Everything pop culture taught you about turning 30 is wrong

Everything pop culture taught you about turning 30 is wrong

Last November, I turned 30, and as if by silent command, a chorus of alarm bells began to ring around me. Not to state the obvious, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that women have historically been warned about turning 30 in the kind of terrified tone usually reserved for horror stories. There was a high volume of fretting over the fact that I was 30 and single, and while arguably successful career-wise, my chosen career had all but guaranteed the fact that my finances were paltry at best (I am a writer). I found that a stubborn kind of malaise had wrapped itself around me—heavy like a weighted blanket but with quite the opposite effect.

As the day of my 30th birthday drew closer, the overthinker in me couldn’t avoid investigating the root of my misery. I had had friends who had turned 30 in the recent past, and while they had cribbed and moaned about their new ‘aged’ status, it was also an inarguable fact that most—if not all—of them were smarter, more confident and overall less of a disaster than they had been in their twenties.

Which leads me to this: Despite the fact that women have moved on from the archaic thinking that taught us to believe that being 30 and single was a death sentence, there remains a pop culture-induced anxiety that lingers, hard-wired into our brains .

In When Harry Met Sally, Nora Ephron’s 1989 film that is considered the gold standard of rom-coms, Meg Ryan is informed that, “You’re 31 and the clock is ticking.” In Gul Panag-starrer Turning 30, the entire premise of the movie is a woman’s emotional spiral around her 30th birthday. On arguably everyone’s comfort-watch show Friends, Monica Geller has a very Monica Geller-sized reaction in the lead up to her big three-oh. In Bridget Jones Diary the lovable titular character is told that women over 30 can’t afford to be picky when it comes to men.

In the same way that we learn to hate our bodies as young girls through what we absorb on TV and in magazines, pop culture also informs our understanding of aging as women. Until recently, much of television and film was written, produced, directed by and geared towards the taste of men. Which meant, at the time, young women were treated like the only women, leading to the idea that life for women after 30 was some kind of cloaked existence that didn’t merit being explored. Case in point: While male leads in Bollywood continue to age, lead actresses are expected to embody youthfulness, because that is how closely the male gaze links attractiveness and age.