Tomorrow I will be celebrating my 41st birthday. This is it, I am formally stepping into my fifth decade. Soon, I will be a women of a certain age. I've been surprised by just how much my body has aged over the last year. It's as if when I hit forty - bam! - some kind of internal ageing device went off and precipitated more changes in a year that I've witnessed over the past decade.
In the last 12 months I've seen the bags under my eyes become permanent, rather than something that happens on mornings after a bit of a night out. The vertical crease between my eyebrows that has always been there to punctuate confusion and sometimes irritation is now a deep furrow which is there all the time, regardless of how I'm feeling. I look a bit lost and permanently pissed off . Great. Moving down, and this has got to be the worse, I've got a hair - a single, long, witch-like hair - growing out of what was once a pretty little freckle on the curve of my jaw - now a mole. Perfect, a mole. With a hair growing out of it. My breasts, which have never exactly been pert are now properly sad and I have taken to wearing sports bras at all times to contain things. My belly, which has always been firmly rotund is now much less firm. And much more rotund. My bottom and the top of my thighs seem to be harbouring a growing colony of cellulitis and the skin on my legs is dragging downwards and forming soft little folds above my knees. Not the smooth, sleek legs of yore then. Even my feet, one of my best features, have started to sprout new bulges in unlikely places.
Does any of this bother me? Sometimes, yes. Mostly, no.
What really bothers me about getting older isn't the march south that my various bits are going on, or the wrinkles, or the way my body is filling out. It's the way women of a certain age are ostracised in our society. In a era when girls are sexualised and encouraged to become 'women' at an ever increasingly young age, older women are warned adamantly that ageing is to be avoided at all costs, that we need to apply miracle lotions and potions to keep our skin smooth, taut and blemish free. It has become completely normal to inject oneself with fillers, acids and silicone in a vain attempt to recapture that bouncy plumpness of youthful lips, cheeks, breasts, bottoms and thighs. In a relentless effort to fend off time, they submit their bodies to harsh exercise regimes, unsustainable diets and dangerous surgery all in the pursuit of youth. The beauty of youth has a function. A quite basic function. It is there to attract the attention of males. A young, fertile woman is primed to reproduce and like a beautiful flower she will bloom - dainty, colourful and with dewy lips ready to snatch a kiss from a passing buzzing bee. That is not what a woman of a certain age is about. Older woman are not in the insemination game. They are not in the realm of flowers, they are lionesses. Older women are there to protect their cubs, to keep the pride in order and to show the younger females how it's done.
And yet rather than being celebrated for their power and wisdom, the older women get, the more they are admired and praised for looking young, as if it were shameful to look one's age. It's a bit like weight. There is a sense that ageing naturally and looking your age is something that you've done to yourself. You've let yourself go and just haven't made the effort. The underlying assumption in both cases is that all women over a certain age (or over a certain weight) should want to look younger (or thinner) and sadly, many do.
By focusing solely on the physical we forget to look at what else a woman of a certain age is about. We forget about the perks that come with time. The fact that a 40 year old has lived twice as long as a 20 year old implies twice the amount of life experience. Rather than settling back comfortably into middle age to look over our tribe, we fritter away our best years trying desperately to turn back the clock. While we waste time trying to keep ourselves small by dieting and young by fighting the natural ageing process, men continue to rule the world. Men will continue to rule the world until women decide to look and act their age and show a bit of muscle. Flowers don't have muscles, lionesses do.
So, as the years go by I will continue to celebrate my age and my ageing body. I will celebrate the experience, the skills, the intuition, the relationships and the stories that I have harvested over the years. I will treat my body with the respect it deserves. I will talk and write and sometimes rant about what it's like to be a woman of a certain age and hopefully inspire more women to leave the garden and step into the jungle.
