Have you ever heard the phrase, “She peaked in high school?”
I really hate when people say stuff like that.
Not because I think of myself as “peaking” in high school–look at any photo of me as a teen and that will be abundantly clear–but because it gets me thinking about the whole concept of “peaking”.
No, I hate this phrase because it implies that your life is supposed to look like two sides of a mountain. That you’re spending some years working towards some version of yourself, then you reach it–then it’s all downhill from there.
I’m getting married this year, and despite my efforts not to treat planning a wedding as the life-consuming process many people (and American society) seem to think it is, it has caused its fair amount of stresses.
One of the things I’m trying really hard not to let get to me is obsessing over my appearance. Self-image is something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. (I have a distinct memory of looking at myself in my ballet class mirror and being dismayed that my thighs were chubbier than the girl’s next to me. This may sound normal–but I quit ballet in the first grade.) And now I’m throwing an event where there will be people taking photos of me, staring at me, watching me for an extended period of time. Oh god, just writing that out is giving me anxiety.
Amidst all this angst about trying to “look my best” (dieting, teeth whitening, hair trials) I had a makeup artist actually say to me, while frowning at a tiny line on my forehead, “Well, that’s why it’s better to get married in your twenties. You’re out of your awkward phase, but you don’t have any fine lines yet. That’s when most women peak–around 25.”
I am not 25. I am in my thirties. I had a flash of regret–why didn’t I get married when I was 25? Then I wouldn’t have to worry about all of this!
Then sanity returned.
Why didn’t I get married at 25? Well, because I was a bit of a mess of a person then. I didn’t know well enough who I was or what I wanted to be able to commit myself to another person.
(And I’m not knocking people who get married young. We all have different paths. Plenty of people know who they are at 25; I was not one of them.)
So I definitely did not “peak” at 25. How about now? I know who I am, what I want. I haven’t gotten it yet–does that mean I have yet to “peak”? But what about the fact that I’m aging? Can a woman “peak” past 35? 40?
I don’t know about you, but I can’t look back at my life and view it as a steady climb. It would look more like a squiggle chart: peaks and valleys. There was my childhood, which was amazing, chubby thighs and all, though the rose-colored nostalgia haze I view it through probably has something to do with that. Then came the pre-teen and teenage years, which were hell on earth. College, amazing, but with its own struggles. Living abroad, amazing, but again, some struggles. My late twenties, which involved moving home, getting a “real” job, going through a rough breakup, trying to figure out life post school: really hard.
Because my late twenties were so challenging, for a long time, I thought I’d “peaked” in college. But through it all, I can point to some amazing moments at that point in my life.
And then came my thirties.
I feel like this decade I’m really in the process of coming into my own. Do I have everything I want? Of course not. I’m still working on a lot of things, among them career, debating having children, my writing. And as always, myself. Aging has brought up questions again about who I am, anxieties I thought I had long laid to rest. For me, it’s a lot easier to feel confident when I’m comfortable with the way I look. That’s something that comes from an adolescence feeling I wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t thin or pretty enough, and as a grown-ass woman it’s something I feel I should be past by now, but I still struggle with it.
So am I still on my way to my “peak”, even though I may not be as attractive as I was ten years ago?
Or… maybe I just do away with the whole concept of “peaking”.
What if I just spend my life quietly and steadily trying to improve myself, accepting the peaks and valleys that come with it?
I can point to pros and cons in almost every stage of my life. (Adolescence didn’t have a lot of pros for me … though I write YA now so apparently tapping into that pain is useful.) But overall, at least in terms of developing a sense of self, I can look back and see steady progression. It’s a slope that just keeps going up.
So I’ve decided I’m not going to “peak.” I’m just going to keep working towards the best me I can be, fine lines be damned.
How about you?