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Don't Tell Me I Look Good 'For My Age'

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Today is my 42nd birthday, and I must admit that admitting my age is getting harder, in part because I come from a long line of age deniers.

When I was younger, my mother would call me up whenever she had a new boyfriend to tell me how old she had told him I was, in case I met him and got the urge to blurt out my true age - which would in turn point to her true age. So when she was 58 years old, my mother told her boyfriend that she was 50. He was told that I was 20 (I was 29), that my brother was 18 (he was 25), and that my 16-year old sister was 12. It was ridiculous. "Don't you dare say a word! I mean it!", my mother would say, trying not to laugh.

We were the family that grew younger every year.

My mother could do this because she's a beautiful woman and has always looked younger than her age. I suspect that the fact that she has been able to escape her true age for so long has made getting older that much harder for her. Or maybe I'm starting to understand her better, because I'm getting older too.

I realize that like her, I have been proud to look younger than my age, and that I don't know what that actually means: what is my age supposed to look like? Should I have jowls? Should my neck have disappeared by now? Should I be able to wear my chin as a neck warmer? Where is this reference library in the sky that seems to act as a benchmark for how men and women should look "at their age"?

I ask because now that I'm in my 40s, I've noticed that some of the compliments I get have changed. Instead of a simple "you look good", I sometimes get: "you look so good for your age!".

Um, what? Speak up, sonny.

I realize now that telling a woman or a man that they look good "for their age" is like saying you smell pretty good for someone who gave up bathing. It says, "I will do you the favour of looking past your flaw -- your age -- and still see the beauty in you, 'cos I'm deep like that". So to those I've given this backhanded compliment to, I apologize with all my heart and my fast-approaching wrinkles.

To me this is kind of like the days when the pale Crayola crayon was labelled "skin" colour. Just as we've agreed that there are too many shades of skin to call one colour the universal skin colour, I propose that it's the same for age. There is no "normal". My 42 years may look like your 52 years, or it may look like her 35. I am, you are, we are all a product of the loves and lives we were borne from. We are a product of our genetics, of our parent's fondness for ciggies in the '70s, of our own fondness for Nutella and holidays spent broiling under sun in sand. Plastic surgery only adds to the confusion, so that the ways we wear our age has grown so varied that we must approach beauty as a thing in itself, not reference it against the years it is born from.

So the next time you tell someone that they look good, leave age out of it. They look good, or they don't. If what you're thinking is "you do NOT look anything close to 63!", then pull out your Thesaurus and up your adjectives: "you look STUNNING"!

And maybe by the time you grow old enough that your neck disappears into your shoulder blades, you can still be considered beautiful and your beauty can be acknowledged separately from your age.

Or at least that's my birthday wish.