The science of aging > The Harvard Press


“One day you look into the mirror and see . . .” From the look of distress on the young woman’s face in the TV commercial, I wonder what horror she has seen. Has she arrived at that classic moment in every woman’s life when she looks in the mirror and sees her mother? Or something slightly less horrifying—is she turning into a werewolf, the first sign a reshaping of her left ear? Oh, neither. She’s seen a brown spot. Her first.


My initial response is to sneer cynically that just she wait, there’s so much more in store. And if she thinks the lotion that comes to the rescue in the ad is going to help, she’s sadly mistaken. But then I try to put myself in her shoes and remember with empathy that first sign of age—the brown spot, the gray hair, the wrinkle. It really was horrifying. Youth, that I had thought so inviolable, wasn’t. My last reaction, as she eagerly reaches for the magic lotion, is that she’ll be OK. Millions of us women have survived those first atrocities of aging, and we’ve gotten over them. By the time they’ve really made their mark, we don’t care that much about them anymore. Now they’re just who we are. And we’re saving money by having accepted the futility of all those anti-aging products, though for most of us, that admission was a long time in coming.


At least you can see the wrinkles and age spots in the bathroom mirror. What you can’t see is a more insidious result of growing old. Shrinkage. Even if I had a full-length mirror, of which I have never been a fan, I could hardly have seen myself shrinking. But, according to the nurse at last week’s checkup, I am 2 inches shorter than what I always thought I was. Where did they go? I didn’t realized I had spoken this aloud until I heard the nurse’s perky voice say, “Gravity.” Of course I understand the principle, but I don’t understand the personal application. How did gravity take 2 inches off me? I never felt it tugging. I never saw…

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