Photographed by Maddison Hill of Lauryn Elgert, Shaniya Coffee, and Rachael Veasley
Styled by Emily Stabile
Directed by China Hill
Hair and Makeup by Olivia Dibenedetto
Style Assist: Marisa Fisher
Photography Assist: Auset Pope
By Cassidy Marshall
Birthdays are traditionally seen as joyous occasions, a time for celebration, laughter, and the warmth of friends and family. However, for many of us, this day can be tinged with an unexpected and sometimes overwhelming sense of sadness and melancholy. The phenomenon of feeling sad on one's birthday is not uncommon and can be attributed to a variety of factors that intersect with personal experiences and societal expectations. Birthdays are synonymous with aging, and for some, the passage of time can be a source of anxiety. The fear of growing older, coupled with pressures to maintain youthfulness, can create a poignant sense of loss and apprehension about the future. This fear of the unknown can cast a shadow over the celebration, making it difficult to fully embrace the joy of the day.
On a birthday, it's natural for individuals to reflect on the passing of time and their achievements or lack thereof. This introspection can evoke feelings of sadness for a lot of us, even subconsciously, especially if we perceive that our lives aren’t meeting the expectations we have set for ourselves. Societal pressure to have accomplished certain milestones by a certain age can weigh heavily on our hearts during our birthdays, creating a sense of unfulfillment and disappointment. The warped view of success that is communicated across social media only serves to feed this feeling of inadequacy, because the further off you are from achieving the supposedly picture-perfect life that others around you have, the more you internalize feelings of failure and underachievement. Birthdays are often broadcasted with curated photos and highlights of extravagant celebrations. The relentless stream of seemingly idyllic birthday posts can exacerbate the sense of sadness, fostering unrealistic expectations.
What’s further, the societal construct of birthdays often revolves around celebration and happiness. Consequently, individuals may feel pressured to put on a cheerful facade, even if they are grappling with internal struggles. This dissonance between the expected jubilation and genuine emotions can lead to a profound sense of isolation and sadness, often chalked up to feeling alone even though you find yourself surrounded by loved ones. Often, we tell ourselves that if we cannot even be happy on a day like our own birthdays, we will never be happy at all; compounded with everything else that our emotions are tangled up in, this additional pressure to be joyful on a day that you are expected to be only makes it harder to muster up feelings of joy.
Expectations from loved ones can play a significant role in shaping the emotional landscape of a birthday. Disappointment may arise if anticipated gestures or surprises fail to materialize, or if your level of excitement and energy go unmatched amongst your loved ones. Additionally, the absence of certain individuals who are no longer part of one's life, whether due to distance or strained relationships, can intensify feelings of sadness on this special day.
Feeling sad on one's birthday is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, but not an uncommon one. Everyone gets the birthday blues at least once in their lives; it is not only natural, but understandable. It is essential to recognize that it is okay to experience a range of emotions on this day and to prioritize self-compassion and authenticity over societal expectations. By fostering a greater understanding of the nuanced feelings associated with birthdays, individuals can work towards creating a more compassionate and empathetic approach to both their own and others' experiences. Beating the birthday blues is not about ignoring them or pretending they are not affecting you, but rather, embracing that you are human and that you are only going to overcome melancholy if you let yourself feel it first.