For more than half my life, I considered 40 to be old. It didn’t help that the media only ever showcased women at the pinnacle of “youth”, or that brands sold us every product under the sun to help us hold onto our “glory days” or that movies only ever portrayed women of a certain age to be in their prime, or that culture boxed and shelved us once we were past a certain age – and that furthermore, we were resigned to live out the rest of our existence in the shadow because we were ripe, old and beyond what is considered ready for the plucking. It didn’t help that my grandmother died in her early 40’s or that my mother spent a large portion of her life fearing that 40 signalled the end. For more than half my life I considered 40 to be old, that it was something to fear, that it was something to fight against, that this natural progression of life was undesirable, that youth; even though so fleeting; was the ultimate destination. For nearly half my life, I considered 40 to be old, because this was the narrative I was sold.
In my 20’s, and at the epitome of youth and what was supposed to be considered my glory days, I got married and was suddenly saddled up with babies. Tied down by responsibilities. Navigating the labyrinth that is motherhood and marriage. Fulfilling the checklist of success that society had structured for me. By societal standards, my life would’ve been measured as successful. But by the same society’s standards, I would have been expected to bow out and fade into the distance by the time I reached 30.
For many generations, 30 signified the end of youth and the start of the inevitable march toward old age. It was greeted with fear – especially if you hadn’t fulfilled any of society’s checklists. You had to start worrying more and more about an anti-aging regime and you were told to desperately cling onto youth at all costs. By 30, a woman was expected to be many things to many people except be her own person – whether you were a slave to culture, or pop culture, you were still enslaved by a system that revered youth – but for me it felt like I was finally freeing myself from the shackles of society’s expectations.
Thirty, for me, was liberating. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t young enough, desirable enough or relevant enough by society’s standards. It only mattered that I was being true and authentic to myself, that I was breaking through the barriers of limitation that was boxing me in, fighting against the status quo that my culture created to keep me at bay, and climbing the ladder of self-growth on my own terms. Throughout my thirties I chipped away at the very walls that tried to cage me in; until eventually, I edged closer to 40…closer the number that everyone thought would signal the end…closer to completely breaking free.
And now, I sit atop the very hill I was groomed my whole life to fear. The hill that is midlife. And I didn’t come all this way…overcome all those obstacles, just for society to tell me it’s game over for me.
If the 30’s was liberating, then the 40’s gives you the opportunity to truly embrace the privilege of that liberation. Once you reach this midway milestone, you realise that the yardstick of life is only getting shorter. That the days ahead are less than the days behind you. That self acceptance and self assurance are your two best friends. Everything gains a better perspective. Right now, life is literally too short to live a life you don’t want. Living becomes more purposeful. Action, more deliberate. Movement, more freeing. Every intention, more meaningful. Life after 40 is no longer about fitting in. Not at all about conforming. It becomes about truly living. Once you’ve fought through your 20’s and 30’s; the 40’s can only be described as a meadow that bares the flowers of your toil.
Slowly, there are more and more people are standing up against this unattainable preservation of youth. There seems to be a bit more acceptance, representation and embracement of life beyond 40 – the fine lines, the greys and joys of fluctuating hormones – and if we didn’t feel like we were being represented before, we certainly are a bit better represented now. Besides older women in mainstream media becoming more celebrated and gaining more acknowledgement and recognition; women in our own culture have left a blazing trail of their own. They are no longer satisfied with playing supportive roles in a patriarchal system. They are pushing back against a system that prefers them to be docile and subservient, stepping out of the shadows and are achieving monumental things of their own.
Women are doing amazing things in their 40’s! They are getting married at 40. Having babies at 40. Starting over at 40. Leaving marriages that don’t fulfil them. Working on their bodies. Going back to study. Starting businesses. Building empires. Waving goodbye to things that no longer serve them and living their best and most fruitful lives. They are taking up space and celebrating themselves in a society that never really acknowledged and celebrated them before. And they are changing the narrative of women over 40 for the generations to come.
For more than half my life I considered 40 to be old and that it signalled the beginning of the end. But now that I am here I have realised that 40 isn’t the end…it is only the beginning. It’s when things finally start coming together.
Thanks for reading!