This is forty
I turned forty this year. As if on cue, my metabolism pumped the brakes. It didn’t screech to a stop or shift into neutral, but it’s no longer barreling along like a rookie NASCAR driver with something to prove. I’ve always been a naturally thin person, which somehow makes it offensive to certain people that I would dare have body insecurities. Newsflash: if you’re a woman, no matter what your dress size, at some point in your life society has succeeded in making you feel bad about your body.
To the untrained eye, nothing about me has changed. All my clothes still fit. The scale reflects the same number. Only I notice the differences. The thickening around my midsection. The skin that hangs differently than it used to. And herein lies the problem—with everything else going on in my life; all the different hats I’m wearing and responsibilities I’m juggling, how is it that my brain even bothers to pause and register a microscopic change in the appearance of my waist?
Because it’s trained to, that’s why. In the same way that I scan any room I enter for things that might end up in my toddler’s mouth, or compulsively check behind me in a parking lot after dark, my brain has been trained to be hypervigilant for any signs of physical imperfection. And let me tell you, in your late thirties and early forties, there are plenty.
The other night I was eating, drinking and laughing with a group of girlfriends. At some point in the night, as it always does, talk turned to aging. Over champagne and birthday cake we discussed saggy skin, weight gain, and Botox. As I looked around the table at this group of beautiful, accomplished women, something dawned on me.
We don’t have time for this shit.
We are mothers, wives, working professionals and volunteers, all with to-do lists that span the length of a football field. Any time for ourselves is usually squeezed onto the very bottom of those lists, and we don’t have time to squander even one precious second of it wondering how our stomach looks in a bathing suit, or whether we need filler for those lines around our eyes.
And yet….I wonder about those things all the time. Knowing it doesn’t serve me, being a feminist, feeling grateful for my strong, healthy body—none of it inoculates me from self-criticism. Let’s also be clear that it’s not just my own criticism. As we get older, women are subject to plenty of subtle (and not so subtle) external judgments. “She looks good for her age.” “She’s aging gracefully.” “She doesn’t look her age.” Disguised as compliments, these comments only serve to remind us that the clock is ticking as our value diminishes.
And yet…I want to hear them. I want to be reminded that I’m not invisible yet. I’m not ready to embrace my grey hairs and crow’s feet. I want to be ready, but I feel handcuffed to my desire to remain physically attractive, and to the strange power that comes with it—or seems to. Because how much of that power is real versus just bad math when I’m calculating my own value?
We’ve spent so much of our lives being praised (or not) for our appearance that it’s hard to remember or value appropriately everything else we bring to the table. And by time we’re in our forties, the “everything else” category is damn impressive. We’ve birthed children. Navigated careers. Raised families. Become experts in our fields. Traveled the world. Survived illness, divorce, infertility and a whole host of other things that have made us as tough and beautiful as diamonds.
I really wanted this to be a post about how I’ve became enlightened and made peace with aging. It isn’t, and I haven’t. There is hope, though. I’ve noticed a shift as I settle into being forty. Many of my friends have talked about it, and I feel it too. Our physical appearance may be on the decline, but our wisdom and power are on the rise. There is less FOMO and more IDGAF. We may still value our appearance, but we begin to value our accomplishments just as much. Most important, we learn correct others who don’t. It’s the age where we know what we need and have confidence to ask for it. While we may still waste time criticizing ourselves, we sure as hell don’t waste it on anyone else who does.
It’s beautiful and bittersweet, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything to go back in time. This is forty.
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