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I found out over reading week that one of my distant cousins died. This, coupled with the death of two grandparents in the span of a year, has led to my first mortality crisis. “One day,” I said to myself, “you will die.”

Here’s the thing; I’ve been worried about growing old for a much longer time than I’ve been worried about what follows it. I wasn’t even particularly worried about a decline in quality of life with age (which has now arrived with Mortality Crisis 1.0). Instead, I’ve been worried — as long as I can remember — that one day I would no longer be a physically attractive woman. The scariest part? My fears are not unique.

Why are we so scared of growing old? Stylist speaks to 5 women over 60 to see how they feel https://t.co/CtaR85nMfr pic.twitter.com/AFCmKcQx9Z

— Stylist Magazine (@StylistMagazine) November 12, 2015

Every woman I’ve talked to about the topic has expressed worry about what will happen to her body. Whether it be stretch marks, or frown lines, or less-than-perky breasts, I have yet to find a woman who is entirely comfortable with the future of her physique. I wish that I could dismiss my own fears as irrational, or label them as an individual case of vanity and move on, but as this seems to be a pandemic, that is clearly not the case. Where do our fears come from?

The depressingly obvious answer is that we are told that our value is in our appearance. From a very young age, everything in my world said that I am most important when I am young and pretty. Even seemingly small things like compliments to my appearance before my intellect all contributed to one message in my young, impressionable mind: being beautiful is the key to success. Every warning of spinsterhood told me something else: never get old.

Notably, the television I watched growing up dictated where I was to fit in this world. Every fictional female character I admired was a young, white, love interest, and in need of male assistance. They were never anything less than flawless in appearance, and none of them were over the age of 25. Mothers were conveniently wrinkle free, and the only older women I saw in Disney movies were either helpless or villains. It is hard to picture yourself as living happily to a ripe old age when you cannot find an example in your pop culture repertoire of a woman doing so, and god forbid we think about having a happy sex life past the age of 30. The message was clear; you are valuable for your youth, and when you get old you disappear, you stop existing.

Every warning of spinsterhood told me something else: never get old.

Fear of old age is hardly an exclusively female phenomenon, yet while I listen to my male friends complain about pattern baldness or a loss of muscle tone, I can’t help but see their complaints as part of an entirely different class of anxiety. It is much easier to handle the impact of ageing when you haven’t been programmed to see your appearance as your entire worth. When ageing actors like Sylvester Stallone and George Clooney are not only still valued for their contributions on screen, but are paired with twenty-somethings as love interests.

So what can we do? Firstly, cut your body some slack. You are not going to have the same butt that you had when you were 17 for the rest of your life, and that is alright. It is natural for bodies to change with time. Your body will not be better or worse, just different. Appreciating yourself as you are currently is an excellent way to accept what may come. Solidarity is also important. We need to build communities and networks with which to support ourselves and others throughout different phases of our lives. Without the ones I love, Mortality Crisis 1.0 would have paralyzed me. Instead, despite struggling with my future, I feel as though one day I might be able to embrace it.

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By: Allison Mizzi/ SHEC

In early February, Modern Family actress Ariel Winter shocked the world by attending the Screen Actors Guild awards with visible breast reduction scars peaking out from her dress. Headlines read “Ariel Winter not ashamed of her scars?” and “Winter shows scarred chest from breast reduction.” Fans and critics alike were quick to judge and pick at her so-called imperfections, but the teenager took to Twitter, stating, “There is a reason I didn't make an effort to cover up my scars! They are part of me and I'm not ashamed of them at all.” Her words showcase her comfort with her choice and the result of this procedure.

Guys there is a reason I didn't make an effort to cover up my scars! They are part of me and I'm not ashamed of them at all. 🙂

— Ariel Winter (@arielwinter1) January 31, 2016

In a society increasingly obsessed with perfection in beauty and body, Winter’s words are refreshing. Contrary to popular belief, reduction mammoplasty — also known as breast reduction surgery — is a common procedure. Thousands of women are predisposed to develop enlarged breasts, while others develop them post-partum or from weight gain. The heavy chest weight can cause chronic pain in areas of the head, neck, shoulders and back and contribute to other health problems like poor blood circulation, impaired breathing and chafing of the skin. Large chests can also hamper athletic and exercise activities and may inhibit women from leading an active lifestyle. In addition to the physical consequences, self consciousness and unwanted attention can provoke anxiety in public or social settings, and women often suffer from low self-esteem and body image issues as a result of their breast-size. It is clear that large breast size can impact mental health and quality of life.

Breast reduction surgery removes excess breast tissue and fat, remodels the breast mound and trims and re-drapes the skin to encase the newly sized breast. The procedure is taxing, typically lasting three to six hours, and produces surgical scars either under the breast or around the nipple. The recovery period usually lasts one to two months, however, body image and satisfaction effects are often immediate. Winter’s comment rings true for many: “It was an instant weight lifted off my chest — both literally and figuratively … There's a confidence you find when you finally feel right in your body.”

Thank you all so much for the support, kind words, and happy birthdays! <3

— Ariel Winter (@arielwinter1) January 31, 2016

Stories of breast reduction surgery bring up important issues about how we view and judge female bodies. Ironically, before her surgery, Winter was often criticized for dressing in a way that was too “mature,” as a result of her large breasts. Unsurprisingly, after breast reduction, media sources found another way to target her body.

Moreover, scars shouldn’t be shocking or a matter of public scrutiny. Most of us have these intimate imperfections, which represent a story and hold pain, bravery and courage among other memories and emotions.

Lastly, the public’s opinion on choices made for personal, appearance or health-related reasons is not valid. Breast reduction is a personal choice, one that should be made in consultation with physicians alone. By expressing confidence in body-related choices, and speaking out against body-shaming, celebrities like Winter have the power to empower others to treat all bodies with positivity and respect.

Photo Credit: Getty

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