So, I’m facing down my 40th birthday. It’s two weeks away and, surprisingly, my mid-life crisis is holding off.
Anyone else remember that scene from When Harry Met Sally, where Meg Ryan is bawling her eyes out to Billy Crystal, and the cherry on top of her self-pity rant is: "And I’m going to be 40!" Harry says: "When?" She says: "Someday!" and continues wailing?
I was 17 when I saw that movie in the theatre with my friends. Even at that age I remember feeling the horror (cue Jaws music) of the impending approach of 40, but I also felt a certain relief that I was nowhere near that “someday.”
Well, someday has arrived, princess.
There’s much that I love about turning 40. The self-confidence, the layers of life experience, the being comfortable in my own skin, and not worrying so much about other people’s opinions.
What I don’t love is the irreversibility of it all. I’ll never get to be 26 again, which is a shame. Being 26 was pretty kick-ass the first time around, but I think I could do it even better given a second chance, knowing what I know now.
Also? Not crazy about the physical aspects of turning 40. I am not enjoying the lines appearing around my eyes or the various sagging and loosening bits and pieces that will remain nameless. My husband attempts to reassure me that 40 is beautiful. "Look at Jennifer Aniston," he points out, "She looks better than ever." Surprisingly, I don’t find this as comforting as he does. That’s because I glance around me and, curiously, do NOT see a team of hair people, skin technicians, personal chefs, personal yoga instructors, etcetera, standing at the ready. If I had that kind of staff (and I had millions riding on my appearance, besides), I imagine I could look as good as Jen Aniston, too.
It’s not an easy thing. For women, so much of our identity is wrapped up in our appearance. For good or bad, that’s just the way it is. (See Catherine's lovely post on the meaning of beauty.) Clearly, I have to get okay with aging, or face decades of dissatisfaction and misery. The emphasis, little by little, has to come away from aesthetics, but it’s a delicate balancing act. It doesn’t mean I’m giving up. I’m not going to stop colouring my hair, for example. ("It will be a cold day in hell" is the phrase that springs to mind here.) But there are other lines I won't cross. Like cosmetic surgery. Thank you, but no.
So, if you’re like me—pushing into (cringe) middle age, working hard to embrace it, but not exactly willing to go quietly—here are my top tips for aging well:
1. Don’t smoke
I can pick out smokers, now, as they sit themselves down in my office. Mostly because I can look at their chart and see their birth date. If they look significantly older than their age, you can bet there’s smoking in their history. (Trying to quit? Here’s how.)
2. Stay out of the sun
Most people don’t realize that the majority of skin aging on your face and hands (wrinkles, dark spots, etc.) is due to accumulated sun exposure (photoaging), not to actual aging. True story, people. (If you’re avoiding the sun and concerned about vitamin D, read this.)
3. Use Retin-A (tretinoin) cream
It’s the single best thing that has been produced to fight the signs of aging on your skin. The proper stuff is only available by prescription, but the best news: it’s cheap.
4. Keep a healthy weight
It was the French actress Catherine Deneuve, I believe, who said: “After a certain age, a woman has to choose between her fanny and her face." Meaning, as you try to stay slim and maintain a trim rear-view, the unwanted side effects of your well-intentioned efforts can include a loss of facial plumpness, a hollowing-out of your cheeks, a sunken appearance under your eyes—not a youthful look. The trouble here is that fat is the very thing that plumps out facial lines and wrinkles . . . and bottoms. Still, I think you can have the best of both worlds if you aim for a healthy weight, with a little meat on your bones, and not a super-skinny weight.
5. Get enough sleep
They do not call it beauty sleep for nothing. When I was in my twenties, I’m pretty sure I looked fresh as a peach, whether I had pulled an all-nighter studying for a physics exam or whether I had indulged in a full 12-hour hibernation. Now? Not so much.
6. Wear sunglasses
Frowning and squinting into the sun all the time leads to what? You got it—frown lines and squint lines. Sunglasses have the dual effect of protecting the skin around your eyes from UV exposure and stopping you from doing all that squinting. Bonus: you get to look stylish and glam.
7. Smile and laugh a lot
That way, your facial lines end up in all the right places.
At least that’s what I’m telling myself, and that’s going to be my approach on my 40th birthday. Since it’s either that or ugly-cry my head off à la Meg Ryan. I’m going to opt for the celebration approach.
But not without the biggest glass of wine I can locate.