So, the big 40 happened. What did I expect? To feel joyful that I had reached this milestone? To look at my gorgeous husband and daughter and feel immensely thankful? To wake up, stretch, hungry to know what adventures the next decade has in store?
No. I felt shit-house miserable.
As a child if I heard someone was 40, I imagined they were basically Skeksis from the Dark Crystal - hairless, sinewy-looking vultures, gasping for a fresh slug of Podling blood to renew their life force. If you were 40, you were essentially the walking dead.
40 is an unmapped territory.
In your 20s and 30s it’s acceptable to slam jaegar bombs on a week day, flip flap from job to job, try on different boyfriends and friends for size, dip your toes in all of life’s various glorious pots. But a 40-year-old doing this? Heaven forbid, you’re an adult with responsibilities, plus that subscription to Good House Keeping isn’t going to pay for itself, is it?
There are lots of things about turning 40 that have made me feel uncomfortable, here’s a few:
What the f*** happens next? In your twenties and thirties there’s a big old, exciting to-do list of activities – finish your education, find a job, sleep with the boss, find another job, secure somewhere sensible to live with a cat flap, find a partner, find another partner, find the one, and if you like and can, have a baby. But your 40s? So far on the horizon I see paying bills, raising your kid(s) and finding cheap holidays during the school holidays. I mean, really?
Looks – 40 is a funny one in terms of looks. The gloss of youth not quite faded but the wobbly edges of ageing starting to set in. You look in the mirror at home and think you’re still wolf-whistle worthy, only to catch sight of your reflection in the car window and wonder where Gary Busey popped up from.
I want to embrace ageing in a wholesome, wear lots of black, Goldie Hawn kind of way, yet at the same time something in me is resisting – and not enjoying – looking older. I loathe the ageism you see, especially the items so viciously directed at slating a women’s appearance.
Poor Felicity Kendal was given a saber-toothed tear down in the Mail recently – her only crime, to be and look 68, apparently. What do you do? You’re lambasted for trying to look younger, yet everywhere you look, the media tells you to worship the cult of youth.
I’ve spoken to a few friends about the ‘invisibility phenomena’, and how once you hit your late thirties you start to feel invisible to the opposite sex. In my twenties, all bosoms and bravado, I could sense a pheromone ‘prickle’ when I walked up to the bar, now I’m grateful for the wistful gaze of an older gentleman carrying his wife’s handbag in the fruit and veg section of Sainsbury’s.
People say it’s about feeling comfortable or confident in your own skin, but if your skin is going south, who feels ‘better?’. I don’t see my elderly aunt stripping down to her undercrackers in celebration of her crags and crinkles every five-minutes? In fact, most of the elderly women I know sadly operate at the edges of life - beetling in and out of shops as soon as they open and averting your gaze - it’s like they don’t want to be seen.
Jon Stewart made the point brilliantly in his piece about Bruce Jenner coming out as ‘Caitlyn’. As a man he was referred to in terms of his athletic achievements. As a woman, all the media can talk about is whether they’d 'give him one.’ Women's worth being defined by their ‘bangability’ in 2016. Sheesh.
Fashion – I’m finding my forties a fashion no (wo)man’s land. I’ve kissed goodbye to River Island and its skinny jeans and stringy things held together with gold safety pins. I’ve sacked off Top Shop for making too many square clothes – these are fine on whippet thin teenage girls - on a 40-year-old woman you look like Mr Strong. So now I’m left with Zara – the boho garments not the leather panelled jeggings – and *whispers quietly* the slightly trendier section of M&S.
Revealing flesh is a conundrum too. In your twenties boobs are gravity defying flesh Zeppelins, in your thirties they are udders, in your forties, well, as one 45-year-old friend put it, like ‘tangerines in a rubber sock’.
And knickers. Now I’m 40 the thong years are well and truly behind me. It’s all about the ‘harvest festivals’ – all is safely gathered in. And belts. I’ve seen so much pale bum cleavage from Mums bending over to pick up dropped toys/adjust the buggy in the past few years that the humble belt has become a wardrobe staple.
Health – Turning 40 has made me evaluate my health and the outlook isn’t brilliant. In fact, on my current trajectory I should probably have put a down payment on a wicker burial casket in 1995.
The last time I did aerobics I was 16, I drink at least twice the recommended booze limit - putting the blue bin out is my bi-weekly walk of shame – and, sometimes, I eat Monster Munch for breakfast.
When I bend down I say ‘uh’ and if I’m tickled it physically hurts. Need I say more?
There are positives of turning 40, of course.
I’m not a shy Bambi in meetings any more. I can book a holiday. I can eat an olive without spitting it out. I have a brilliant freelance career and a husband and daughter who I love to the moon and back. I’m also reminded every day to count my blessings - some of my friends didn’t even make it to 35, let alone 40.
I’m still here and life is unfolding as it should. And when the time comes and I’m more crabstick than crumpet I’ll gently remind myself that no-one is promised tomorrow.
What’s your experience of turning 40?