This is 32: Beauty Journalist Jessica DeFino Responds to The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire
"I hate, hate, hate the way beauty culture conflates beauty with youth and youth with goodness, like it’s a moral imperative to look as young as possible."
From the time I was 10, I’ve been obsessed with what it means to grow older. I’m curious about what it means to others, of all ages, and so I’ve started “The Oldster Magazine Questionnaire.”
Here, fellow newsletterer and intrepid beauty journalist Jessica DeFino—described by one colleague as covering the beauty industry “the way Woodward and Bernstein covered Watergate,” responds. - Sari Botton
How old are you?
Is there another age you associate with yourself in your mind? If so, what is it? And why, do you think?
In my head, I see myself at 26. I think 26-year-old me was “peak me”: I had my own apartment in Los Angeles. I had a job that felt exciting and important (at the time at least—I was a ghostwriter on the Khloé Kardashian app, lol). I had a full life outside of work: I meditated every morning and cooked for myself and took indoor cycling classes and went dancing with friends on the weekends and volunteered at the East LA Women’s Center. I was single! That’s probably it, actually: 26 was the last year before I met my now ex-husband, before I melded my life with his, before I had to compromise on things like what city to live in and what to put on the walls and what I would wear. (My ex hated my collection of vintage muumuus... 26-year-old me would always wear the muumuu.)
Do you feel old for your age? Young for your age? Just right? Are you in step with your peers?
Spiritually, I feel old for my age. Intellectually, I feel young for my age. I don’t know if it’s imposter syndrome or anxiety or intuition, but I always feel like I don’t know as much and haven’t experienced as much as my peers.
For me, the “self-expression” of makeup and hair dye was more like self-rejection. I was actively covering my skin with foundation, manipulating my bone structure with contour and highlight, faking longer lashes and wider eyes and all of it—there’s no “expression” or creativity in that. Just conformity.
What do you like about being your age?
I like that there’s less pressure to accomplish on a timeline. I’m past the “30 Under 30” thing. I like that I don’t feel compelled to “perform” myself anymore, and I can quietly be myself. I’m the oldest of four, and I like that the age gap between my siblings and me is less significant now—we can relate as friends instead of just older sister/younger brothers and sister.
What is difficult about being your age?
I feel very much in the middle of things, stuck in some in-between phase of life. I don’t have the optimism of youth and I don’t have the wisdom of age. Sometimes I worry that the best is behind me. I haven’t found a signature scent yet and it feels like time is running out for that.
What is surprising about being your age, or different from what you expected, based on what you were told?
I always hear that women in their 30s are more confident and comfortable in their bodies. Nope. Not me. Not yet. Still waiting on that one. Still looking for jeans that fit. I also thought I’d have more money!!
What has aging given you? Taken away from you?
Aging has given me… relief? I’ve realized that “aging” and “old” aren’t future events to fear, they’re just… this, for longer. Aging is here, it’s now, it’s happening, and so I can sort of calm down about the whole thing. Aging has taken away the notion that I will ever truly know anything.
How has getting older affected your sense of yourself, or your identity?
The older I get, the less attached I am to having an “identity.” Maybe that’s a bad thing? I don’t know! People always talk about not recognizing themselves as they get older as if it is, indeed, a bad thing—in the beauty community especially—but I’m starting to think that’s the whole point. Aren’t we supposed to grow and evolve and expand and shape-shift and be moved and changed by life? If I recognize myself 10, 20, 30 years from now, I’m doing something wrong. (Although the deeper I get into this answer, the more I wonder if I'm perhaps in the middle of an identity crisis.)
What are some age-related milestones you are looking forward to? Or ones you “missed,” and might try to reach later, off-schedule, according to our culture and its expectations?
The good thing about getting divorced at 31 is the feeling of having 1) a lot of traditional milestones behind me already and 2) the freedom to reject traditional milestones from here on out. Like, I currently live with my parents in my childhood bedroom in suburban New Jersey. My mom was diagnosed with cancer this year, so it’s been really beautiful to be here with her, and I’m taking this time to live rent-free and write my book and figure out where I want to go next. Sometimes that’s a depressing thought and sometimes that’s a very freeing thought. I don’t see myself getting married again or having kids. I don’t see myself working in an office or having some huge career. I’m trying to figure out what a successful life looks like without marriage, kids, or career as the north star. I’d like to travel, I’d like to build more of a community around myself… But other than that, the only milestones I feel pressured to hit are basic financial security things, like having a savings account (yikes) and a retirement plan and good health insurance.