Brilliant post- although 41 is really no age at all! Gorgeous at any size; gorgeous at any age. Happy birthday xxxxReplyDelete
Thanks Caro xxDelete
It's all so true!!! Thank you for writing this post!! I feel that we should celebrate our wisdom and experience as we mature (I'm 40 by the way), and most of my friends think I'm CRAZY when I say I don't want to cosmetically 'enhance' myself in any way now or in the future. They accept it as the norm! They're terrified of losing their youthful looks. It's the whole culture and I feel I'm swimming against the tide. As soon as female tv presenters get over 40, they're pushed off the schedule and replaced by younger models. It's really not the case with men is it?! Look at Bruce Forsyth! Infuriating!ReplyDelete
Men are allowed to go go grey and look 'distinguished' while women just look old!Delete
to quote a very dear and wise friend: "I live my life with the lions, I run with a lion's pride..."ReplyDelete
Wauw! This is a great story and you are so right. I think I also forget to treat my body with respect and have even thought of doing something to my breasts. I will turn 40 this year and don't mind this as long as I don't look that age.......ReplyDelete
Although I think you are right it will be hard for me to accept the fact that I will be showing age. I'll try to anyway!
You GO girls at any age!
Happy birthday - as Caro says 40 is no age at all and I am sure you look great. I completely agree about the pressures women experience to stay young looking but 'settling back comfortably' is not something I would be happy with - it sounds too negative. At 40 I had 2 young children with chicken pox - ( and looked great) . Since then I have finished my doctorate, extended my career, taken up new interests and begun to travel! In my 60s now I still think I look great - and my only age related concession is that I now dye my hairReplyDelete
Thankyou for the inspiring words. By settling back I meant stopping desperately trying to look like a flower and embracing the lioness!
Try being 52! (next week - and Happy Birthday Chocolate Fairy and all us sensuous, food and pleasure loving Taureans!)ReplyDelete
I work as a carer for the elderly and have been humbled at the beauty of older women's bodies - scars, wrinkles, loose skin, stretchmarks, breasts and bellies that have to be lifted up to wash underneath - and often wished I could draw them. I've also wondered why I can't see my own body like that and why I still have this crazy idea in the back of my mind that one day if I go on the right diet I will have a tight flat stomach and wear a bikini on the beach, instead of celebrating the way I am. We need to reclaim our beauty and be lionesses together. I like the thought of being a lioness. Raaaawwwwwrrrr.....
This is such a moving post Anonymous, thank you...and Happy Birthday for next week!Delete
wow, what an inspiring post!ReplyDelete
I too am 41 tomorrow. Happy birthday!ReplyDelete
56 a few days ago. Yes, I like the lioness idea. xReplyDelete
Happy belated birthday!Delete
Me too with the lioness idea - it's all so true. It matters little how old a man is or how he looks - older men are still valued and celebrated. I know that to some extent they are beginning to feel the same pressures that women are put under to look youthful and trim etc but not at all to the same degree. I have also reached the lioness age and the age where women suddenly become invisible to the opposite sex - I too will be celebrating my power as a woman with grown-up children and many years left to do what I want with ... I'm about to do an MA in my favourite subject and am looking forward to living life on my terms from now on. I haven't worn make-up for over 20 years, I don't dye my hair and I dress comfortably for all seasons - I guess I am finally becoming comfortable as me! Long live the lionesses!ReplyDelete
Brilliant post, wonderful image to carry with me!ReplyDelete
I'm a bit older than you, in fact 40 seems young to me now, and I remember being stressed about it then, I get stressed about every birthday in fact. I haven't noticed the aging that you speak of that much really, only in little ways, I do feel my skin is older, but at the same time it's still oily, so I end up getting very confused about skin products, I feel I should go for those de aging ones, but they won't fight my oily forehead.ReplyDelete
Anyhow my main issue is the invisibility of women as we age. It's frightening. It seems women in the public eye either disappear, or have lots of surgery to try and fight their age, and in my opinion, end up looking a lot older. I don't want to hate myself more and my body, yet I feel we are set up to do so, to really reject everything about aging as a woman. I do think things have changed a lot, I think some women in their late 40s and early 50s look the same as some in their 30s, I can't tell ages any more.
Just remember, 40 is the new 30, which means 50 is the new 40..
i had chronic fatigue my whole 20's and 30's, life for me actually began at 41. i DID blossom like a flower - albeit a late blooming flower! 4 years on i'm married to the man of my dreams, have a 2 year old son and look and feel better and healthier than i could've hoped for during those dark years. i would hate for anyone to get to 41 and think "oh dear it's down hill all the way". i'm not ready to be put out to pasture with the old lions thankyou very much! i don't want to look 20 or 30, i just want to look radiant, happy and healthy at any age, as those are the most attractive qualities and they are timeless.ReplyDelete