|My gorgeous friend, Nicole: Over 30, smart, kind, & confident|
I remember the dread of my last year as a 20-something: Everything swirled in my head, from concerns about the next step in my career to my own sense of identity and what I wanted to contribute. Admittedly, another major concern was the changes I'd see as I got older. Straight up, it was vanity.
There's a saying: If you're lucky, you will get older. If you're luckier, you'll get older, wiser, and look good the whole time.
I won't lie: In your 30s, things change: Your metabolism begins to slow (from decreased muscle mass); fine lines and wrinkles become more visible (due to decreased collagen production and slower cell turnover); your body bounces back slower from dramatic physical changes, like pregnancy. Most people's hair begins to gray in their early 30s. There are theories that our increasingly hectic lifestyles have sped up the process from decades ago.
Here's the good news: Hitting your 30s means being more aware of the effects your habits have on your body. If you stay up too late, imbibe too much, avoid sunscreen, you will see those consequences sooner than a 22-year-old would. That double-edged sword means, simply, take care of yourself. The good habits also are apparent quickly.
My skin is not flawless by anyone's standards, but I don't have any wrinkles yet. I will get them soon enough; my goal isn't to try to stop the aging process (a futile and soul-crushing effort). It's to avoid things like skin cancer and prevent premature wrinkling. I religiously use sunblock and have avoided tanning beds completely. It's hard to impress upon a teenager or 20-something that the bronze look she wants now (unless it's a faux bronze) will wreak havoc on the skin she has 10 years later.
My eating habits leave a lot to be desired, but I see the immediate effects of a poor diet: Too much salt, sugar, or refined foods mean I'm bloated, sluggish, and at least 5 pounds heavier. As a result, I watch my diet much more carefully than I did in my 20s. I eat a variety of vegetables (almost) daily. I include lean protein in most meals. I watch my sugar and fat intake regularly. Also, as we age, our skin's ability to bounce back decreases: Fluctuating weight leaves excess and loose skin in places like our breasts and stomach. If that isn't motivation to keep a steady weight, I'm not sure what is.
I saw my first gray hair at the predictable age of 33, right when I was going through the stresses of buying property. There's still some denial, but I've accepted it's life and most people my age are going through it, too. I dye the roots with an ammonia-free hair color once a month. Fight the urge to pluck first grays, because over time it damages hair follicles. Avoid dying the whole head, which will accumulate damage. I also condition religiously, add argan oil to my hair dye, and avoid too many styling products. There's scientific evidence that high levels of prolonged stress (think before-and-after President photos) and heavy caffeine consumption speed the graying process, so keep both in check.
I also take my cues from women around me who've aged gracefully. I don't keep to one standard of beauty: I admire all sizes, shapes, colors, etc. I don't look to celebrities - who have the benefits of plastic surgery, personal trainers, and lots of airbrushing - for inspiration. I look at the women around me who are my age and older and reflect not just healthy habits, but the security and serenity that typically comes only with time.