Last month, I hit the big 4-0. While I don’t go in much for chronological age meaning anything, there are tremendous cultural tropes around what it means to turn 20, to turn 30, to turn 40. 40 always seems more momentous, perhaps because, in this day and age when we are living longer and delaying things like marriage and child-rearing more and more, 40 is still an undeniable start of mid-life: fertility drops precipitously, you’re out of the coveted youth target demographic, and magazines start to tell you what you should and should not do at your advanced age.
I am undergoing a lot of changes around this milestone, personally and professionally, and it is definitely a journey. But my transition to 40 wouldn’t be complete without my giving you, my readers, some unsolicited advice in the form of a listicle.
5 Things Not to Do If You’re Over 40
1. Let other people tell you what you should and should not wear. Magazines and online lists love to tell “women over 35” or whatever (as if we were a monolith) what we should wear. Respectfully, I say: f— that. If you want to wear leopard capris and gladiator sandals, go for it. If you want to show off your cleavage, or wear skinny jeans, or bedeck your arms in a bunch of bangles, strut your stuff! If you like high-necked tops, if you feel best in your sweatpants, if you’re a guy who wants to wear skirts or a woman who wants to wear a suit, if you want to go out in the street looking like Bozo the Clown, it is absolutely none of my business, nor that of any media outlet. Wear what makes you feel awesome, no matter your age!
2. Hate your own body. Many of us spend our teen years, 20s, 30s, hell, our entire lives – hating their bodies. Turning 40 turned me on to a number of things, but one of them was letting go of the idea of perfection. This is my body. I live in it. The best I can do is take care of it, be kind to it, move it around a lot, and listen to its song. Cursing myself for having stretch marks (since I was 13!) or cellulite or too big a butt or too small breasts or whatever is a waste of time and emotional energy. With each passing year I keep getting stronger, more graceful, more aware of myself in space, and the more I love my body the more it gives back.
3. Lie about your age. Being forever 29 is not a virtue; it’s a way of buying into the dominant culture’s obsession with remaining young forever. It’s true that you are as young as you feel, and lying about your age doesn’t make you seem wiser for your years: it makes you seem shallow. Age, after all, is where we learn who we are, and what things about ourselves we can and cannot change. In this process we can refine our energies and choose what we spend our time on more wisely. I choose to spend more time being who I am, where and when I am.
4. Be a grown-up. 40 is an age where it’s easy to imagine that you should have learned everything by now, that you have no more growing to do, that you should Be An Adult, Dammit, And No More Screwing Around. While responsible adulthood is a good thing to aspire to, being 40 doesn’t mean you no longer get to play, learn, evolve, change your mind radically, or take up a new hobby or life-threatening sport. Behaving youthfully has been shown to actually keep you young, and a flexible, open mind and active body tend to be self-perpetuating.
5. Believe You Should Have Arrived By Now. Some people are late bloomers. My favorite example is Grandma Moses, who only started painting in earnest at age 78 and became an icon of American art. One of my major anxieties about hitting 40 is this notion that I Haven’t Done Anything Yet: I haven’t published a novel, or started a family, or Built a Career. (Notice all of these things in Initial Caps, and how seriously I take them. 🙂 But I’ve done many things that other people haven’t: run a small business, directed several plays, acted in several others, sung at Symphony Hall. I’ve had an adventurous life so far, and it’s been a winding path with no clear destination. It’s my belief that all lives are basically like that: there is no arrival. Wherever you go, there you are. 40 is a milestone, but not a millstone. Don’t worry about whether you’ve arrived. You’re still on the journey.
What things do you want to keep in mind as you get older?