I was at my book club last week and the conversation strayed from the book we were discussing, as it often does, to kids, child rearing, childbirth horror stories, sex and aging. We’re all turning or have turned forty this year and a couple girls were going on about how old we are, how old we’ve gotten, our wrinkles, aching joints, even our tired, old vaginas! I couldn’t disagree more and I protested at the time, but after a few days have passed I can’t seem to let it go. This kind of talk astounds me or maybe it just sort of offends me.
I feel the same as I did in my twenties. I was looking at this picture of myself (above) at twenty one recently and I do look much younger. My face looks different; much fuller with a layer of baby fat but no crows feet to be found, ah the natural collagen! So much of my experiential life was ahead of me. In this picture I had shaved my head a couple months before and I was living in Paris. Little did I know, so many mistakes, heart breaks, excitement, love and brand new life lessons were coming down the pike at me.
The face I have right now is the leaner, slightly more lined face of a woman of forty. I’ve earned it. I have experienced a lot since twenty one – break ups, love, marriage, death, travel, pregnancy, childbirth, financial struggle, career decisions, illness of loved ones, motherhood. I look my age but I think I look good for my age. I feel the most me I’ve ever felt in my life so far. But do I feel old? Not at all. I feel sorry for my friends who feel so old and decrepit at forty! It’s going to be a miserable, long life for them if they feel that way now. Sorry girls, (you know who you are), I love you, but I think you need a major attitude adjustment!
I do take care of myself with a healthy diet much of the time, Pilates at least three days a week, yoga, walking, jogging, etc. Except for the after effects of childbirth like a little loose skin on my belly and slight sag in the boob area, my body doesn’t look that different than it did at 20. I was a bit more flexible back then but I was still a ballerina and hadn’t started running yet. In most ways I feel stronger and more capable in my body than I did then. But I’m far from perfect – I smoked for a long time and often drink too much, not to mention other substances I won’t get into from college and my twenties. And there’s that McDonald’s addiction I think I have under control – I’ve only indulged once in 2013!
My mom said she still feels largely the same as she did at nineteen and she’s turning seventy five this summer. By forty she had five children and had gotten her weight back down to its pre-pregnancy form and said her forties were some of her best years. She still has the skin and body of a much younger woman and I think yes, part of that is genes but the other part is attitude. I think if she had started at forty lamenting on how old she was she might look and act like a little old lady by now. You’re only as old as you act and feel!
Joseph Pilates wrote “you’re only as old as your spine.” You must keep your body supple. This I know for certain having been a Pilates teacher for the last fourteen years and observing bodies. It is such a clear difference between the older people who steadily kept their bodies moving their whole lives and the clients who have been sedentary most of their lives. I know which camp I want to be in! I hope I’m still able to stand on my head and do a full wheel at eighty.
I hope at seventy five I look as youthful as my mom and without plastic surgery – not even Botox! Not so sure with all the sun damage I’ve already racked up. She’s also worn a full face of make-up since about age eighteen which she thinks is the secret to her lack of wrinkles. I do wear face lotion every day with spf 25 but I definitely don’t wear foundation everyday or barely ever. My mom smoked briefly in college but has never had an alcoholic beverage in her life. Yeah, you read that right. She had one sip of champagne at her wedding in 1962 and just for the picture! I may have imbibed one or two times so I can’t really compare myself that way.
I think another piece to the fountain of youth puzzle is trying new things, something I majorly struggle with and must work on. I am such a creature of habit and have to force myself to try anything new. I used to fake it when I was younger but now I accept that I’m not spontaneous and I’m not adventurous. I want to know where I’m going – exactly – before I set off. I really don’t like trying new things or to be honest meeting new people. I am shy by nature and a little socially awkward. I have to force myself into new, uncomfortable situations because I know it’s good for me and can keep me young. Alan is both spontaneous and adventurous and I fear I may have sold myself as a kindred spirit when we first started dating. So for his sake I want to attempt to be more open to new experiences like learning new languages, traveling to places we’ve never been, making new friends, eating new foods, etc.
My mother-in-law, Jean also acts far younger than her eighty two years. She still drives herself up from San Diego regularly to see us, travels as far as Korea for conferences and is eager to jump off the boat and go snorkeling with us in Mexico! She is always willing to show up and try new things which is an inspiration to me.
I’m a work in progress but believe I’m just getting cooking now at forty. My face does look older but I don’t mind it. I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to be this age. I feel just right and hope I can press pause now and age gracefully. I don’t see why not. If I can keep up the physical stuff like keeping my weight down, staying supple in my body and not damaging my skin too much more with cigarette smoke and ultraviolet rays plus the harder stuff of trying new things and for Godsakes, not listening to silly talk about how ancient I am, I should be good! You’re only as old as you feel!