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.