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?
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.