A year ago, when the calendar flipped round to March for the thirty-ninth time in my life, I started thinking of myself as forty to give myself a year to get used to the idea. Whenever people asked how old I was I'd say I was forty, with increasing confidence and defiance as the year wore on and the D-Day b-day approached.
It didn't work. Despite being in sunny Spain on 31st March this year, I awoke on the morn of my fortieth birthday feeling a tad....dare I say it.....OLD.
It was as if the Grim Reaper had stood at the foot of my bed in the night, chuckling with glee as he decided not to actually take me, not yet, but just to wave his scythe around a bit and carve a few new deep creases around my eyes.
On that momentous day I woke with a jolt, stumbled bleary-eyed to the mirror and inspected my obviously 40-year-old face in the bright early-morning Spanish sunlight. Ouch! Not only did I have those new 'laughter lines' (I don't know about you, but I don't see anything remotely funny here), but I also had 'pillow face' whereby the once-bouncy cheeks now take a while to return to their smooth state after a restless night's sleep (did I mention that insomnia kicks in around this age?). Oh, and my chest was looking a tad crepey too.
"What the....?" I said aloud to my concerned reflection, jumping in the shower in a vain attempt to steam away some of the creases. Was it my imagination, or did my make-up seem to be making me look older today, the peach-toned Polyfiller gathering like cement in the nasolabial folds despite taking extra care when applying it.
My year of pre-forty pep-talking had failed.
Of course, I don't feel forty. I don't think anyone really feels their age. This is why, working in the beauty industry as I do, I'm confronted on a daily basis by crinkly fifty-year-olds excitedly asking me the question every skincare consultant dreads:
"How old do you think I am?"
Instinctively, I take off ten years, add another couple, take one off again then tentatively say:
The customer beams with pride as she loudly announces "I'm fifty-two."
Personally, I'd have pitched her at around the fifty-five mark, but I allow her the glory, acknowledging the boost it provides when someone, particularly another woman, chucks another credit in your age-o-meter.
Although we all recognise the tell-tale signs whilst pondering our reflections: the lines, the thinning hair, the sparse brows - we tend to skim over these giveaways of our advancing years because on the inside we are still eighteen years old, nervously chewing our nails as we await our A-level results or dancing without a care in the world on a podium in Ibiza.
The outer shell may be changing more quickly than I'd like, but deep down I'm still the risk-taking, fun-loving girl I always was: a self-conscious seething mass of emotions - albeit now cunningly concealed with a bolshie dose of bravado.
Naturally, age and experience has brought wisdom, cynicism and a dry, wry sense of humour, but underneath I'm still the lanky schoolgirl wondering if anyone will ask me to the prom. I regularly give myself the third degree, harshly asking myself if I'm doing the right thing/am I a good boss/a lousy friend? - burning questions that reverberate around my monkey mind at 3am on a wet weekday morning. By and large though, us grown-up gals know who we are and what we want, and we aren't afraid to go out and get it.
It's a well-known fact that women of a certain age wear a cloak of invisibility. As a twenty-year-old, wolf whistles and cheeky car horn toots are a regular annoyance, tolerated with rolling eyes. At forty, we're almost grateful to receive them. "Still got it!" we say to ourselves, with a smile and a flick of the hair.
As a six foot blonde, admiring glances haven't ceased altogether (not yet!) but I occasionally catch a flicker of disappointment when a randy young lad realises upon closer inspection that I'm probably the same age as his mother.
Some women describe a sense of relief at their new-found invisibility, no longer feeling the need to constantly fiddle with their appearance. Not me! I want to be glamorous until the bitter end, groomed to perfection until I draw my last weak breath from a shakily-applied lipsticked mouth. Even if the teeth are not all my own.
Some say age is nothing but a number, merely a state of mind. I say let's get in a state, then we won't mind. Being a sozzled old soak may not be a good look, but boy does a glass of Sauvignon take the edge off a tough day...and when I gawp goggled-eyed into the mirror in the Ladies of the swanky rooftop bar, it miraculously takes the edge off the wrinkles too. Cheers to champers! I'll be quite happy to grow old disgracefully, Patsy from Ab Fab style.
Having a younger boyfriend certainly helps and fear ye not single girls! There are no shortage of fit fellas seeking out a sexy middle-aged cougar. I'm not ready for a guy who likes to lounge in front of the telly with his pipe, slippers and a faithful beagle at his feet. No siree! Give me a hot young action man any day of the week.
A close-knit group of mates is also essential - many of whom I've been bosom buddies with since we started secondary school. Somehow they all still speak to me, which is miraculous in itself, since I'm not exactly known for my tact and reticence...
Throw in owning a modest home, a job I enjoy and a handful of family members and that's all the ingredients I need to swerve a crisis. (And besides, I already had a mid-life meltdown a few years ago).
When I say you feel the same inside at 40 as 20, that's not strictly true. Try spending an evening with a load of twenty-year-olds. You'll soon change your mind. Although the changes may be subtle and you'll always retain some of your youthful ways, at 40 you're a fierce and fiery lioness not merely a pretty kitten. Mess with us at your peril!
In my teens I was on a journey of self-discovery, my twenties were wild partying mixed with occasional property purchasing. The thirties were about marriage followed by a miserable quest for motherhood before tearing everything up and starting my life all over again.
Now, with a fresh new decade stretching ahead of me like an open road, I'm ready to pack my bags, travel as far and wide as my bank balance and holiday entitlement will allow, and embrace the future with gratitude. With the awareness that I've passed the halfway mark in my life (probably quite a while ago, let's be honest), every day is a blessing and I intend to grab every opportunity and live every day as if it were my last. Because let's face it, it soon will be.
Of course, we could vow to give up all the naughty-but-fun stuff, but you won't necessarily live longer, it'll just feel like it.
So buy the heels, drink the bubbles, spluge the savings...it's time to get naughty at forty, ladies!
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