I don’t have the optimism of youth and I don’t have the wisdom of age. Sometimes I worry that the best is behind me.
What has been your favorite age so far, and why? Would you go back to this age if you could?
26, for all the aforementioned reasons, and yes, I would go back. This time around I’d keep the cheap Hollywood studio and lose the alcoholic fiancé.
Is there someone who is older than you, who makes growing older inspiring to you? Who is your aging idol and why?
Is it weird to say Little Edie/Edith Beale of Grey Gardens fame? I’ve always been obsessed with Grey Gardens and I’m definitely romanticizing her situation here, but there’s something very dreamy about the way Edie retreated from normal society and grew into this full, dynamic, bold, stylish, strange, strangely confident version of herself. I just love her. The outfits alone! Iconic. But also: Performing cabaret at 60! Maybe exiting normal society is a prerequisite for that kind of singularity… but I could be open to that. I’m also inspired by Justine Bateman and her anti-anti-aging stance.
What aging-related adjustments have you recently made, style-wise, beauty-wise, health-wise?
The biggest change has been my beauty routine. I stopped using skincare, I stopped dyeing my hair (I have naturally brown hair, and I used to go back and forth between blue-black and platinum blonde), I barely wear makeup. The beauty industry loves to tell you that these things are tools of “empowerment” and “self-expression”—but I had an aha moment this year where I realized that performing beauty asks you to sacrifice your actual sources of power (time, effort, headspace, money) to get the surface-level look of “empowerment.” And for me, the “self-expression” of makeup and hair dye was more like self-rejection. I was actively covering my skin with foundation, manipulating my bone structure with contour and highlight, faking longer lashes and wider eyes and all of it—there’s no “expression” or creativity in that. Just conformity.
The beauty industry loves to tell you that these things are tools of “empowerment” and “self-expression”—but I had an aha moment this year where I realized that performing beauty asks you to sacrifice your actual sources of power (time, effort, headspace, money) to get the surface-level look of “empowerment.”
What’s an aging-related adjustment you refuse to make, and why?
I absolutely refuse to engage in any sort of anti-aging beauty behaviors. No wrinkle creams, no Botox, no filler, no facelifts, none of it. I hate, hate, hate the way beauty culture conflates beauty with youth and youth with goodness, like it’s a moral imperative to look as young as possible. For me, the real moral imperative is challenging myself to stop participating in beauty culture and stop perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards. Because that’s the thing about Botox and fillers and facelifts—they might make the individual feel better about their personal age anxiety, but they compound the problem for the collective. They keep us all stuck in this awful cycle. If I buy into anti-aging ideology because it makes me feel better about myself, I am, to an extent, influencing my peers to do the same, and ensuring that future generations will have to deal with these bullshit beauty standards, too. I’d rather live with my own wrinkle anxiety, deal with it, and heal it, than pass it off to the next person in line. I want us to get fucking free from it! So yeah, absolutely no anti-aging, and none of its nicer-sounding alternatives, either, which all mean the same thing (pro-aging, aging gracefully, preserv-aging, preventative aging, non-aging). Aging is living. Aging is the goal.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from working in the beauty industry, it’s that “aging” is a construct, anyway. The things we consider signs of aging—fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, loss of collagen, sagging skin, dullness—are more often signs of environmental exposure. There are studies that show up to 85% of “aging” is the result of exposure, not biological aging. “Anti-aging” is nothing more than a fear-based marketing framework designed to keep us consuming and consumed. It’s meant to induce shame, to elicit the kind of uncomfortable emotions that companies can capitalize on—and keep capitalizing on, since “anti-aging” is a goal that can never be met.
What’s your philosophy on celebrating birthdays as an adult? How do you celebrate yours?
Birthdays make me sad! I don’t like to celebrate at all. I usually go out to dinner with my family or a small group of friends but otherwise ignore it. Years ago, when I still had Facebook, I made my birthday private specifically to avoid all the bullshit “happy birthday” messages from like, my dad’s second cousin in Italy and dudes I haven’t spoken to since high school. It all just felt so fake to me—so much worse than not hearing “happy birthday” from anyone.