On Turning 30

by Jade O’Halloran

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Recently I visited the website Etsy to search for a birthday card for my best friend, who turns 30 at the end of the month, the day before me. During lockdown I’ve got quite into painting, so I wanted to have a look at the cards to see if there were any pretty designs I could poach.

What I found instead was a slew of 30th-birthday-freakout propaganda; sneery cards saying things like ‘Happy second go at being 29!’, ‘Your thirties…where you are forever wondering how you hurt your back this time’, and ‘Bad news you’re 30…Good news I’m fucking not’ (which would be totally inappropriate because we are both going to be 30, so joke’s on you, card).

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I was somewhat aware of the negative associations with turning 30 (and 40, and 50 etc.), but until now had been oblivious to their pervasiveness. Around 50% of the cards I looked at had something miserable and defeatist on the front of them, the overall message being: 30 is the year you need to STOP celebrating getting older.

Although the cards I saw on Etsy were largely targeted at both genders, I noticed that the ones specifically tailored to women focused more on, let’s say, the ‘decline of attractiveness’. You’re 30 now, so you’re no longer sexy. Time to ditch all your raunchy underwear and buy some granny pants. The party’s over. Men don’t think you’re hot anymore so you might as well give up on enjoying life, right?

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As women, from the moment we learn how to speak we are taught that our level of attractiveness is the most important thing about us, and once this starts to deteriorate, we cease to be relevant. When we are little girls we are complimented far more often on our looks or clothes than our intellectual achievements. And as we bloom into adulthood, we are led to believe by the media and our peers that we are more valuable when we fall into a certain age bracket, that youth is a requirement of attractiveness, that to age is to expire. Try to imagine the most recent film you saw in which ageing was positively depicted, or where the progression of life was celebrated. According to the movies, getting old is shameful and disgusting and the very idea of death is something that should remain hidden under a shroud of fear. Yet it’s the only certainty, the one thing we all share. Why not explore it?

Throughout my adolescence and early 20s, when older people would say things to me like ‘These are the best years of your life!’, I would feel confused. My growth into a full ‘human’ has barely even begun. There is always so much more to see, and learn, and do. Why would anyone decide that their existence has peaked at a time when they barely know anything?

Getting older means knowing yourself better and having a richer life experience. Getting older means casting off the insecurities and uncertainties of youth. Getting older is beautiful and should be celebrated no matter what age you are. As I approach the end of my third decade, stepping over the threshold into the next chapter, there is only one question in my mind: ‘Is there a limit to how much I can grow?’

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