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Putting a spin on aging

When spending time with female friends, there almost always comes a point in the conversation when one of us criticizes some aspect of her looks.

This is usually followed by one of two strategies: either the rest of us protest vigorously that, in fact, the woman in question is the most gorgeous creature alive, or else we offer up detailed examples of our own hideous flaws, causing the whole thing to erupt into a frenzy of self-loathing. Then we eat. Lather, rinse, repeat.

On one recent occasion, the self-deprecator among us was upset about discovering new wrinkles, or maybe it was her increasing ratio of grey-to-brown hairs. This type of age-related complaint quickly led to the deployment of a strategy more timeworn than any of our faces.

“Honey, those wrinkles mean you’ve laughed, and the grey hair means you cared,” one of the more self-help-y of us exclaimed, secure in the knowledge that her statement was backed up by countless Facebook memes, inspirational posters and cross-stitched pillows.

Wow! Was that what those things meant? Here I’d spent all this time thinking that wrinkles meant there’d been a gradual breakdown in collagen and glycosaminoglycans in the epidermis, and grey hair meant a depletion of melanocytes in the hair shaft. Nope! Actually, it all just means that the wrinkly, grey-haired person is a wonderful, deeply fulfilled human being!

As I sat there listening to our friend receiving praise for her beautiful wisdom, caring and zest for life, I found myself starting to become annoyed. Because whoever made up that whole “wrinkles-mean-you’ve-laughed” list totally quit on the job early. Wrinkles and grey hair aren’t exactly the only signs of aging out there — in fact, they don’t happen to be my main genetic legacies. I come from dark-circle, turkey neck, elephant-knee people. And I’m noticing that absolutely zero noble personal qualities have been manufactured to explain these.I guess people like me have the worst of both worlds — we’re still starting to look old, but we’re just the crappy kind of old, the kind that hasn’t been earned through courage, wisdom and grace. We just kind of let ourselves go. Meanwhile, we witness our loftier counterparts having neurotoxins injected into their laughter and wisdom in order to do away with these sterling qualities. Huh?

Something is definitely wrong here. So, for people like me, I’ve developed a more comprehensive list of the altruistic and life-affirming traits at the root of some of these other pesky signs of aging.

1. TURKEY NECK means you have vigorously nodded YES to life, over and over and over again. You’ve pretty much never said no to life, like ever. Wordplay bonus: It’s called ‘turkey’ neck not because it resembles the wattle of a turkey, but because you are always giving thanks and counting your blessings.

2. AGE SPOTS mean you are such a unique and distinctive individual, you have begun to manifest your own sassy leopard print pattern!

3. VARICOSE VEINS mean you have stood up (for hours and hours) for what you believe in. It also means that your path to truth and self-actualization is mapped out beneath your skin like a beautiful atlas of your life experience.

4. “ELEPHANT ELBOWS” and KNEES mean you have been flexible and accommodating to others, and also that you know how to bend without breaking. Wordplay bonus: it’s called “Elephant knees” because, like an elephant, you never forget your many beautiful and triumphant life experiences (unless you also happen to have dementia).

5. BAGS UNDER THE EYES mean you have seen so much, and you have accumulated the wisdom of what you have beheld. They are called ‘bags’ because they are filled with the abundant gifts of your memories.

I’m hoping to develop this appended list of age-related virtues into a meme or pillow designed to provide comfort and empowerment to those who don’t happen to have signs of aging with positive P.R. spin already written for them. Unfortunately, I’m at a bit of a loss to invent anything inspirational about facial hair. Suggestions are welcome.

— Jennifer Byrne

Jennifer Byrne’s humor writing has been published on The New Yorker Daily Shouts & Murmurs, The Rumpus Funny Women, The Hairpin, The Second City Network and She lives in southern New Jersey, which, sadly, is nothing at all like New York.

Reflections of Erma