If you feel the need to add some humour to the whole concept of turning 40, then you have to watch this trailer and then the entire show on Netflix. I laughed so hard I cried. In it, Jen Kirkland, a fabulous stand-up comedian reflects on turning 40 and what it means to her. My favourite part was when she talks about the horribly demeaning term used for women of our age, “cougar” and points out that there is no equivalent used for men of this age.
A book I highly recommend you read if you are a woman in your forties is Stephanie Dolgoff’s My Formerly Hot Life: Dispatches from Just the Other Side of Young. (New York: Ballantine Books, 2010). She also has a wonderful blog which is just as funny (http://www.formerlyhot.com) which is touted as being about “body image, beauty, aging and pop culture for women who are realizing that they’re no longer young.”
I could relate to so much of what she talked about in the book and highly recommend you read it if you are struggling with being in your forties. Here’s her definition of “formerly hot”:
A transition set off by a pair of miserable epiphanies (little hairs growing out of her pores on her face and when her daughter said that her belly looked like ‘a tushy on the front of your body’)…It felt like a smack upside the head and a relief at the same time. I didn’t know what I was turning into, exactly. I didn’t act, look or feel what I’d imagine a middle-aged person would look, act or feel like, and I certainly wasn’t old. I just knew that I wasn’t what I used to be. I had been unsubtly hot, and now, I supposed, I wasn’t. I began jokingly calling myself Formerly Hot.” (pp.7-9).
But she urges us forty-somethings not to despair:
Now that I’m a few years into being a Formerly, I get that the phenomenon is about getting older in general and not as much about any specific aspect of it, such as how your looks change…Things merely seem more accelerated as you age, and when I think of it that way, the transition to Formerly feels like any other, best dealt with one day at a time.
Most of the time, it’s kind of terrific over here on the other side of young. There are legions of us, and we’re an amazingly cool group of women…By and large, we know our own minds, are done with caring too much about what other people think of our opinions, and can have a good laugh at our own expense. I love being a Formerly because I’m young enough to have fun, and old enough to know what fun really is, as opposed to tossing my head back in maniacal mirth in order to seem like I was having fun because I was young and hot and hence supposed to be having the time of my life….It’s a tremendous time of life, weird limbo transition between young and old notwithstanding. (p. 15-16).
I do not miss being the center of attention- it’s a lot of pressure, actually- but I do miss feeling relevant. If there ever was a “them,” people I didn’t know who might nonetheless be interested in my comings and goings or thoughts of feelings, I am now 100 percent certain that “they” couldn’t care less…Now I am simply off the radar of relevance.
But now that I’m over the shock of being seen as irrelevant by the nebulous “them,” it’s no big deal. Most of the time, many younger people, especially the hip ones, seem to me overly conscious that they’re being talked about, which strikes me as more energy than I want to devote to such things. The less I think about what “they” think of me, the more time I have to think about what will make me and those who matter to me happy…. (pp.64-5).
One of the funniest passages I loved was when she talks about “compensatory dressing”- She points out that this was a term coined by the late great writer Nora Ephron…referring to items such as turtleneck sweaters chosen not because she adores them and thinks she looks terrific in them, but because she dislikes the loose skin on her neck and sees it as something of a public service to cover it up.
She says: God knows I relate to the impulse. She says she’s not going there for 2 reasons: 1) This is my body, floppy though it is, and within reasonable limits and standards of obscenity, it is the world’s obligation to deal with it. I don’t always carry this “my ass, love it or leave it” attitude in my heart, especially after discovering a new pucker or stretch mark. But after so many years of looking in the mirror and critiquing my reflection, I’ve decided to act as if, in hopes that I come to believe it all the time. And it’s working. As a Formerly, I feel better about my body, even as it gets “objectively” worse. So I’m not buying clothes to hide all the imperfect parts. Not for nothing, I’d have to wear a burka.
2) I have decided that I still look too damn good to choose a swimsuit or any item of clothing primarily for what it hides. If I did, I’d be hiding my light, my mojo, my personality, which would make me feel way older than my newly floppy arms make me feel. So no, the skirts I wear don’t have to be microminis, but I’m not going to go all Mormon fundamentalist because my legs have a few new spider veins. The vast majority of Formerlies likewise look much better than they imagine they do, given all the changes they’re noticing. (pp.106-7).
And I nearly peed my pants laughing when I read this from the chapter, “The Big Metabolic Fuck You”-
If your metabolism had a middle finger, it would be wagging in your face right now…My body has been a gracious hostess, encasing it for lo these several decades. If I am to blame for anything, it’s lavishing upon it a few too many empty calories to work with. Is that really so wrong? The Big Metabolic Fuck You (TBMFU, for short) is how it repays me…I never had a problem with my metabolism before now…then I became a Formerly, out came the middle finger and all of a sudden I couldn’t zip my pants. (pp. 90-1).
From chapter, “Of Two Minds, One Body”-
Her take on the process of realizing she was a Formerly:
It certainly helped me feel less nuts to recognize that I was undergoing a subtle but nonetheless all-encompassing life change that ran much deeper than the crevasses between my eyebrows. But the realization alone hardly made me want to go skipping through a wheat field, arms open wide and ready to embrace my future as an aging woman and all the joy and wisdom and reverence from society to which my new status entitled me.
Nay, it was a herky-jerky, one-step-forward-two-steps-back trippy odyssey fraught with insecurity, hypocrisy (societal), hypocrisy (my own), contradictory messages and conflicting, shifting priorities. And guess what? I’m still not there, wherever “there” turns out to be….I am of two minds about the way I look (which, as I’ve said, is just fine), the way I no longer look and how important it is to me as I get older. I am of two minds, and both of them overthink things. I see no solution save learning to roll with how I feel at any given time. So that’s what I’m doing, bumpy though the ride sometimes is. (pp. 112-4).
Her take on plastic surgery:
But one thing I’ve learned as a Formerly is that if something preoccupies me to the extent that the “to nip and tuck or not” dilemma does, there’s probably a bigger issue behind it. And that issue is this: The fact that it’s no biggie to get a procedure or 20 puts many Formerlies in an untenable spot. We are the precise age where things start to droop and live in a world where looking like a middle-aged woman looks naturally is “letting yourself go.” This can be profoundly upsetting and seems relatively easy to fix. At the same time, we are finally old and wise enough to know-emotionally know, not just understand intellectually-that looks are by far the most important thing in the world…No matter how you slice it, it’s a rotten spot for a Formerly to be in. (pp. 126-7).