I feel like my teeth should be whiter. When I see a recent photograph of myself my first observation is: what happened to the skin around my eyes? I have my roots coloured with alarming frequency. I decide against many a purchase based on the rationale that it’s no longer appropriate for me to dress that way. I look at my teenage daughter and think she’s beautiful, noting that her body is achingly perfect and I then counsel her when she says that it’s not (that’s a whole other blog post on the tyranny of appearance in the young). There is a fine line between accepting one’s looks and wanting to enhance them. I note when it comes to being 41 that something has crossed over; the work required simply to maintain the status quo that I enjoyed for most of my life is mind-boggling!
|photographed by stephanie rauser|
I don’t mind being 41, of course, and I have no choice, but I wish I were happier with it than I am. What I am realising is that whatever I feel about myself now, I am sure as hell going to feel differently when I am 50 or 60! Forty felt like the brow of the hill and now, I rail against the idea that everything is downhill but at the same time I can see that actually, things aren’t going to go back. There was a complete absence of this sort of emotion in my 20’s and 30’s, it never even occurred to me to be dissatisfied, I was too busy dealing the immediacy of things. And honestly the first year of each child’s life seemed to pass in a fog; I literally walked around with fog goggles on. It was about getting through the day and even better if I didn’t have baby vomit on my top. Now life is much easier. I see this as I contrast to other women whose children are still young and I ponder whether the feelings I have about how I look are magnified purely because I have the time to magnify them. I suspect it is a convergence of that and the reality: once you’re over 40 your skin and body starts to change. Dressing becomes more challenging; mutton dressed as lamb becomes a real and present danger.
I refuse to accept defeat, though. I gather images of mature women and study them. And I don’t mean beautiful women who just let their hair go grey (although I applaud you – go for it; it’s just not for me). I like women who look vital and cool (for their age) and they do this through a complex alchemy of attitude, clothes and hair. It becomes a preoccupation for me.
I read about women who have surgery to preserve their youth and it makes me wonder when exactly the urge to do so becomes so overwhelming that one goes ahead. I doubt I will get to that stage. The prospect of medical intervention is utterly and if I am honest, unacceptable to me.
I talk to my friends and we all agree: this getting older business is not for the faint-hearted. I felt sad when Bowie died partly because I saw him as a contemporary of my generation; I grew up listening to his music through the walls of my brother’s bedroom. I explained to my son that I was sad and elucidated that it would be the same as when, in the future, Harry Styles dies (heaven forbid) and my son recalls a childhood spent hearing his songs from his sister’s bedroom. He said that Harry Styles will never die. I hope he’s right.
Bodily things are changing too. I ache more than I did and I have to be careful not to over-exert. I have friends who disregard this to their peril. I walk the tight-rope between maximising what I can do physically and taking it easy. Injuries set me back and I resent them. I conclude again and again that the two things I must keep doing, at all costs, are walking and yoga. There are some women in my yoga class who are much older than me, some of them very much so. I love how supple they are, it’s inspiring. I want to be just like them.
I guess what I notice about these musings is that before forty I felt like I had it all to play for, now I feel like I have to pick and choose. This self-awareness may be a bad thing and I am conscious that with navel-gazing comes doubts that I could do without. Conversely, isn’t it in these years that self-doubt evaporates and is replaced by a surety and wisdom that only age can bring? I shall wait for that to kick in. 😉