard to ignore. It is difficult to face these changes and to also recognize that my place in the world, including in the Vancouver counselling scene, is different. While I continue with my brisk pace of article-writing, I think I’ve lost a little of the business hustle that partially got me here in the first place, preferring now to direct almost all of my focus to direct client care. And I have to admit I really like that aspect of things.
Looking at my photos also had me challenging my own internalized fat-phobia. I’ve lived all of my young adult life, and into my early middle age, with thin privilege. And I still have privilege because I can go to most stores and find things that fit. But my body has changed shape in a way that sometimes does not sit well with my underlying sensory issues, which makes me grumpy towards it at times. Because of our fat-phobic society, I also have to actively challenge messages about “falls from grace,” because truthfully and inherently there is no grace-standard to begin with, save our internal worth, which is universal to all and is not dependant on body size.
There are other changes too, some captured, some not captured in the photos: changes in walking speed, flexibility, energy levels and other physical features that I’m noticing for the first time. The white streak I’ve had in my hair since my 20s is not as noticeable anymore, absorbed by newly-initiated grey hairs.
There’s an interesting aspect of all of this aging process too. About 10 years ago, at least here in active Vancouver, it occurred to me that middle-aged people and up, often walk around, as if almost invisible to younger folks. I can’t count the number of times people have bumped into me and never acknowledged that. I’ve come not to take it personally and I often joke that I think that I’ve become the human equivalent of a house plant: a vague ‘something’ in the environment. But that has its advantages too! I can walk around stealth without drawing attention to myself and I feel a lot freer, going about my business.
A State of Mind?
“Aging is a state of mind.”
“You’re only as old as you feel.”
“Age is just a number.”
Are these statements true?
The kind people who have said them to me over the past 10 years have been much younger than me, and these words are offered in the spirt of compassion and comfort. Interestingly, if I say that I’m old to someone of my cohort, the response is usually to laugh and commiserate. It’s a different vibe.
My reality is that when I look at my new photos I see more grey hair, skin changes and a “look”
of being older. Like a tree that has grown more rings. There’s no denying it.
I also think that these expressions about age, while compassionately intended, also play into the notion that aging is problematic and undesirable. I am interested by the alternative idea of recognizing one’s age as a motivation to live meaningfully. Time on this earth is limited.
Self-Consciousness and Self-Care
I’ve said it before, but for someone who doesn’t faff about too much with appearance, it’s weird to look at my own photograph and scrutinize it. My general tendency to focus on details gets me on the appearance-front, too. I have a hard time seeing the whole person when I look in the mirror: I’m usually more apt to use a mirror functionally, to, say, put in contact lenses, or to see two clothing items, juxtaposed, on my body: do they work? But because seeing ‘whole Megan’ is so bizarre, I also wonder if that in itself is problematic: maybe I should pay more attention. Maybe noticing, wholly, me, just as I am, and just a little more, could become a lovely opportunity for self-care. I’m not ruling that out.
Interested in getting my articles delivered to your inbox once a month? Sign up to my newsletter, The Listening Ear.