Invincible youth

By Lauren Vincent

Lauren Vincent

I sometimes imagine myself in the future, 20 or so years down the road. I envision myself with a slim and fit body, even though I also imagine myself to have had two or three children by then, and without a wrinkle on my face. I eventually snap out of that delusion and remind myself that I struggle to motivate myself to stay fit as a 21-year-old. Why would I have the energy to do it as a 41-year-old?

Still, I can never bring myself to picture the worst case scenario: that all the salt and sugar from the processed foods I guiltily indulge in will really catch up to me someday and I’ll become seriously obese. That the one or two cigarettes I smoke a week will become a full-fledged addiction and I’ll be permanently coughing up my black lungs. Or that the weekend binge drinking will turn into daily drinking binges and I’ll be an intervention status alcoholic.

There are plenty of people out there with all of these problems and more, and we never imagine ourselves in their shoes. But we never think that those people were once blessed with the wellness and beauty that comes with youth.

I like to think of myself as healthy. I try to eat food that will provide me with the nutrients I need. I attempt to buy organic when I can afford it. I make an effort to get some sort of movement into my everyday life. I gain weight easily, so I take pains to control my monstrous appetite for greasy food.

But at the same time, when my body calls for a bag of Doritos or a Marlboro Red, I give in a little too often. When my vain desire to look like I’ve just been to the beach crops up, I sheepishly head to the tanning salon and fry myself in dangerous UV rays. And I’ve said yes to another drink when I know I’ve had enough.

Ironically, I’m a notorious hypochondriac. After I go tanning, I’ll notice a new freckle and be convinced that I have skin cancer. But a month later I’m distracted by my winter complexion, and I forget that anxiety and hop in that tanning bed again.

I give into these temptations and berate myself afterward, going through the cycle time and again. But it’s not enough to stop me from transgressing again. Because somehow, I think that I’m the exception; that I’m going to be young forever and never suffer any consequences.

This is the same ill-conceived belief that leads our peers to drive drunk, to do dangerous drugs and to have unprotected sex. And when we escape unscathed repeatedly, our arrogance grows and we push a little further, becoming a little more reckless.

In truth, youth rarely fall victim to consequences of bad decisions. Or so we think, because the consequences are not immediate. We look at our parents and grandparents and think their problems are just bad luck, or that age just automatically results in bad health. Or we think, “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, or I’ll stop when I get too out of control.”

There is something to be said about seizing our youth and taking advantage of this time of minimal backlash from our actions. But if we don’t take the time to check ourselves, once in a while, we run the risk of running off the rails.

That’s not to say that coming to this conclusion will save us. I probably will continue to do stupid things and gamble with my health, despite the logical instruction to do otherwise. Sometimes it takes more than a scolding friend, a warning label or even the early death of a parent to force us to face our own mortality.

In the end, it is our youth that makes us act out, but we can’t use that as justification to do anything we want. If we can at least learn to moderate our bad decisions, maybe we can make some progress.

That’s not to say we can’t have fun. As this “YOLO” craze has told us, you only live once. Why not make the later years of our lives count, too?

Lauren Vincent is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]