In the Mirror See a 20-Year-Old? Look Again

OK.  I admit it.  I dye my hair.  I exercise like a fiend.  I watch my weight and I tell everyone I have a 12-year-old son.  Most people think I'm in my early 50s.  No one would know I'm closing in on 60.  (I can barely believe it myself.)

But a new study has found that denying our age -- yes, you, Baby Boomers -- can have psychological repercussions.

"The myth exists that individuals can delay aging as they get older, or even evade it all together, by using measures such as diet, exercise, plastic surgery and Botox," reports. As we age, we're bombarded with messages that we can feel, look, and live like we did ten, twenty, even thirty years earlier. (I still see a 25-year-old when I look in the mirror.  It's when someone takes a picture of me that I realize, hey, I'm, gulp, old.  Well, older.

And it's been quite some time since I haven't been asked if I'm Phillip's grandma.

"“Mortality is a given, but there’s an attempt to deny it,” quotes Dr. Mary E. Doheny, Pdh, a licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern, ,which researches families and stages of life. “Focusing on the physical side of aging is a defense, a way to deny the implications of aging and death.”

According to Doheny, the aging process provides an important, powerful transition into a life stage that allows individuals to let go of certain superficialities and take part in crucial self-evaluation. “Aging allows individuals the opportunity to take the time to reorder their values in ways that are deeply meaningful,” she tells “The transition allows for a mid-course correction if necessary, to live the later years of one’s life with a new wisdom and deeper sense of self.”

So what if you don't?  Anxiety and depression, the psychologist says. I had my 40th high school reunion two years ago and was happy to see that I'd aged pretty well, compared to most of the others.  But a lot of my former classmates looked, well, old, and that's when I realized, I'm the same age they are.

I can run all I want, and eliminate ice cream and cookies and cake from my diet but my body has the mileage.  I can no longer run some of the hills I used to (or without great effort) and Zumba leaves me sweaty and exhausted.

"Many of my Baby Boomer clients deny their own aging until a traumatic event brings it up: the death of a parent, the illness of a partner, or needing a hip or knee replacement," quotes Doheny. "As a clinician, I see the other side of that denial, which is so often despair.”

I faced my own mortality when diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time, eight years ago.  I had only just turned 50, considered a younger than normal age to have the disease, so I focused on that, instead of the stats that say women diagnosed at 50 and under have worse prognoses.  At that time I had a 3-year-old -- and no time for cancer.  I remember leaving his field trip to the beach to go for radiation and thinking nothing of it.

But when it recurred, two years later, suddenly then I realized I'm going to die.  Maybe not for a while, maybe not for quite a while, but I'm going to die.  As are we all.

Clients who put off dealing with aging have a harder time dealing with it when it inevitably comes up, Doheny says. “At 60 you can’t deny the possibility of illness the way you can at thirty. However, facing those realities isn’t bleak — it provides a wonderful opportunity for growth and satisfaction.”

I'm not so sure it's quite as rosy as Doheny depicts.  Aging is pretty crappy, at times.  But it beats what happened to my friend, who died of breast cancer at 37.  Every time I want to whine and complain, I think about her, and then I'm grateful that I'm still here.  And realize that turning 60 isn't all that bad.


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