What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
My birthday isn't until September, so maybe I'm jumping the gun a little bit, getting exciting about turning 37 this year. It's just that I'm kind of superstitious and I like odd numbers better than even numbers and 3s and 7s are basically amazing, even if together they add up to 10. That's not the WORST even number, after all.Also, 37 feels like the first year I can really legit claim that I am ALMOST 40, which seems like a super grown-up age, maybe the one where people finally stop assuming I'm way younger than I am.As with anything, there are things about growing older that kind of suck (all-nighters are just not a thing I can do without feeling it anymore and I've paid more attention to fiber this year than I have ever before in my whole life) -- but I think those things are balanced out by how AWESOME it is to be old.I'm saying it "old" because, damn, there seems once again to be this cultural perception that anything outside of your 20s is decrepit and ancient and on the verge of death because how could life even be worth living? (Which is obviously ridiculous because people who are actually old are also awesome.) I get that, I guess -- we DO live in a mega youth-obsessed culture where hot commodities are all, like, 19 years old.
And so a lot of people -- especially woman-identified people -- want to cling to that youth, that sense of being at the center of culture, important and relevant and maybe even a little powerful.(If you aren't familiar with that Ladytron song "Seventeen," please go and Google it. I'll wait. Actually, nevermind leaving -- I'll include it here.)
But, y'all, I gotta tell you -- being culturally irrelevant is the best thing that's ever happened to me.Let me begin by disclaiming: I mean, I'm partnered up and I'm earning a living even if I'm not, like, fiscally SECURE the way I'm told I should be by my age. I at least have something I'd consider a career. If I were partnerless and broke and directionless, I think I'd definitely be feeling more stressed.I also think, though, most of that stress would be sourced in cultural expectation. Which is totally bogus.There are two main things going on in my head, the older I get. The first is that I have so much more practice at being myself -- I know what I like and what I want and have a pretty good handle on not just my capabilities but also my flaws. The other is that I have so much less willingness to let other people push me around.
I care so much less about unimportant BS.I mean, it is so hard to fight against the weight of mainstream culture, and it's even harder when you're smack in the middle of targeted messaging. The most pleasant surprise ever has been how much easier it has gotten as I've progressed through my 30s.And THAT is where I truly feel powerful. Because I'm not dependent on the approval of whoever is judging me at any given moment. Working in fat acceptance totally gave me a leg up on this action, by really cementing that my personal worth is not dependent on many of the youth-culture markers of success. That gave me the chance to really feel comfortable in my own identity, to embrace it and know who I am before I started to feel like I was being edged out of the cultural relevance game.
Here's a thing that's great: trends aren't such a big thing -- nor is my practical experience of not having access to them as a fat person. These days, I'm more concerned with cementing my personal style. I AM just as worked up about plus size clothing needing to be diverse and accessible, but it's not because I HAVE to have whatever is the new hotness at the moment lest I be judged lacking by my peers. It's because I want everyone to have options. There's also the job situation -- at this age, I've been in the workforce long enough to have more than 10 years of experience in my chosen field. That's not everything, not by a long shot. But at this point, I have enough objective evidence of my own capabilities to maybe possibly shake off some of that Imposter Syndrome that's been plaguing me since college.And now, let's talk about sex and attraction. So many of us base our self-worth on where we fall on the bangability scale. And that just seems like a recipe for disaster if we aren't 16-year-old fashion models.It seems like an extra disaster if we aren't white and thin and middle class and able bodied -- the scale is not designed to be inclusive.
Things get weirder in the dating and sex arena when you get older -- there's no denying that. But as someone who never thought I'd be partnered up anyway, I find myself caring less and less about what would happen if I ever found myself single again.
That's because I find myself less and less in need of other people for validation of any sort -- I don't need to look my best 100% of the time; sometimes things are more important than how a rando stranger at the 7-11 reacts to me when I'm just there for emergency milk. My presentation is a lot more for my own enjoyment and benefit -- and if someone doesn't like it, then that's a whole lot more their problem than it is mine.
There's no way I could have managed this in my 20s. And there's probably a fair few folks who are shaking their head at me like I'm justifying "letting myself go" or whatever folks are calling it these days when you stop working so hard to conform to an arbitrary standard of what good and proper personhood is supposed to look like.
But the truth is that without the pressure of all that social messaging, I take better care of myself now. I am happier and calmer. I work toward things that are gratifying to me -- BECAUSE they are gratifying, not because I've been told they're what I should be going after. I'm more open to finding my own definition of success and happiness because I've got more practice turning down society's volume.
I'm not entirely exempt from social messaging -- now it's more a constant barrage of how important it is to grasp at youth, to fend off wrinkles and grey hair and also how I should have bought a house and had kids by now. It's just easier to tune that out and do what I want -- which is to keep on living and figuring it out.