Your Age Is Not An Insult

Growing old is a privilege.

Aabye-Gayle F.
5 min readOct 11, 2021
Three-tier birthday cake decorated with fanciful pink and white frosting. Cake topper is a sparkling gold number forty.
Photo by Justin Heap on Unsplash.

I know people mean it as a compliment when they tell me I don’t look my age (forty-two), but it isn’t one. It’s something more ambivalent than that. First of all, telling someone she looks younger than she is can’t be a complete compliment because your age isn’t an insult. It’s a matter of reality. Even if some try to live in denial or actively (perhaps even surgically) fight it, there’s no reason to take such an antagonistic stance towards aging and all indicators of the passage of time. Second of all, how young or old I look is nothing I can take responsibility for. Compliments are more satisfying when they are earned — when they’re praise for work well done. But I have inherited rather than merited my muscles and my modicum of gray hairs. Whatever other markers of fortysomething people don’t seem to see when they look at me are qualities I passively received from my parents’ genes.

I am not complaining. I will admit that I sometimes find it flattering when I share my age and it surprises someone (especially if they’re younger than me). But one day the surprises will end, and how will I feel about myself then? Also, I may not look my age (whatever that means), but parts of my body certainly feel older. And while “you don’t look ___,” sounds like a compliment, the subtext is “Wow, you’re that old! My idea of that age looks…