The New 40? I Want the Old One Back
I teetered into my 40th birthday earlier this year.
Fabulous heels? Check. Spectacular dress? Check. Girls Night Out? Cocktails? Dancing? Check. Check. Check.
I’m nothing if not a walking cliché.
When asked my thoughts about reaching this numerical milestone - imbued as it is with a cultural backstory - I was ready.
‘Bring it on!’ I declared to all and sundry. And so the occasion came and went and I reveled in my enforced fabulousness - a tragic member of the Sex and The City generation embracing older womanhood by way of a fine hairdo and the best handbag plastic could buy.
That is until I stood under my shower three months later and grabbed hold of a roll of loose skin in my middle region - a part of my body which has carried two babies to term, and the unfulfilled promise of several others.
As my pound of flesh moved beneath my soapy fingers I wondered blithely if I should skip breakfast. It was then that my 40-year-old self almost literally shouted, “Not this again!”
As a teenager in the 80’s eating disorders were handed out free with every copy of Dolly you purchased eagerly with the money from your Saturday job. I wouldn’t say my own disorder was ever full-blown but it was enough of a presence in my life that I had a drawer full of calorie counters and magazine clippings promising that I could Drop a Dress Size by Saturday.
But through the haze of my teenage body-image angst I had rare moments of lucidity where I glimpsed a future in which such silliness had passed. To me that future began on my 40th birthday. I’d heard whispers that this was when women came into their own. There was even a slogan: Life Begins At…
So I waited for my life to begin. I kept myself ‘nice’ through my twenties, got an education, started a career, eventually found a husband and began the business of babymaking.
But it was around this time - as I was enjoying the pleasures of elastic-waisted pants - that a new label was born: the Yummy Mummy. And, just like that, the nirvana I had anticipated since I was old enough to understand that blonde was a currency with a dirty underside, was all but extinguished.
My post-40 existential crisis hit and hit hard. Where was the fabled sense of being free and comfortable in my own skin? Why was I holding my after-baby bump and wondering if the latest celebrity mum du jour had in fact been Photoshopped? And more worryingly, was I a poor excuse for a modern woman/mother?
So I did what all the modern mums are doing. I posted it on Facebook. I wanted to know why 40 was now the New 30, and why somebody had re-branded the Old 40 when I had been looking forward to it for so long.
Fellow 40-ers replied with comforting stories of being in a ‘good place’ and feeling happy with their lot. But then again one of those friends was a successful author and the other a divorcee, so in a way I could understand their happiness.
Personally, my own angst kept growing along with my crankiness about The New 40 until I felt compelled to ask, ‘Isn’t anyone having a good old-fashioned mid-life crisis any more?
Are we too busy worrying about our Louboutin heels to flirt with agnosticism after a lifetime of lazy Catholicism? Has the lure of Botox taken away the urge to sign up for night classes in International Relations or Philosophy? Does our time at the gym make starting that PHD impossible?’
All of which begged the question: Is it just me?
Until finally last week I read a piece by India Knight who also lamented the loss of the Old 40. Knight asks, “Surely — surely? — you’re allowed to get to a point when you can just do what you like without having to worry about how hot you’re looking?” Yes, India. But when will that be?
And then this past weekend I found my answer.
As I perused the weekend papers - still angsty, still wearing my cranky pants (elastic-waisted) and looking for signs of Mummy Misogyny - I stumbled across a headline seemingly written just to mock me: It’s Official: For Many Women, Life Does Begin at 50.
Oh, for god’s sake.
The report was about Amanda Deeks, a senior research psychologist at the Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health in Melbourne, whose studies have revealed that, “Many women aged 50 and over feel freed from social pressures such as fixation on appearance. Women say, ‘I’ve spent enough of my life worrying about my body image, now when I think about my body it’s more about maintaining good health.’”
So it seems I have to wait another ten years for my nirvana.
Or maybe I could be radical and bring back The Old 40.
I will use as my motivation my eight-year-old daughter. Still lucky enough to be unaware of body-image issues - hopefully because of my own diligence around the subject - I don’t want her to think she has to wait another 42 years before her own life really begins.
It seems such a waste.
Jayne is also the editor of Sunny Days Magazine, a regional parenting publication.
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