I was 25 when I looked in the mirror and despaired at the early signs of aging. How did those lines and pores on the sides of my nose creep up on me?
I realized I was used to appealing to people’s sympathy with my looks of innocence, inexperience, and attractive youth. As a single person, I also had the irrational idea my magic moments had to happen while I was still young. As if we suddenly lose all romantic appeal or relevance past a certain age. I had deeply internalized this collective fight against growing old. My mental health was impacted, and I didn’t want to be an ageist!
It was time I got some fabulous older role models.
Vibrant, doing great things, and steps ahead of me in age, here are a few of my top role models who make me feel jolly to be almost 30.
Jasmine Leyva, early 30s, is a dynamic actress and filmmaker who built bridges around race and veganism
You might know Jasmine Leyva from The Invisible Vegan. It’s a must-watch-again documentary about food patterns in the African-American community. When I saw her speak at a conference as well as in this film she directed, I was impressed with Jasmine’s ability to connect with different types of people.
The desire to age well was what sparked Jasmine to try veganism. She had met the glowing-looking Chef Babette Davis, now 70, the first fellow Black vegan she had come across. But on Jasmine’s journey, she grew her passion for wellness, compassion, cultural empowerment, and things that are more timeless than looks.
The Invisible Vegan points out that traditional West African fare has had many plant-based elements. Black Americans are also 2-3x more likely to be veg*n than other races. Yet, veganism is still seen as a white thing. Chef Tracye McQuirter, for instance, recounts the time another Black person was shocked that she didn’t eat chicken, and many vegan documentaries feature mostly white people, with little POC representation. Plant-based eating may help with heart disease which disproportionately affects the African-American community.
“Let’s build on soul food,” Jasmine invites. “Let’s see how we can preserve our legacy and still be healthy.”
I admire how she is a natural at navigating tensions with grace. Race and veganism can both be difficult topics. Jasmine Leyva managed to build a bridge that folks of different diets and races could feel comfortable walking.
As an independent writer on animal rights, gender issues, and other challenging themes, I too hope to bring visibility to sides of the story that were hidden, and to foster the beauty of mutual understanding.
Jacinda Ardern, 40, is the empathetic, yet morally firm prime minister of New Zealand
I first heard of Jacinda Ardern last year about her adroit handling of COVID in New Zealand. I love watching the empathetic prime minister speak. She has said in interviews she once thought she wasn’t ‘tough enough‘ for politics, but has since embraced the difference she could make. This encouraged me to take more interest in local and world affairs—to bring who I am.
The woman was praised for how she mourned with communities after the 2019 Christchurch mosque shooting. In expressing compassion for the situation before the Parliament, she firmly condemned the attacker. She insisted he remain nameless and that we instead remember the victims. Jacinda’s example helped me clarify how I want to be as an empathetic person. Although I value empathy for all—even abusers who lost their way—it is important to always empathize with the victims and the marginalized first. It is crucial to strongly denounce the most harmful beliefs and actions, to hold violence accountable. I will get better at this balance, and become a better leader and activist.
A recent Guardian post helped me put my fandom for Jacinda Ardern into perspective. Her global news presence seemed like good publicity at first, but it clashed with her country’s need to focus on its own issues. Jacinda cut back on the international interviews, but it didn’t stop overseas journalists from writing a poorly-received biography of her. A film was also made about her handling of the 2019 terrorist attack. This came across as focusing too much on her, insensitive to the local Muslim community, and not fully informed about New Zealand. She does not endorse this distracting and unnecessary fame.
The best “role models” deflect attention back on the people and on the issues. I hope to focus on what *I* can affect. I hope to age into a 40-year-old who is considerate, well-spoken, and channels my empathy wisely. When I realize Jacinda is considered young for her field, it reminds me I have my whole life ahead of me.
Janette and Alan Murray, while in their 60s, ran marathons for 366 days straight
This past month I’ve done 25 minutes of cardio a day, using low-impact videos by Body Project. I’m so pleased! Knee struggles at a young age cast a shadow on my hopes to age athletically. I’m glad I’ve found safe ways to pump my heart and rebuild strength.
Janette Murray knows a thing or two about reclaiming one’s health. At 52, a breast cancer diagnosis gave her one year to live. She tried an unconventional solution: switching to raw plant-based diet. Her husband Alan adopted this with her, and Janette became cancer-free. Then in 2013, the couple embarked on a world record-breaking journey: They ran a marathon a day for 366 days, all around Australia!
The 366 marathons were to promote kindness for all animals, and environmentalism. The couple also demonstrated that eating vegan or even fruit-based can be a healthy, energy-giving choice—including for marathoners in their 60s! This journey is documented in Janette’s book Running Out of Time.
I am ready to age happily ever after
Look what happened. I sought out older female role models, to help me feel better about my aging face. Instead, I got excited to do diplomatic activism that builds a bridge, like Jasmine Leyva. Jacinda Ardern reminded me to lead with empathy and have moral fiber. And with encouragement from Janette Murray’s and her husband’s story, I will pursue a long, athletic vegan life of teamwork.
None of these values have anything to do with physical beauty, or with what “number” you are. When you live a meaningful life of adventure and contribution, it’s easier to forget about wrinkles and to care about what matters. The people we look up to often take on a quality of agelessness. Their words and their actions live on.
To close, there’s one last role model I should mention—and she’s actually younger than me. When my sister was 5 years old, she wrote her own songs and one of them went, “I love being five, but I just can’t wait to be… six!” That last note ended in a jumping jack as a great smile beamed across my sister’s face. I would forever be touched by her innocent and unbridled enthusiasm for being alive. She cherished being exactly where she was, and she eagerly anticipated what was next. So today, I proudly affirm that I, Phoenix Huber, LOVE being 28, and I absolutely can’t wait to be 29, 30, and beyond!
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Photo: Maria Lupan via Unsplash