The terrible fear plaguing your twenties: What age do you reach peak attractiveness

Is my life over before it’s begun?


You know that bit in The Great Gatsby when Nick tells Gatsby he can’t repeat the past? Once you’ve peaked, that’s basically your life. Always chasing what once was, paranoid it will never be that good and eventually you’ll die in a pool and nobody will show up to your funeral. 

Everyone has a peak, that much is obvious. It’s defined by how much you go out, how many people you pulled, how good you look in your Facebook photos. So when do you actually peak?

Pre-uni (16-18)

Those who think the best time in their life is pre-uni are inherently a bit weird. Downing WKD in an empty park and deciding whether or not you should do fingering is a fun time for all of us, but nobody with any sense looks at and thinks: “Yeah, me and Darren are gonna be together forever, and Jenny will be our bridesmaid and we’ll live in Grantham for the rest of our lives”. Aim higher, this is not the dream.


First year is a perilous time. For some people, this is their peak. Free from the shackles of a boring hometown, shagging in halls, not giving a shit about the consequences, cushioned by the knowledge that everything you do this year is worth between zero and 10 per cent of your future. You embrace a new personality and mentally and emotionally you split your home friends and uni friends in your mind. Your Facebook is littered with you in beer stained pub crawl t-shirts, smiling with a manic look in your eye that suggests you’re enjoying yourself but you don’t quite know how long the halcyon days will last.

Second year

You hit second year, and things start getting more serious. Maybe you get a miserable uni boyfriend, having ditched your miserable home one already when things got too tough and the trains got too expensive. You look back on the wanton abandon you had as a fresher and even though you’re enjoying yourself, you can’t shake the feeling that things are winding down in your life. Are you having as much fun as you were last year? Did you present the best version of yourself when you got to uni? If not, you’re stuck with it now, and only half way through.

Third year

By third year everyone’s vocabulary has got a lot more depressing. You can’t move for talk of milkrounds, grad jobs and dissertations. You can’t go out as often because everyone has too much work to do. They’re selling their tickets for nights out and going for Nando’s with the bae they’ll inevitably outgrow within 12 months. But at the same time there’s the promise of an actual adult life, a sick flat in the city you can somehow afford on your shit trainee salary. You can’t go to the gym as much as you did in first and second year, but you look at your twenty-first photos and feel quite proud. Is this it?

Graduate life (21-26)

Like uni, graduate life is a time for you to reinvent yourself. So what your flat isn’t the Girls-esque Manhattan apartment you dreamed of? It still looks good in the piles of polaroids and glossy pics of you at shit house parties and endless festivals. Your Instagram has improved massively to show off to everyone about the standard job in PR you have. Your aesthetic changes, you pine for clothes which are clean, crisp, Zara. The drugs are still shit and the wine you drink is basically the same stuff you had at uni, but that doesn’t matter. You try not to think of peaking on your 21st, but every time you fall asleep on the clammy window of an 7x surge Uber at three in the morning you see yourself blowing out the candles on your hilarious penis cake and wonder where the optimism went.

The fear of peaking too soon is like having fomo for a previous life. Scrolling sadly through 104 weeks into your Instagram and wondering who that girl was and where she went. Was she having more fun than you now? Did she have more of a thigh gap? Did she have more money? Was she fitter? Are you you slowly disintegrating as you look forward to your own inevitable demise?

In The Great Gatsby, Daisy’s shit husband Tom is described as “one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savours of anti-climax”. Once you start being paranoid that you’ve peaked too soon, at a time when you couldn’t appreciate how good you were, you feel a bit like Tom. You have to live in constant denial, like Gatsby. You can repeat the past, and you can do it well, and maybe you’ll reach your peak in future, but when you’re deep in the paranoia, after you realise it’s a thing, your good times are tainted.

The general consensus is that girls peak at 21, and boys peak in their mid-thirties. All you can do is live as hard as you can until the sweet release of death.