I turned 35 last summer. I kept waiting to have this huge emotional response to this monumental birthday, but so far– nothin’. It was somewhat anti-climactic. I was certain I would have this moment, day, or week, of deep existential inspiration or anguish, or perhaps I would feel that I had been altered on a cellular level, or graduated to the class of Real Grown-ups. (I just can’t stop wishing for that one…) Yeah, not so much.
But I’ve tried to force myself to ponder a few mathematical realities:
I am now closer to 40 than I am to 30.
If we ever decide to have a third baby, it will officially be labeled a “geriatric pregnancy,” or the slightly more tasteful, watered-down, “advanced maternal age.”
My seven-year-old daughter is now closer to 21 than I am. Try that on for size. Kind of mind-blowing, no? (Especially for those of you who drank all varieties of multi-colored alcoholic beverages with me during my own 21st year. You know who you are.)
I’d like to think that 35 (OK, closer to 36 now…) is still “young” and that I haven’t really changed that much in the first half of the decade. But I have noticed a few gradual changes that have snuck up on me this past year, which have caused me to reflect on what it means to be at this stage of life- halfway between 30 and 40. My brilliant blog colleagues have written some beautiful posts about their ages and what exactly this stage of life means to them– Lindsey Mead wrote “This is 38. This is Midlife” and Allison Slater Tate wrote “This is 39“. My post isn’t exactly so thought-provoking and deep. Instead, I’m going to focus mainly on the shallow and vain aspects of this age- my body and its apparent decline.
It’s not all vanity- some of this is practical, medical, the effect-of-aging-on-the-body stuff. I am undoubtedly more sore and stiff these days, requiring a combination of massage, chiropractic care, acupuncture, exercise, and yoga to make me feel halfway decent. For about two months this fall, two of the toes on my right foot felt numb and fused together. Awesome, huh? It eventually went away. Now I have this pesky tingling in my right shoulderblade that pops up every day or so. Is this the sort of thing that’s going to keep happening to me?
In years past, when I would sit down and twist to the side, I would be rewarded with a satisfying ripple of pops along my spine. Now, that stretch is met with a stubborn, disgruntled resistance. I’m just not as pliable as I once was. I still practice yoga, and my level of activity is (almost) the same, so I’m left with this conclusion: It must just be me.
Of course there are the gray hairs that have begun to plague me, winking menacingly at me in the mirror as I stand in the uber-harsh florescent light of public restrooms. I found a new one just the other day- and not where you might expect. Yeah.
I’ve noticed that I am less insistent about appearing in family photos. (Ahem, speaking of Allison Slater Tate, you should take this moment to re-read The Mom Stays in the Picture. And shame on me for perpetuating this problem.) I used to be more vain than I currently am, in better physical shape, and generally took a bit more pride in my appearance than I do these days. So I am less vehement about being photographed with the girls.
In fact, when I look at family photos, I fear I may have peaked about three years ago- yup, age 32 may turn out to be “the best I ever looked.” Frankly, I find that a bit depressing, and I wonder how I am going to shift my concept of self-worth in the years to come. If I’m going to avoid sinking into a deep depression sometime in my 50s, I’m going to have to readjust what beauty means to me.
There has been this inevitable spread that’s occurred in my hips and thighs, and a certain softening of my belly. These changes seemed to creep up on me sometime after my second daughter’s birth- I don’t think I really noticed until after I weaned her and my metabolism apparently left the building along with my milk supply. I’m not sure I can “fix” these things. Actually, I’m certain I could ditch the pesky
10 15 pounds that made an appearance in the past five years, but it would take more energy and temperance than I have room for. Sure, I could work out on weekends, take walks daily with my toddler regardless of the weather, set aside my gracelessness and pride and try Zumba, or join Weight Watchers.
But at this stage of life– the parenting small children stage– these things are about as appealing to me as enrolling in the Pap Smear of the Month club. If I exercised more, when would I write? I look forward to my
weekly OK, fine, daily desserts after the kids go to bed. My happiness means more to me than my weight. There, I said it. So why can’t I let go of that longing for the body of 30-year-old me?
I tend to dive straight into my sweatpants (some of them aren’t even cool enough to earn the acceptable moniker “yoga pants.”) as soon as I get home from work. At noon. To be fair, I’ve always had a thing for loungewear, but ten years ago– per Stacy and Clinton of “What Not To Wear”‘s urging– I never wore them in public. These days it’s common practice to wear the same bottoms I plan to sleep in to the grocery store. Yesterday when I was perusing my underwear drawer before getting dressed, I bypassed the pretty, frilly bikinis in favor of the ginormous, shapeless briefs generally designated only for Monthly Visitor Wear. They just seemed more appealing.
This New Year’s Eve, we had that aforementioned parent rager at our house with some neighbors. I was thrilled when we came up with this brilliant plan to solve our party wardrobe conundrum:
Yes, it’s true- I just don’t care very much about fashion anymore. And yet there’s that touch of ambivalence- sure, I’m too lazy/busy to exercise daily and update my closet, but I still want my husband/friends/strangers to find me attractive. I’m stuck in that traditional beauty trap that tells me that my cultural importance rotates inflexibly around my youthfulness and physical appearance. Can’t we collectively convince the world that Real is the New Sexy?
Have you heard about the new #365FeministSelfie thing? It was created by Veronica Arreola of Viva La Feminista, and championed by Avital Norman Nathman of The Mamfesto– go check it out. I’ve been taking selfies forever, long before they were referred to as the word-of-the-year “selfies,” and when I discovered this new trend last week, it really resonated with me and brought me tremendous comfort and inspiration. I loved Sarah of Left Brain Buddha‘s idea to incorporate the realities of motherhood into this concept- essentially a “Motherhood Selfie,” and one of my first #365 efforts was a selfie of me laying in bed, about to fall asleep, holding a zonked and previously hysterical toddler on top of me. Doesn’t get much more real than that!
It’s not that I have a huge hangup about my body- I’m not filled with self-loathing or consider myself to be a hideous slob. But it’s been eye-opening to realize that things are changing; even the positive change of having a family and feeling more comfortable in my own life and yes, even my own skin, are irrevocably linked to not so great changes that are inevitable with aging. (Cough, chin hairs.) It’s a strange vantage point to think that from a purely physical standpoint, one’s “most attractive” years could be behind them. Maybe taking regular photos of myself au naturel– as I am– will help me to redefine my vision of beauty and align it with the rest of my feminist beliefs. I hope that I can look at photos of myself at age 40, 50, 60, and up, and see a beautiful, valuable woman who matters.
For whatever reason, many of my favorite bloggers and I were on the same page this past week or so- we’ve all had feminism on the brain. Check out some really thought-provoking, inspiring posts from some of my favorites!
The Feminist Week in Review
Nothing By The Book: Naked Face Politics
Left Brain Buddha: Feminist Selfie. Motherhood Selfie. Fatherhood Selfie. Buddhist Selfie?
Tao of Poop: Babes in Toyland
And my post several weeks ago: My Beautiful Girls: Raising Feminist Daughters