January 2020

Rehashing the 10-Year Challenge

Author: Michele Roldán-Shaw

In January 2019, the #tenyearchallenge meme went viral. Users of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter dug into the archives for 2009 profile pictures to post alongside current photos of themselves, along with some chirpy caption like “Time flies when you’re having fun!” (Reese Witherspoon’s explanation of her then-and-now-hot-forever red carpet pics.) The object of the challenge was evidently to show how you haven’t aged a bit, or perhaps even got younger-looking, with your hair highlighted a new way—your skin still flawless and your abs just as cut as ever. (Yes, men participated too.) Obviously, celebrities were the big winners of this challenge—it’s their full-time job to ward off time’s ravages with the help of plastic surgeons, makeup artists, wardrobe specialists, masseuses, holistic advisors, personal trainers, shoppers and chefs.

But what about the rest of us, especially those who went through a rough patch? Ten years is a long time. Long enough to gain 20 pounds (or 100), go gray (or bald), get wrinkles and watch your eyes sink into your head. Long enough to divorce, go broke, get cancer, grieve a heavy loss, or simply feel stuck, like life is slipping away as you plod along, head down, in a rut. It’s also long enough for all this stress to get written across your face. If looking at that smiling, youthful 2009 profile pic brought tears to your eyes and the thought, “I had no idea what was ahead of me,” this article goes out to you.

It’s hard not to get an inferiority complex when we’re bogged in troubles while everyone else seems to be living their best (most fabulously curated) life on Instagram. But nobody goes through life unscathed. From the fresh powdery-bottomed baby, we arrive at the grave aged, mangled, or rotten from within. Along the way, we suffer losses, heartbreaks and defeats. Our hearts carry scars. It’s bad enough we get shamed for our inevitable physical aging; but worse is feeling like a failure because we didn’t make bank, pop out beautiful babies, go vegan, or reach some amazing spiritual yoga epiphany on the back of an elephant in Bali (or whatever happens to be trending.) Most of us will never “win” the challenge by living up to the artificial (and impossible) standards of a youth- and beauty-worshipping, money- and status-obsessed, appearance-based society … so what is the use of this parade down memory lane?

(Side note: there was definitely speculation that Facebook created the meme for covert data mining, as tech experts debated whether or not the 10-Year Challenge was actually a way to train facial recognition and age progression algorithms that might later be employed against us in ad targeting and even police profiling. We were advised to become more savvy about the data we create, even as we acknowledge that participating in social media means implicitly contributing to a surveillance state.)

I wasn’t on Facebook in 2009 or aware of the 10-year Challenge hashtag in January 2019 when it was current. The couple of times I saw friends post under it, I just assumed it was a New Year’s diet trend where people tried to go back to their old weight. My cousin’s mom posted on his, “I like the one on the left,” which seemed kind of sad; it’s not like he was taking a poll to decide whether he should have a pot belly. It was well after the fact when I finally figured out what the hashtag meant, but still it got me thinking: what’s really important to consider when looking back at the last 10 years? How have I personally changed?

Me in 2010: I took health for granted. Me in 2020: I understand that one day I will die, and even before that I may get incapacitated, so every day I’m able to work is precious.

Me in 2010: I thought my ideals and philosophies would apply indefinitely, not only to myself but to others. Me in 2020: I realize there are very few basic truths that hold true across the board—the biggest being that change is the only constant—and the rest is just situational, so acting like I know something is foolish.

Me in 2010: The things I was doing seemed important. Me in 2020: my mind state while doing them, and whether or not I’m generally at peace, seem far more important.

Me in 2010: I said “pain makes you stronger” in a macho, athletic type of way. Me in 2020: I hope pain has made me more patient (which I’ve decided is synonymous with strength) and more gentle-hearted toward the struggles of my fellow beings. May it never make me hard and bitter.

Me in 2010: It was all about the story, the more sensational the better. Me in 2020: I’ve learned that maturity is handling things with as little emotion as possible.

Me in 2010: I believed the Universe would make it happen for me, and I was largely content to let things unfold on faith. Me in 2020: The Universe owes me nothing except certain demise. What happens between now and then is bound to be a mixed bag, but if there’s a way I can prevent hardship for myself through foresight, careful planning and diligence, trust me, I will do it.

Me in 2010: I had no regrets. Me in 2020: I still have no regrets. But that’s only because I don’t see how things could have turned out much differently, even if I went back in time.

Me in 2010: Doing great made me feel like I had the answers. Me in 2020: Reversals of fortune can happen any time, so happiness must be rooted in something deeper; humility is more attractive than awesomeness; and if I’m not planting seeds for future welfare, I’m squandering whatever goodness I have right now.

I won’t be posting any then-and-now photos, but if I did, none of the above would be visible. All you would see is that I’ve gotten noticeably, naturally, unapologetically OLDER.

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