Struggles Of Being A Woman In Your 20s (2020), illustration by Amy McPherson, @amymcpherson.illo
Your 20s are a rude awakening from an urban myth. They promised you the best years of your life. It was actually pandemonium disguised as Shangri-La. Let me put it this way. If my life was Humpty Dumpty, ain’t nobody cleaning this shit up. Marie Kondi couldn’t declutter the mess that is this decade of my life.
And now, studies confirm the obvious. It’s not an easy time to be 20. The Institute For Fiscal Studies (IFS) verified that millennials are struggling to establish themselves financially, due to the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Contrastingly, online lives are more ‘fabulous’ than ever. The cognitive dissonance alone is enough to explain why mental health is at an all-time low. Buzzfeed even infamously diagnosed psychological burnout as the base temperature of millennials.
Once again, it’s the second sex who draws the short straw.
Here are some of the common struggles expressed by girls in their 20s right now.
Sexist Beauty Standards and Aging
I’ve started getting wrinkles around my eyes that feel like running sand reminding me I’ll be 30 soon. Speaking of hourglasses, I haven’t managed to look like one yet which seems to be the 1st commandment of being a woman. So congrats, me.
This is a new gem of your mid-twenties. On top of the usual sexist expectations, we get another layer of cosmetic anxiety in our twenties. A lot of our twenties seem to be fearing turning 30!
We’re taught that beauty’s a liminal space and that we only have a set amount of time to occupy it. Post 25 you’re socially on an economy class ticket out of your physical prime. Consciously, you know they’re ideals our bodies aren’t meant to cooperate with, but achieving an unachievable ideal feels like a necessary rite of passage.
It’s incredibly problematic that in our patriarchal society, our genders definition of beauty is still defined by the male gaze. Instead of women looking forward to every year they gain more financial and professional prestige, women feel smaller. Instead of feeling empowered, women fear turning 30 because social ideals tell them that aging makes them socially less valuable. It’s completely messed up that healthy young women in their 20s now worry about physical decline, not due to illness, but because of an unfair sexist culture that simultaneously glamorizes “Dad Bods” and “Silver Foxes.”
Illustration by Amy McPherson, @amymcpherson.illo
Social Media on Steroids and the New Venus
I have a hypothesis that social media is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
Social media has become omnipotent, bombarding us with endorsements like exploding condom dispensers. It’s not only resulted in consumerism on steroids, but life on steroids. Just being a kid has been replaced with influencer toddlers. Humans themselves have become products, engaging in personal branding, constructing false realities, and maintenance pruning of online profiles. The universal opportunity for fame means that celebrity has become a new religion. Previous generations' desire to live comfortably, has become replaced with a very real pressure to be extraordinary.
We spend half our time on platforms that encourage both narcissism and voyeurism, where attention is a literal currency and then wonder why our mental health is suffering?
Another issue I currently have with Zuckerberg’s utopia is that every day is Judgement Day. Cyberbullying is frowned upon, yet public takedowns and twitter feuds are celebrated.
Like. Dislike buttons. Follows. Unfollows. Block. Unblock. Previously silent opinions now visible. On some level, social media must trigger my inner animal fear of being separated from the herd, because I end up hyper-consciously policing myself. The 24-hour surveillance honestly gives me online performance anxiety.
On top of this, thanks to platforms like Instagram, the ideals of being a woman have changed too. Venus now goes to the gym daily, eats healthy, has a trendy job, weekend brunches, goes on holidays to Bali, has a perfect boyfriend, flawless make up, ootds always on point, lives in a minimalist flat, attends bougie bars with her girlfriends, has 10,000 followers and probably a chic blog or marketing deal of some sort.
Is it Adderall? Maybe she’s a Virgo? Is it like healthy OCD? 10 years ago you might have suspected neurosis but Instagram makes it #motivated. Instagram ideals have an ethos of bopo and claim to be healthy, yet the upkeep of these lifestyles require incredibly constricted schedules. The perfectionism and regimentedness almost make it feel like a warped version of 1950s housewife. Nonetheless, it translates into ‘effortless’ online. Another reality is that in your 20s most jobs don’t provide the flexibility, budget or time to live Instagram lifestyles. Most of the times you are still relatively professionally unestablished and are not only figuring out what career you want but who you are yourself!
Finances and Aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis
Recent studies have shown that thanks to the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, millennials are dealing with tumbling savings rates, more debt and a higher impact of recessions than their parents’ generation. The millennial generation is living life a few steps behind those who came before them.
The IFS recently confirmed that “wages for people in their 30s are about 7 per cent lower than they should be, based on pre-financial crisis growth rates, while pay for those in their 20s is 5 percent worse.”
The Independent also reports that “Starting out in the workplace at a time of low wages and low interest rates means a lot of millennials approach finances in ways their parents probably wouldn’t recognise…..The housing crisis hasn’t helped, with the lack of available properties and inflated prices keeping people locked into the cycle of ever-increasing rent curbing their ability to save.”
On top of this, household spending in the UK recently surpassed income for the first time in almost 30 years.
IFS went as far as to say that millennials were hit the hardest by the financial crisis.
Illustration by Amy McPherson, @amymcpherson.illo
Conservative Pressures and the Biological Clock
Interviewing several of my female friends about some of their anxieties of being women in their 20s I heard echoes of the same rhetoric. I was surprised that in a time of Ru Paul’s Drag Race winning an Emmy and #MeToo, women are still plagued by conservative perceptions of the big 3-0.
Not only do women feel pressure about biological clocks and when to have kids, but also social pressures dictating that a formula is needed before they can do so: steady career, long term boyfriend translating to moving in together, marriage, house, mortgage.
A lot of women seem to be feeling anxieties about how on earth to achieve all this before their 30s! Not only is home ownership a pipe dream for most of us thanks to the 2008 recession, its even more challenging finding potential partners in your 20s in the Tinder age, with its ability to make people more replaceable and disposable than ever. All the while this fits nicely with the alpha-persuasions of our male counterparts who are actively encouraged to pursue Casanova lifestyles. On top of this, there also seems to be a pressure to be a more conservative straight-laced human once we reach 30. There is less tolerance and forgiveness for personal fuck-ups, teenage tantrums, soul searching or spending nights being the drunken liability.
Overall, we are privileged in a lot of ways. However, for most of us, being in our 20s isn’t the easy and fun experience Hollywood makes it out to be. And that’s ok.
If you’re finding this time challenging, try limiting toxic media and sources of narrow, negative standards, while you try to navigate this weird period of our lives. The more we engage with the source of these messages the more power we give it over us. Set your own goals and values. What’s important to you? What would you like to achieve? Where would you like to be in 10 years? Also, don’t take crap from the wonderful folks who gave you climate change and the recession, while you’re trying to figure your stuff out. Do what makes you happy. #Youdoyoubooboo.
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