The Beauty of Turning 40

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40 birthday candles

“Just give it a test drive,” my husband said.  “Then see what you think.”

It was time to get a new car, and I was vehemently anti-minivan.

Despite having two rapidly growing daughters, two large dogs, and a constant need to haul a ton of stuff in our day-to-day life, I wouldn’t budge on the minivan front.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like minivans.  Truthfully, I couldn’t recall the last time I’d even been in one.  It was what I’d come to associate minivans with.  To me, minivans meant being solidly in my midlife, my role as a mom surpassing all other parts of who I am, no hope of being cool ever again.

“Seriously?” I asked myself as we wandered the car dealership.  “Am I seriously about to turn 40 and worried about being cool?  What is that about?”

Turning 40 has provided me with a bit of a reckoning with how I feel about aging.

It’s not about being cool, not really.  I’ve never been cool, and I’ve embraced it!  The truth is that it’s a much deeper kind of fear – the strange feeling that I’m disappearing as I age, that there is somehow less of myself, or that I am being diluted in some way.  I know, in my heart, that those fears and feelings come from years of messages from the media telling me that there is one way for a beautiful woman to look: Thin, smiling, fun, and above all, young. I took in all those messages from the time I was a little girl, and they shaped my beliefs without my even knowing it.

Now, I watch my two young daughters beginning to grapple with concepts of beauty and identity.  At 8 and 9 years old, they are already asking me questions about their body size and whether they look pretty.  As much as I wish I could protect them from ever doubting their inherent worth, I know I can’t keep these messages at bay forever.  What I can control is how I teach my kids to notice and question those messages, and how I model feeling good about myself.  It’s hard work, and I’m never quite sure that I’m doing it right, but if there’s even a chance that it will help my amazing children grow into women who love themselves, it’s work I’m happy to do.

Just last week, my younger daughter posed a question about shampoo commercials. “Why do they always show hair and are like, here’s how you should change it? But the hair looks good in the beginning, too.”

“Because they’re just trying to sell things, babe.” I replied. “It’s not about how things actually look.”

As I approach 40

I am more aware than ever of the torrent of advertisements trying to convince me that their anti-aging products will fix me, will finally make me beautiful and noticeable.  But now I know I don’t have to accept them.  If anything, I know the opposite can be true.  Aging invites me to become more visible, more myself, more fearless in pursuit of what brings me joy.  It invites me to redefine for myself what I think is beautiful.  And for me, it’s a woman who lives well in the here and now.  A woman who does what makes her happy, expresses her love, does good in the world, and squeezes all the juice she can from her life.

It’s a woman who rocks out in her minivan, if that’s what her heart tells her to do.

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