Back when I was in my mid-20s, I started a new job at the same time as another woman who was in a more senior role in my department. I put her at around 45 years old. Pretty much from the first day I met her, she loved to talk about how young she looked and how no one really knew her real age. “Go ahead, guess my age!”, she demanded, giving me an aggressive head tilt and an overly wide smile, eyes bugging out, curly black bob cut barely moving as she dared me to play her little game.
Well, my friends, I’m assuming you already know that it’s never appropriate to guess a woman’s age. Never. It’s always a losing situation. I tried to change the subject, but she kept demanding, certain that I would think her to be oh-so-young and youthful. Haha the joke would be on me!
“I don’t know, mid 30s?” I finally lied, to shut her up.
“Nope! I’m FORTY-TWO!”, she exclaimed with a smug smile, continuing that annoying head tilt.
More than a decade later, I vividly remember my thinking at that moment, telling myself to make a mental note of the conversation and the situation. I wanted to remember it so when I reached that ancient age of 42, I would recall the tragedy and pathetic display of someone living in the past and trying to cling on to a youthfulness that had slipped away without her realizing it. I vowed that I would never represent that caricature of “woman who thinks she looks younger than she is when she actually looks older than she is.” (it almost deserves a Garbage Pail Kid card, amirite?)
Well, the risk of me being that caricature is pretty much gone. Any confidence that I had from looking “good for my age” (whatever that means) has vanished. I increasingly do a double take when I catch my reflection in the mirror and don’t recognize the person staring back at me. When did my face become all shadows? Why are my eyelids a sagging mess? What are all these lines? WHO IS THIS OLD PERSON??
I’m not going to lie, aging blows.
Fuck. It’s My Turn.
I suppose that I’ve been lucky — as I progressed through my 30s and beyond, people generally put me at a few years younger than I am. Funny, how when I was a teenager and in my 20s I always wanted to be older. If I could get away with calling myself 28 when I was 22, I would go for it. STUPID GIRL.
However, more and more lately I am faced with the harsh reality that those days are over. My face has caught up to my age. No longer do I get the occasional ID check when buying alcohol, no more do people act surprised when learning my age, it’s all ma’am, all the time. The lines on my face and under my eyes reveal the decades behind me. The days of the selfie are long gone (unless there is full studio lighting or aggressive Instagram filters) as I’m just a giant shadow.
The vanity is only one part of it. The worst part of growing older — at least for a woman — is that once we hit 40, we’re invisible. Poof! No one sees us. No one wants to look at a woman of a certain age. There is no feminine equivalent of “silver fox”. Even men older than me won’t turn their head in my direction — why would they when there is a willing 20-something right there? And I can’t blame them — it feels like only yesterday when I was that willing 20 something.
So yeah, I probably shouldn’t be that concerned about my aging appearance given no one is looking at me anyway.
I know everyone goes through this and I’m hardly alone. It does feel a little ironic however — this is actually the part of my life where I should be MOST visible! I’m doing some pretty amazing things right now. I love the professional work I’m doing, I’m strong and in shape, I’m still growing as a circus artist. I’ve overcome some pretty remarkable personal and professional challenges and continue to barge ahead. People counted me as down and out years ago, but ha! not so fast, fuckers. What’s not to love about this moment and where I’m going? I may be doing it with sagging skin, gray hairs and wrinkles, but it still feels pretty good.
There is no part of me that would want to be in my 20s again. If I had to pick a “forever age”, when I think I looked and felt the best, I would have to go with 32. I wonder if that age will change if I make it to age 60 or 70 or beyond? Will I be telling stories at the old folks home about how I long to be 45 again? (for the record I AM NOT 45 I AM WAY YOUNGER).
So this is middle age, I guess. It happens to all of us. I may not love what I see, but I’m not slowing down one bit. I’m going to define this part of my life on my terms, even if those terms come with me looking my age.