Forty, Feminist, Fabulous

I am 40 in March. 40! It feels weird to me. I’ve only been married five years, I still have no children, and, frankly, I don’t look 40. Of course, I’m not altogether sure what 40 is supposed to look like. It looks like, what you look like, right?

 Well Jennifer Lopez is 43 and she looks like this.

Cameron Diaz is 40. She looks like this (airbrushed of course):

40 looks like what your genes gifted you, how much time and money you have, and how much you want to focus on your body and looks. A huge part of me wants to look like JLo and Cameron, and I have been gifted enough of the sorts of genes you need to achieve a shorter, bigger-nosed version, but at what cost and, more importantly, for whom would I be doing it for? And by ‘doing it’ I mean the incredible dedication, time and work it takes for women in their 40s to look like Diaz.

My husband doesn’t want me to do it for him. He loves my little love-handles, because, well, they’re not called that for nothing, and when I was a whippet from all the exercise I used to do, all he had to hang onto was some ribs, which apparently just isn’t the same.

That leaves me and the rest of the world. And, well, I seem to have a hard time distinguishing between me and the rest of the world, despite the fact that I doubt the actual rest of the world cares in the least what the hell I look like, or who the hell I am. But as a western woman that’s what you learn, from very very young – that you must look a certain way in order to be an acceptable, desirable being. This is something every woman I know knows. We rail against it when we feel strong, but it’s still, if not more than it has ever been, such a tangible, confronting thing for women.

I am bombarded every day with images of women that I will never live up to. And while I feel so much more removed from the expectations that come with this because of my age and my relationship, my heart aches for the young women around me. As I get older and more pissed off I’m slowly allowing myself to feel less obsessed with marrying myself to these images.

I’m also exhausted by the confusion and the internal conflict. As all the women I know are. All of my friends are dieting at the moment. All of them. And yet we all also try very hard to love ourselves, just as we are. It’s very hard to do both well, simultaneously.

But then, women are amazing creatures. Look at what we have been through and achieved in the last century. Most of it in silence. I do think this craziness will soon turn into something extraordinary. As long as women start talking – to young girls, to young women, to men, to one another – we can end this unfathomable obsessing over  the outside – over being instead of doing.

As Caitlin Moran puts it so very well in ‘How to be a Woman’:

       I presumed that once I’d cracked being thin, beautiful, stylishly dressed, poised and gracious, everything else would fall into place. That my real life’s work was not a career – but myself. That if I worked on being pleasing, the world would adore, and then reward me.

       Of course, this supposition that women are supposed to just ‘be’, while men go and ‘do’, have been argued as inimically sex-tied traits. Men go and do things – wage wars, discover new countries, conquer space… whilst the women inspire them to greater things, then discuss afterwards, at length, what’s happened: like Ena Sharples and Minnie Caldwell over a bottle of milk stout.

       But I don’t know if I believe ‘being’ is an innately female thing to do… I would suggest that when you’ve spent millennia not being allowed to do anything, you do tend to become more focused on being self-critical, analytical and reflective because there’s nothing else you can do, really, other than a) look hot and b) turn inward.

      Would Jane Austen’s characters have spend pages and pages discussing all the relationships in their social circle if they’d been a bit more in control of their own destinies? Would women fret themselves half to death over how they look, and who fancies them, if this wasn’t the main thing there were still judged on? Would we give so much of a shit about our thighs if we, as a sex, owned the majority of the world’s wealth, instead of the men?

Right. 40, honest, expressive, feminist, doing, relaxed, happy, love-handled and fabulous – here I come.



Filed under Beauty, Body-building, Books, Caitlin Moran, Health, Inspirational, Love, Motherhood, Political Writing, Pornography, Reading, Sex, Weight Loss, Women/Feminist, Writing

13 responses to “Forty, Feminist, Fabulous

  1. Congrats on your approaching 40th! I felt a definite sea-change as mine approached, which was the need to do the thing I loved most and lots of it – writing. However, I still struggle with the body acceptance problem that you mention and trying to love my older, wiser, wider, softer body. It’s not always easy, but I am getting better at the f**k-’em attitude that it takes.


    • Wow 40 around the corner – I was sure I was going to be old and ‘been there done that’ at 40 – I have never been busier, never been happier, never felt more alive and never felt so loved for just being me, partner and mum. On my 40th birthday I was the heaviest weight I had ever been, was carrying two very precious little people inside, busy trying to have a party and throw up with grace in a resturant loo and had a partner who loved me. I was blisfully happy. 3 years later I have that same loving partner, two girls who want nothing more than to be with me, the real me, the one who makes up silly songs to stops tears, the one who dances and sings in supermarkets cos its fun and I don’t care what anyone else thinks except those who are most precious to me. When Dave and I have a time out just us it is so precious we embrace this time like we are just dating again. My life really did start at 40 – oh yes I am wiser and tired and don’t bounce off the floor like a 20 yr old but I have done that and know just how precious this all is because I thought I would never have it. Open your arms and welcome the best years of your life…


    • Thanks Charlotte! I WANT that attitude! 😉

      Sue-anne, thank you so much for this fabulous comment. Your 40th sounded memorable! I’m so happy that you’re so happy. What a great example you are of everything I’m talking about xox


  2. PG

    What a great post, Simonne! I love it! It’s amazing how we give ourselves such hell about our bodies, the number on the scale, have serious discussions of surgery, botox and all manner of invasive bullshit that is supposed to make us feel better about ourselves. If we just spent the same amount of energy sending love to ourselves and our bodies, rather than the hate, disgust, unhappiness and all pervasive and all too common “not good enough-ness”, we could really turn the tide and make some serious inroads in self love and positivity. C’mon girls, I know we can do it!!!!


  3. I want to celebrate 40 with you. You: smart, creative, passionate, loyal, a wonderful wife, lover of fine things, kind, generous, talented…wow. You will make an awesome 40.


  4. sandybarker

    Reblogged this on Off the Beaten Track and commented:
    A dear friend, whom I have known for 20 years, pontificates about what 40 means to a modern woman.


  5. Simonne, I am turning 40 in 8 days. It’s a surprise to me in so many ways, finding myself about to be forty, but I’ve heard only good things about what’s on the other side from women I really dig. So we’re in excellent company, and I’m looking forward to making the most of it.


  6. Now that I’m a little past 40…I must say that 40 came upon me quite by surprise…don’t think I felt ready for it but it came upon me none-the-less…kind of crept up on me when I wasn’t looking almost. I’d always assumed that by the time I did actually get to 40 I’d be somehow ‘together’ – whatever the heck that was I have no idea – but hey I thought I’d feel it anyway and have it…turning 40 made me remember my Mum at 40 and how I thought she must have felt like she had it all together…you know the ‘package’ – husband, children, house, a little career on the side…but as she died of cancer some 7yrs later I reckon she probably didn’t feel that way even if it looked like it from the outside to my teenage eyes. There I was at 40 single mother to a gorgeous, rambunctious 5 yr old boy, no husband/partner/lover/bit on the side in sight, no mortgage, part time work and a PhD that had begun to take over my life…none of which was in any plan that I’d vaguely had when I’d turned 30 mind you!! But would I change any of that if I got the chance…nope ;-). Now at at almost 42 (how did that happen??!!) I feel like I’m on the cusp of understanding and experiencing my awesome…and I don’t look or feel anything like 42…and I don’t plan on acting like it either!! So BRING IT awesome I’m ready for ya!!


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