In mid-January, I will turn 40. I can’t quite believe it, mostly because I still feel like I’m far too inexperienced and naive to be that age … but I’m pleased to report that I’m not feeling panicked or upset or sad. It’s disbelief, really. I just can’t believe I’ve been alive that long.
40 is definitely a turning point, and I have a massive party planned and some occasion-marking activities in the coming months to celebrate. But I’ve also taken note of a few attitudes and behaviors specific to style and self-care that have already begun to shift as I enter my fifth decade.
I don’t have time for uncomfortable shoes
I was late to the high heel game, wearing nothing but flats until about age 29. And now I feel pretty done with heels after only a decade! As I shifted my style toward a more casual/edgy look, I found I had little need for my collection of pumps and began selling them off. I hung onto a few pairs, expecting them to come in handy for fancy events. Then I wore a pair to a fancy event that involved walking a block or so, plus a bit of standing around, and MY FEET WERE SO ANGRY. Apparently any heel-related tolerance I’d built up during my 30s had evaporated. And the pain was excruciating – even in a pair of long-trusted Clarks heels. Bah!
After that night, I culled out every pair I knew to be even mildly uncomfortable and sold or donated them all. I will grudgingly keep my black and leopard pumps because I know I’ll need them on occasion, but all other pairs have been banished. Now, nearly all my shoes are either flats or smallish block heels. And I’m much happier.
Pumps are sexy. They make my legs look amazing. There are certain outfits that only look right when worn with pumps. But 99% of the time, I just can’t force myself to care anymore. I refuse to make my feet miserable for the sake of aesthetics. (To be totally honest, I still wear a handful of clothes that aren’t completely comfortable. I can handle a slightly squeeze-y waistband or stiff shoulder construction, but I’ve realized that I absolutely cannot stand foot pain. It turns me into a big baby. A big, complain-y, almost-40-year-old baby.)
I finally see grooming practices as nourishing self-care
I’ve always bought into the idea that “pampering” your body can improve your relationship with it. It’s so easy to take our physical selves for granted, and spending time, money, and energy to show our bodies love is a very direct route to expressing self-respect. So I understood why bubble baths and deep-tissue massages got lumped into the self-care category of activities.
But grooming? Grooming was a chore. Right up there with washing the dishes and cleaning the litterbox. Keeping my body clean and healthy was akin to getting my car’s oil changed: Necessary, but dull. And a bit of a time-suck.
Then I tinkered around with a multi-step skincare routine on a lark, and found that I loved it. Taking half an hour to wash my face every night became a ritual, something to savor instead of dread. Then regular pedicures came into my life, and I saw how good it felt to do things that made my body feel happy, healthy, and cared-for. I mean things beyond drinking lots of water and doing lots of cardio. This body is my home, and everything I do to care for it makes it a more welcoming, enjoyable place to be.
I am totally susceptible to anti-aging propaganda
It hurts to admit this, but it’s true. Although I feel emotionally detached from the idea of turning 40, I must not actually BE completely detached because wrinkle creams and laser procedures keep calling out to me. I haven’t done anything beyond nightly applications of a retinoid … but so many of my girlfriends have already tinkered with Botox, it’s started to seem almost normal. Not quite, but almost. Although I’ve been tempted, I don’t want to go down that path. At least in part because it seems like a never-ending path that drags you into trying more creams, procedures, and surgeries the longer you follow it. This article in Allure – flawed, objectifying, and cliched as it is – offered an alternative perspective on the new generation of women who “don’t age” due to medical/medi-spa advances. And it’s been floating around in my brain ever since, making me think twice about ponying up for anything stronger than ROC. But I must admit I’ve felt the pull. Never thought that would happen, but it certainly has.
I’m wearing things I’ve always secretly wanted to wear
I know that sounds like I’m saying I’ve been holding myself back for decades, masquerading as someone else, denying my authentic self. That is NOT the case, I assure you. I loved wearing loads of embellished Boden stuff. And then I loved dressing in full skirts and cardigans in wild colors. And now I love dressing edgy/casual, aiming for neutral badass and sometimes ending up in post-apocalyptic art gallery owner territory. But my love for my current style runs deep because it’s a style I admired and coveted for myself for years before I finally embraced it.
My style evolution is directly linked to my tendency to be a slow learner. First, I had to learn that I wasn’t bound by law to wear what everyone else was wearing. Then I had to learn what looked good on my body. Then I had to figure out how to create a wardrobe of things that looked good on my body and aligned with my taste. Then I had to understand enough about clothes in general and my figure in particular to retro-fit certain clothing styles that weren’t supposed to look good on me so that they did. I’m there now. And I stumble and I experiment and I end up trying outfits and garments that my heart yearns to wear even though some of them look horrendous. But I’m getting closer. And I’m feeling happier.
Partially because my look is aligned with my current state of mind, with this iteration of my inner self. Partially because I am excited to have a wardrobe of pieces that all work together. (Almost.) Partially because I’ve always wanted to be braver and stronger, and dressing tough and edgy helps me feel braver and stronger. Not run-into-a-burning-building braver or lift-a-small-car stronger. But speak up when people are being racist assholes braver and go back to doing Tae Kwon Do after a 20-year break stronger.
None of my realizations are groundbreaking, but they feel new to me. I’m looking forward to seeing how living through my 40s shapes and shifts my self-image and personal style. Here’s hoping it’ll be as transformative and rewarding as the 30s I’m leaving behind!