Happy International Elle's Big Four-Oh!
Next Wednesday, June 11, is my 40th birthday.
You’ve probably heard something about this, since it’s, well, kind of a national holiday. It’s almost universal, but I’m having a few problems getting Slovenia and Yemen onboard. I’ll keep you updated. But anyway, it’s both a milestone in my life (the big Four-Oh!) and, you know, my birthday.
I’ve been bouncing around my world lately, generously reminding everyone of the forthcoming holiday. Because politics are so important to me – not to mention forty is the ruby anniversary (just sayin’) -- I make sure I never, ever forget to mention which birthday it is.
I. Am. Turning. Forty.
People react to my proclamation about the way I expected. Most raise their eyebrows, say, “Oh!” uncomfortably, and/or add, “I never would have guessed! I would have thought early thirties, tops.” Yeah, I know. Fat does that. I even wrote a poem and an anthology piece about the ageism implied in the cliché “fat doesn’t crack.”
I know these folks mean well. In spite of the enthusiasm in my voice, they think I’m doing
the usual bemoaning of a birthday and the tragic
addition of another year to my bio clock. They’re being kind and trying to
soothe my imaginary angst. But they’re wrong; I’m not sad. I’m celebrating. I
have a beautiful life and a new home that, in spite of taking weeks to paint (Primer?
Third coats? Edgers? Gah!), is pretty sexy. Baby, forty looks stunning on me.
|Rubies celebrate 40th anniversaries *and* red is my power color?|
You don't say.
Yes, we live in an ageist culture. Yes, ageism disproportionately affects women.* Yes, I sometimes fear what it will mean when my brown hair turns gray, my fat stops filling those cracks, and youth (or seeming youth) is no longer an item I place in my privilege category. But instead of tumbling down that slope, thereby reproducing this cultural inequality, I’m instead very intentionally, and quite accurately, regarding this as a brilliant achievement. Forty is a victory!
|Minus the bizarre flash of nipple,|
I think someone in my life should
make this size- and age-positive
So I’ve decided to treat my age the same way I do with my fat: make everyone acknowledge it and witness my peace (or at least my relative comfort) with it. When people rush to reassure me “Gosh, you don’t look a second over 33.6 years old!” it is my pleasure to respond, “Oh, I love turning forty! I’m trying to convene the U.N. and get it declared an international celebration.” Sometimes I even say something like, “I’m sure this is going to be the best decade so far!” or “I can’t wait to see what my 40s will bring!” Usually, my conversational partners end up smiling – whether sincerely or not I neither know nor particularly care – and responding with something more encouraging and age-positive. Some smile nervously and walk away. Both are totally acceptable responses to me.
I know I’m not changing the world by turning forty, although I possibly could if those darn two countries would get onboard. I also know that, at age 39.9, I don’t really know the full sting of ageism. I don’t know what my future brings, but I hope it’s a heaping helping of body and age acceptance. In the meantime, I can only hope my defiantly pro-forty stance helps a few people rethink their automatic linking of aging with trauma, loss, and decline.
Here’s to fabulously forty!
* Examples: Older women make less money relative to their male peers than do younger women (source). Fewer older women than older men appear in media. Women over fifty have some of the highest rates of unemployment and are often the first fired during financial difficulties. Older women are much likelier to be poor than older men. The condemnation of “looking old” affects older women far more than men.