Right now, I'm 35 years old. It's basically the best thing ever. As was being 34. As was being 33. And so it goes, all the way back to about 29.
My 20s were, in many ways, absolutely miserable. I was broke and afraid to sit still and unhappy in my career, such as it was. People refused to take me seriously -- "Oh, you're just a BABY!" I heard it all the time at work.
Then I turned 30. I got married, got a book deal, got a different job. It wasn't overnight -- and it wasn't like there weren't good things in my late 20s (I swear, there were a few). Maybe it was more of a difference in me or maybe it was just as simple as finally having enough years in one field to finally do some interesting things. But my 30s marked two vastly important improvements:
- I had a lot more practice at not giving a shit what other people thought of me.
- I started working on some really interesting projects.
I do, in fact, suspect these two things are related.
(I also do think there's a certain irony behind folks sending the "it gets better message" in a culture that also tells kids your life is over after age 29. What, does it only get better until then? Bullshit.)
As afraid of 30 as people seem to be, 40 invokes even more terror. In fact, 2012 is apparently notable as the year a fear of looking old trumped a fear of looking fat. A blogger named Diane Miller faced her fears by documenting 40 with weekly self-portraits.
As you may have noticed, given my habit of writing about them, I'm a sucker for these sorts of self-reflection projects. There's often the comment that folks who indulge in them are self-absorbed, but, eh -- I'm hella vain so I don't mind.
On the one hand, I do totally get why so many people -- women especially -- are afraid of aging. I mean, we don't look like 19-year-old starlets, if we ever did at all. When women's social value is in large part predicated on their looks as a currency, aging quite literally means their worth declines.
Obviously, I think this is bullshit.
I got fat(ish) when I was 7 or 8 years old. I was still young enough that I hadn't fully bought into the whole compulsory beauty culture yet. Being a fat kid was sometimes hellish and it's not actually a cakewalk (heh) as an adult some days either, mostly because hell is other people.
But I think sometimes that being a fat kid did me a favor. I was fat, so no one was ever going to love me. So I didn't feel compelled to keep up with the things that women are "supposed" to do in order to make themselves attractive.
As a very fat indeed adult, I'm still never going to be anywhere near attaining the cultural beauty standard (which is sometimes a relief), so aging is just another check mark on the list of reasons why I don't have to play those games. It frees me up to wear what I like and craft a presentation that makes me happy. Mainstream fashion is only tangentially relevant to me -- but I do like style.
And so I find myself reading blogs about style, rather than about fashion.
It started with Ephemera, written by a woman named Sheila. She's been doing capsule wardrobes for the past year, really circling in on what makes her style belong to her. She also does a whole lot of thrifting and is doing a lot of thinking about ethical shopping -- which for her means buying secondhand but also from Canadian companies, particularly local ones.
The ethics of consumerism is a really huge topic, and I absolutely love that the conversation is taking place in a blog that is not overtly political at all. It's just a conversation about shopping.
Sheila often brings up her weight loss, which I mention solely as a warning for folks who can't read about weight loss at this point. I sometimes roll my eyes because I really am more interested in the fashion, but her Fluevog collection and dressy approach to Casual Friday keep me going back.
I don't read Already Pretty (though many people love her) on anything resembling a regular basis, but I wound up over there one day because of a link to a blog called the Fashionable Bureaucrat. I was super excited by the way Megan plays with lengths and proportions. She's the reason I'm currently obsessing over culottes (which Vogue has declared are back in) paired with interesting footwear.
Of course, now that culottes are back in style, I can't find a pair in size FAT. Poor Ed is tired of hearing about my quest for culottes, y'all.
Then I wound up reading over at Butane Anvil. This is the point at which I realized I have fallen into a vortex of fashion blogs written by Canadian women who are all over 40. Amber talks not only about the ethics of shopping but also about the mechanics of blogging about clothes and how that impacts her thoughts about clothing. She talks about the different needs that different outfits serve, too, which is something that often gets forgotten when we talk about style -- how something is going to feel if we're in a meeting all day versus the things we wear when we're just having a bad day.
Also, there are sometimes pictures of chickens. And chickens are awesome.
I headed over to Bag and a Beret on purpose, because at this point I was really happy rolling around in style inspiration. Melanie is an artist and her clothing reflects that. From her blog, I finally left Canada and found Helga von Trollop. That's where I'm sitting now, as a matter of fact, before deciding what blog to explore next.
So, here's one of my theories. And it's not MY theory in particular. It's more a theory I subscribe to. The things that we see the most, the things we're surrounded by -- those things become normal. Some people refer to this as desensitization and talk about it in negative terms, but really the process of things becoming "normal" because of our constant exposure to them applies to everything. When something stands out from that norm, we tend to judge it (as a society and as individuals) more harshly than we judge the things that we're used to.
This is where people always namecheck Helen Mirren, but if there's one or two women who are the exception, well. They're still an exception. (I'm looking at you, Meryl Streep. You're fabulous.)
We just don't see women over 40 all that often. A lot of people, because we do live in a very age-segregated society, don't know many people in significantly different age groups either. I mean, when you don't have anything to counter cultural messages about aging, no wonder it's scary.
I do have friends in their 40s and they are amazing. Hanging out with them and looking at these blogs, written by women who dress how they want and have fun doing it, reminds me that, yeah, the longer we're alive, the more practice we have at being ourselves. I love being the age I am right now but I can't be afraid of what is to come -- there are too many good examples in front of me demonstrating how very great it can be.
The blogs I've found aren't perfect. All of these women are in straight sizes -- and some of them are very thin indeed. There's not a lot of body diversity. They're all white and they're all able-bodied and they all seem very middle class. I want there to be more variety, more examples for more people -- more reflections of more futures.
It's a place to start but there's so much further to go. Which is true of life in general -- yes, that's the sappiest thing I've said all week.
Do you read any style blogs from women over 40 who aren't white, middle-class Canadians? How do you feel about your next birthday and the ones after that? Do you think life gets more interesting as we get older?
Marianne is aging on Twitter: @The Rotund.