A week ago I waved goodbye to my thirties and tentatively stepped on to the descending side of ‘the hill’. As milestone birthdays go, this is one that tends to evoke a lot of emotions. A few years ago, Hollywood released the comedy ‘This is 40’ where the pending 40th birthday of the leading character led to a major meltdown. To be honest, in contrast to the protagonist, I feel rather indifferent; after all I am told that ‘forty is the new thirty’ and as my thirties was an exciting decade, I am happy to buy in to that. However, I can’t help but ponder, what is the ‘this’ that makes ‘this’ 40? What distinguishes me as a forty year old woman from my twenty or thirty year old self?
Putting my PhD research training into full effect, I turned to Google and asked this very question. To my dismay words like ‘older’, ‘mid-life’, ‘middle-aged’, and my (least) favourite ‘pre-menopausal’ popped up. If I had previously been carefree, I was now officially freaking out! These are not adjectives that I usually associate with myself. So, instead of walking away from the computer, I dug deeper.
According to Statistics Canada, women in their forties make up almost 7% of the Canadian population. The majority are married with children (2 is the most common number); are home owners and are less mobile than women in their late twenties and early thirties, staying in the same residence for over 5 years. Most women are employed, with the forties being their prime-income earning years. Thankfully, death is not commonly faced by women in their forties (breast cancer is the biggest killer). But it is the decade when the physical affects of aging start to accrue … metabolism slows down, bone and muscle mass decrease, fertility (and libido) crash, and skin starts to lose its tone. Hello, bat wings and wrinkles! It is therefore not surprising that 44 is the age when women are most likely to seek cosmetic surgery.
This is all well and good, but can 40 really be defined by demographic data and physiological phenomena? Of course not, an individuals age doesn’t determine who they are. After all, age is just a number. According to my two young children, 40 is a really big number and means that I am super ‘big’ now. From the perspective of the millennials, a 40 year old woman brings to mind a desperate housewife trying to cling on to their youth. Looking back through the lens of a retiree, a 40 year old woman is a lady in her prime. The meaning of 40 is all relative to where you are on your life journey.
So what is the perspective of the 40 year old woman, no longer looking into the distant future and without the benefit of hindsight?
A few months ago I was fortunate to meet up with my wonderful group of school friends to celebrate our collective 40th birthdays. The conversation flowed easily. We laughed, we cried, we exclaimed loudly in response to each others tales. We reflected on how it felt no time had passed. I’m not sure if its the welsh spring water or mountain air, but we’re all just the same, even down to our youthful looks and hairstyles! But the truth is, in the intervening 25 years we have all experienced our own trials, tribulations, and successes. We may now all be 40 but each of our lives look very different. We’re single/divorced/married/separated, we have a child/multiple children/no children/fur babies ranging from toddlers to teenagers; we’re unemployed/employed/stay at home mums. But despite these differences, I was struck by common characteristics that we all shared which were not present at high school, and it is these that are the essence of being 40:
CONFIDENCE: Forty year old women may not be immune to worry or anxiety but they are less insecure than their younger counterparts. They are comfortable with who they are and no longer compare themselves to others. They are certain of their likes and dislikes and this is reflected in their choice of clothes, food, travel and entertainment. They are sincere in their comments and compliments.
APPRECIATION: By 40, a woman has suffered loss and disappointment, and has grown to appreciate what she has. She is grateful for her family and friends. She enjoys the every day moments and cherishes the little things. She no longer sweats the small stuff but looks at the big picture.
ACCEPTANCE: Forty year old women understand that everything is not black or white, rarely is there a simple solution. They accept that others may not share the same beliefs and opinions. They accept that their way of doing things is not the only way, or even the best way, and they respect that. They accept that they are not right all the time and acknowledge their mistakes.They accept that bad things happen to good people. They accept that there are positive and negative influences in their lives, and try to foster the positive while avoiding the negative. Most of all, at 40, they accept that nothing in life is permanent and change is inevitable.
PURPOSE: Forty is all about balancing family and career (and I use these terms broadly), which provides a sense of purpose to ones life. While this perpetual juggling act can be stressful, a 40 year old woman has learned to combat this by surrounding herself with a supportive network of friends and making time for self-care. After a decade of investing in their career, marriage and motherhood, in her forties, a woman starts to pursue her own interests again, whether it be training for a marathon, learning a new language, or joining a knitting club. A 40 year old woman is passionate about how she spends her time. She is a strong advocate for her beliefs and strives to ‘give back’ to her community. She is motivated to make the world a better place in her own little way. At 40, a woman passionately pursues the best of life.
To me THIS is 40… yes, it is just my humble perspective, and yes maybe it’s marred by a pending mid-life crisis or motivated by my recent celebratory champagne consumption. Maybe our reminiscing was right, we are the same group of girls, just a more fabulous version of our high school selves! I for one will be embracing my forties with confidence, appreciation, acceptance, and passion! Who’s with me?!