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I'm 38 and suddenly thinking about aging all the time. I don't want to dress or wear my hair like I'm trying to 'look young.'

Woman wearing printed dress with tags on it standing in front of a closet full of clothes.
Melissa Persling (not pictured) recently started thinking about her age and worries about how she dresses and wears her hair. She doesn't want to look like she's trying to 'look young.'Getty Images
  • I've never worried much about my age, but one day, I suddenly realized I wasn't in my 20s anymore.

  • Now that I'm in my late 30s, I've started to worry about aging.

  • I think about how I dress, how I wear my hair, and how others perceive me.

Age crept up on me the way tax day sneaks up in April. I had never thought much about it until one day, I felt like I no longer recognized my reflection in the mirror. It was as if I had just been going about my business and was shocked by the sudden understanding that I was no longer in my early 20s. I was 38.

I'm not sure why the realization that I was getting along in years surprised me so much. Maybe it's because I'm physically in better shape in my 30s than I was in my 20s, or because once the countdown to my 21st birthday was over, I thought little of other age milestones. (For the record, after that particular birthday celebration, I still can't stand the smell of an appletini.)

Perhaps it's because I don't have a husband, children, mortgage, living orchid, 401(k), casserole dish, or any of the other cliché trappings of adulthood. I do, however, have a very realistic-looking plastic dog poop toy sitting just a few feet from me.

I don't want to look like I'm trying too hard

Now that I'm thinking more about my age, I often wonder if I'm trying too hard to appear young. Is the sliver of my stomach showing slightly sexy, or is it totally embarrassing? Is my long hair gorgeous, or is it ridiculous? Should I stop being offended when people who aren't Southern call me ma'am? Am I supposed to know who Dua Lipa is? Somebody, please tell me!

The waning attention from men is also a constant reminder of the fact that the number signifying my age will only continue to get higher. I've been disgusted by the leering eyes of men on many occasions (unless they were cute, of course), and now I find myself searching a crowded bar for anyone looking at me. I recently had a handsome, suited gentleman approach me, and just as I was preparing to blow him off, he asked if I could scoot my bar stool over so he could sit next to his gorgeous girlfriend, who was, at a glance, not a day over 25. That one stung.

Melissa Persling smiling and drinking a glass of wine, sitting outside on a red chair.
Melissa Persling, 38, recently started thinking more age.Courtesy of the author

I want 20-somethings to appreciate their youth

Part of me wants to grab every 20-something girl by the shoulders, shake her, and say "You aren't enjoying your youth enough! One day, you'll pull out your ID when you order a glass of champagne and no one will ask to see it. Your closet will be filled with practical footwear, and you will spend a small fortune on products with retinol, hyaluronic acid, and peptides. You can't get these years back!" But I won't. I will watch them wistfully and wonder why they all seem to wear the most unflattering jeans they can find and where they got them.

Don't get me wrong. I don't spend every waking moment cursing the young and trying to get men to look at me. After all, I have to go to yoga and apply expensive cream to my aging skin while Googling appropriate hairstyles for women pushing 40. But seriously, though I don't mean to reduce womanhood to appearance or the ability to attract men, I'd be lying if I didn't say that for me, that has been a big part of my anxiety over aging.

I'm working on recognizing my worth comes from other things than appearance

For better or for worse, a large portion of my identity, my femininity, has been tied to the way I feel about how I look. Aging has made me realize how crucial it is to loosen those knots that attach my self-worth to my appearance. Intellectually, I know I have other attributes that contribute greatly to my worth, and I know I shouldn't be looking to the opinions of others to validate my opinion of myself.

And while I'd love to say that after enough time on my therapist's Ikea couch, I finally believe that I've "earned my wrinkles," or that "I've never felt more comfortable in my skin," or anything else Jennifer Aniston says, that would quite obviously be a lie. (I also know from experience that Aveeno products will not make you look anything like Jennifer Aniston, unfortunately.)

I am still working hard on being the kind of woman who ages gracefully, knowing she is more than her youth and reflection. But I will never wear a bra as a shirt, no matter how cute I feel, because I am 38. Sigh.

Read the original article on Business Insider