Turning 30 in the Age of TikTok: Taylor Swift and Other Celebrities on Aging
"30 is the ideal age...because you are mature enough to know who you are and to have your boundaries and your standards and not be afraid of [being] too polite."
The most mind-blowing realizations of 2019: There is evidence that the universe is curved and expanding faster than we've ever realized, TikTok is one of the fastest-growing social media platforms in the world, and pop matriarch and Elder Millennial Taylor Swift is turning 30.
That means that the inexorable march of time toward 2020 (and our own eventual obsolescence, of course) feels more dreadful than ever. But ask Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, or Drew Barrymore, and they seem to have found healthy acceptance of their own mortality. Beyonce, upon turning 30 in 2011, spoke of having the confidence to set her own boundaries and standards and fully live up to them.
But that doesn't mean 30 is that illusory age that part of us always hopes we'll one day reach and suddenly become Grown Ups: infallible, full of confidence, and invulnerable to criticism or rejection. "Turning 30 means taking all the things from my 20s that worked, but getting rid of the rest," Barrymore said. "But I'd be lying if I didn't say that there are times when I still don't know who I am." She added, "I'm just really trying to be more honest with myself, be more direct."
For women, especially, turning 30 has been wrapped up in stigma and social pressures to maintain a veneer of perfection and having-it-all-together — all while looking damn good. Bored social scientists who study society's double standards for a living have been keeping tabs on this poison of the patriarchy for years: "While both men and women bear the stigma of their bodies as bearer of low symbolic value," one British study concluded, like a nerdy alien observing Western civilization, "it is argued that the aging female body is particularly devalued through the notion of a 'double standard' where physical signs of aging are more harshly judged in women than in men." To which most women can say, no sh*t. Or as Alana Prochuk wrote at Bitch Media, our culture's preoccupation with aging and its association of lost youth with lost value is pervasive in media. In cinema, for instance, "Hell Is Older People." She writes, "In a culture obsessed with female youth and beauty, the horror of aging is hardly gender-neutral, and there's remarkable overlap in the stereotypes about women and those concerning old folks (you know: needy, frail, and irrational)."
Of course, famous women must confront ageist double standards on a public platform. In the days leading up to Taylor Swift's birthday, right-wing YouTuber Stefan Molyneux trolled the singer's estimated 313 million social media followers by tweeting, "I can't believe Taylor Swift is about to turn 30 - she still looks so young! It's strange to think that 90% of her eggs are already gone - 97% by the time she turns 40 - so I hope she thinks about having kids before it's too late! She'd be a fun mom. :)" He then shared an ABC News article repeating the basic way that biology works in the female reproductive system, namely that a healthy cis woman is born with all of the eggs she'll ever have and they deplete throughout her lifetime; so, clearly, every biological female should be highly concerned with filling her uterus with progeny before she's all used up by the ravages of time. What else is she supposed to do with her body? (So far, Swift's had no comment on the inherently ridiculous subject. When a reporter asked her a similarly sexist question last summer, she responded, "I really do not think men are asked that question when they turn 30. So I'm not going to answer that question now.")
Famous or not, most women are asked the same questions when the big 3-0 approaches: "Are you ready to settle down? Thinking about marriage and having kids...finally?" It's the Puritanical echo of A Woman's Place: to domesticate and be domesticated. As Susan Sontag wrote in 1972's "The Double Standard of Aging" (when she was 39 years old), "Growing older is mainly an ordeal of the imagination—a moral disease, a social pathology—intrinsic to which is the fact that it afflicts women much more than men. It is particularly women who experience growing older (Everything that comes before one is actually old) with such distaste and even disdain." She defines the double standard as "the social convention that aging enhances a man but progressively destroys a woman" and pinpoints it as "an instrument of oppression...Accordingly," she writes, "to liberate themselves, women must 'disobey the convention.'"
But in 2019, even as society becomes more culturally and socially aware of varying identities, social media and rampant, unchecked consumer culture have enhanced these double standards. Instagram, infamous for being the worst social media for mental health, only recently banned content promoting toxic diet culture, and it launched a version of its platform without the "like" feature, which promotes distorted thinking patterns like compulsively comparing oneself with others. With FOMO, "summer bodies," and barely legal "influencers" who don't remember a world before smart phones dominating the platform, we need the Lizzos and Jameela Jamils on Twitter to be Loud Women Online™, because the double standard is, in many ways, getting louder (and sneakier), too. Cue TikTok, today's fastest-growing social media, where the age range of most users is 18-24. Woke teens are praised for their ironic political statements, but they only gain attention if they harness and mock the language of compulsively self-optimizing beauty and consumer culture–which are pretty much the white noise soundtrack to modern living. No wonder the average size of TikTok videos is 15 seconds (and no longer than one minute); it can only break through the white noise for that flashing minute.
To be fair, as Susan Sontag wrote, "Advanced age is undeniably a trial, however stoically it may be endured. It is a shipwreck, no matter with what courage elderly people insist on continuing the voyage..." But in the words of another iconic woman in her 30s who has defined her generation:
Got to take a deep breath, time to focus on you
All the big fights, long nights that you been through
I got a bottle of Tequila I been saving for you
Boss up and change your life
You can have it all, no sacrifice
...Baby how you feelin'?
Feeling good as hell
- Lizzo, 31
Taylor Swift - Beauty Standards Are False (and Created by Men)
"I've learned that society is constantly sending very loud messages to women that exhibiting the physical signs of aging is the worst thing that can happen to us," she wrote in Elle.
"These messages tell women that we aren't allowed to age. It's an impossible standard to meet, and I've been loving how outspoken Jameela Jamil has been on this subject. Reading her words feels like hearing a voice of reason amongst all these loud messages out there telling women we're supposed to defy gravity, time, and everything natural in order to achieve this bizarre goal of everlasting youth that isn't even remotely required of men," Swift continued.