I’m turning 40 soon. Let’s not discuss how soon. It’s a “big” birthday, the official gateway to “over the hill” or, alternately, “the new 18,” depending on whether the person uttering it is under 40 and smug or over 40 and in serious denial.
It’s also a birthday that inspires people to inquire about my mental state. “Wow, 40, huh? How ya feeling about that? You okay with it?”
I can’t say I’m okay with it, no. I don’t relish diving into the very age pool in which my own parents swam when I was in college; I understood then that they were old and I understand now that I am not old, so the logic of the situation makes me woozy. And one should never go swimming when one is woozy.
I’m not thrilled to relinquish my chance at being featured in the New Yorker‘s “20 Under 40” issue or even Fortune‘s half-as-discerning “40 Under 40.” Anything accomplished before 40, it seems, is miraculous; after 40, it’s about damn time and what took you so long?
Decade-cap birthdays are like utilitarian rest stops on a far-reaching span of highway; you stop obligingly, stretch, pee, and have a look around whether you feel the urge or not. Reflexively, unenthusiastically, you take meticulous stock of your life, inventorying recent gains and losses in the professional, domestic, and—gulp—corporal arenas.
Earlier this year, I was waylaid briefly at the You Call This a Career? rest stop, then zipped uneventfully through the I’m Too Old to Have Mismatched Flatware stop.
At present, I’m stranded on Highway 40, having run out of gas somewhere between I Used to Have a Waist, and What the Hell Is Happening to My Flesh?
Nowhere do we feel the march of time more—rather, the sense of having been dragged, flopping and grunting through time’s unpaved roads—than in our physical selves. Our flagging energy. Freckling skin. Failing memories. And the nonsensical number of months it takes to recover from a stinkin’ sprained ankle.
I have friends who turned 40 and ran their first marathon. This, to me, is something that should be forced upon dangerous criminals, not suggested to melancholy birthday girls; haven’t we suffered enough?
Still, a gal can’t turn 40 without setting a goal or two.
I was recently reading I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora Ephron’s hilarious essays about aging. “If anyone young is reading this,” she writes, “go right this minute, put on a bikini and don’t take it off until you’re 34.”
It made me laugh out loud. It made me sorry we gals don’t appreciate our hotness and tautness while we’ve got ‘em. And it also made me wonder:
Would it be possible to commit—from age 40 on—to cherishing what’s right about our bodies, rather than lamenting what’s gone wrong? What would it feel like to focus on what’s miraculously intact, instead of what’s unfairly undone?
Never mind the frown lines forming around your thinning lips; when’s the last time you holla’d a “Hallelujah” for your mad-gorgeous cheekbones and long, graceful neck? Sagging boobs and dimpled thighs be damned; check out that painterly curve on your remarkable (don’t deny it) derriere.
Is it just human nature to miss what’s gone (sigh, soft feet), even when there’s still plenty to savor (rockin’ bare shoulders)? Or could a former midriff-baring, cutoff shorts-wearing, bra-evading forty-something get in the happy new habit of greeting each day naked in front of a mirror and proclaiming, “Hot SMOKE, my eyebrows are sexy!”?
Maybe it’s impossible. Maybe such mental exercise would rival the physical strains of marathon-running. But if I can swing it, I’ll really accomplish something worth celebrating.
Does Prevention have a “50 Under 50” issue?
Starshine Roshell is the author of Wife on the Edge.