To me it seems that the spectrum of who and what we are supposed to be as we age is presented as very black and white—cut your hair, put away the miniskirts, eat kale. The juicy middle gets ignored, and I’m not talking about muffin tops. I’m talking about the fact that we don’t turn 40 and immediately become one-dimensional, resting-bitch-face old hags. I’m talking about the gray area in which we women get better: Maybe we cuss a little more. We definitely have more sex. We try on ridiculous lipstick. We grow into ourselves.
I remember being at work with a group of women about 10 years ago, all of us in our 30s and working in an after-school program with troubled kids. We all came from very different backgrounds—a few were married, I was newly engaged, and none of us had kids. We were levelheaded, driven, and passionate. Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” had just come out, and it came on in the office one day. We slowly began to move with it, until a woman named Julie blurted, “I may be too old for the Top 40 station, but I love this song.” Everyone agreed with her sentiment. But I couldn’t stop thinking about that moment. I got hung up on the idea that we can be “too old” for music. Really? Since when?
Aren’t there some things that defy age limits and just hit us right in the sexy bone? I have a T-shirt—it’s nothing special, but there’s something about the cut of the neckline and the way the fabric runs diagonally that when I put it on, it just hustles over to highlight all the right spots. Even on a crap day, it makes me feel gorgeous.
There are other things too, things I maybe didn’t notice when I was younger and too focused on everything I believed was wrong with me. Here are just a few of the things that make me feel gorgeous that have nothing to do with age:
1. A Crisp White Shirt
It doesn’t matter if it’s a white T-shirt or a button-down, but for me, something about growing up in the time of Ralph Lauren and Bruce Springsteen makes a white shirt a symbol for sexy, rumpled fun and classic, easy style.
2. My Favorite Jeans
A few years ago I bought a pair of jeans that were unreasonably priced, but I had some extra money, and I couldn’t get over how incredible I felt when I put them on. So I bought them. They were slightly distressed, and the pockets sat in just the right spot in back so that they were a perfect fit without trying too hard. Over time, the distressing has worn into holes, and wearing these jeans scratches my child of the ’80s, Bon Jovi-loving, Cindy Crawford-idolizing, wannabe-video-girl itch.
3. The Black Crowes’ ‘Hard to Handle’
This song does it for me every time. “Hey little thing let me light your candle cause’a mama I’m so hard to handle, yes I am!” I always get the words a little bit wrong, but it doesn’t stop me from scrunching up my nose, tossing my head, and singing out loud. I’ll never be too old for this song.
4. A Good Hair Day
I’m not ashamed to say that those days when it all just works, whether it’s a few strands of hair that curl under my chin, or unexpected curls that don’t quit, it puts a positive spin on everything.
5. Painted Toenails
They don’t even have to be from a salon. Looking down at my silver or red toenails makes me feel amazing, because it means I took the time to focus on myself in a way that only really matters to me. It’s not buying a new top that other people will see, not a skin serum or jewelry; it’s just a colorful wink on my feet.
6. Next-Day Looks
I had a roommate in college who said that the day following a night when you had sex, your hair would look great. I don’t know if that was really true, but it was something we always talked about. Now next-day looks has a whole other meaning: it’s the secret, satisfied looks my husband and I give each other the day after. Cutting through all the impediments to and reasons for not having sex and actually having it leads to some pretty sweet next-day looks.
There are certain things that make us feel sexy and beautiful and fulfilled no matter what our age. And there are some things we will never outgrow. Regardless, one thing I know for sure is that I’m not going to let society determine what is or isn’t “age-appropriate” for me. I have to admit, though, I am learning to love a nice kale smoothie.