50 means freedom

I crossed some sort of self-acceptance threshold this morning on the way to work, as I stepped out the door and down the sidewalk, and happened to look down, and realized, oh horror of horrors, I was wearing high-waters. The sting of merciless teasing for the same offense in the 5th grade, when my growth rate exceeded my mother’s willingness to buy me new pants, came rocketing forth from my subconscious.

But a blink later, I realized…  I really don’t give a shit. Those nasty 5th graders can kiss my fat, old ass.

I kept on walking, high-waters and all, because it seemed less bothersome than going back and changing. This is a seismic psychological shift from a mere 10 years ago, when there was no way, no how, I’d even have toyed with the notion of stepping out in public with my sensible gray socks peeking out from between the top of my sensible black walking shoes and the bottom of my fashionably flared (yet sensible) black stretchy yoga pants. The above the ankle flare pants are oh so original-Star-Trek-series ago.

What a difference a decade makes. In my 40s, I’d have been horrified to let people in on the secret that only my walls and my cats know: I’m a dork. And not in that new, sexy, chic way. I mean in the old 1960s teased-on-the-schoolbus-for-high-waters way. You might not know it to look at me. But in the safety of my own home? If it’s reasonably clean and doesn’t twist, spindle or bind my flesh in any way, I’ll put it on, even if it’s green plaid and and red and purple stripes. Comfort is blind. But I’d never pass through the front door like that. Clearly, in the decade since, something happened: I turned 50. I didn’t realize it at the time I was lamenting the end of my 40s, but I get it now: 50 means freedom.

I remember the exact moment when freedom first rang. I was mowing the lawn one sweaty summer day in hot pink shorts that were two sizes two small (and not in a good way), a threadbare Corona beer T-shirt, ratty old Birkenstocks and a white visor stained with wine rings (no, I don’t know how they got there, but I’ll assume I had fun) and no bra (again, not in a good way) and – I just didn’t care. The neighbors might see me? Oh well. Some teenaged boy passing by might get grossed out? Oh well. Teenage boys kind of gross me out, so let’s call it even.

And it felt good. Enticingly good.

That was my first little epiphany that simply not caring about anyone else’s opinion of how I happened to be packaged that day is truly liberating. Particularly when you’re an average American woman who’s been saturated since childhood with a standard of physical perfection that can’t be attained without Photoshop, but nonetheless, propelled by chronic self-loathing, keeps chasing that size 6 on a stick anyway.

And by the way – size 6 is considered obese by Hollywood standards.

Fuck you, Hollywood

Since that day of lawnmowin’ like I just don’t care, there’ve been other little nudges down the freedom trail. Days I unapologetically wore sweats to the grocery store. Or skipped washing my hair because it’s too cold, and my hair’s too dry anyway, and why DO I “need” to wash my hair everyday, and aren’t banana clips just fabulous. I can slick my hair back in a clip, slap on some red lipstick and look just like an aging Robert Palmer music video model who no longer fears cheeseburgers. If I can manage to look bored enough.


So, there I was this morning, embracing the peculiar notion that I just really didn’t care what people might think about my lack of attention to fashion detail, and just reveling in finally hitting that tipping point. But I also wondered why it felt so good. How is 53 different than 43? Well, for one thing, about 50 pounds. But it was more than that. Estrogen — or lack thereof? Oh, most definitely that’s impacted my attitude and perspectives. But it was something more.

I kept digging through the layers of motivation, and realized that at that particular moment in time, I really didn’t care if I looked sexy. Nobody would even think about doing the horizontal hula with me today. Bingo. Like everything else, when you get down to it, it’s all about sex. Take sex off the table, and suddenly you can exhale. Particularly because you’re in black, stretchy yoga pants and not your tightest blue jeans.

I thought about the incredible energy and effort I put in to look sexy at 43, because the possibility of even pulling that off was beginning to sunset. I could see it on the horizon. And trust me, it took a lot of work. Why DID I pour all that effort into trying to look 25? Of course: sex! At 43, I still wanted to look like sex might actually still be possible. And I succeeded. I even got called a “MILF” one day. I didn’t know what that was. When I asked my son, he demanded to know who said it so he could go punch him. I dunno, some random guy. Nevermind. I googled it later. I wasn’t insulted. Not at all. I took it as a compliment!

But 53 is another story. I’m not a MILF anymore, but apparently not a GILF either. But the beauty of it is that I don’t really care if I look sexy to anyone except to my husband, who frustratingly puts zero effort into looking sexy, but just gets sexier with each gray hair.

You see, there’s a threshold most people cross, except for the tragically sexy like George Clooney and Angelina Jolie, when your potential as a sexual partner plummets, and it hits you that, wow, nobody wants to have sex with you anymore (because “Harold and Maude” was, after all, a movie). It’s a little sad and disorienting at first. But the trade-off, as you’re walking down the sidewalk in Star Trek yoga pants and sensible shoes, is that it suddenly hits you — what a relief! I can stop chasing 25! Or 35, or 45, even. I can rest. Relax. Just be the age that I am, in my own skin, comfortable and satisfied just to be alive, healthy and happy. And if nobody wants to have sex with me today, oh well. Frankly, I probably don’t want to have sex with them either. In your 50s, it would just be ugly and awkward, and frankly, just the mental image is unnerving.

But don’t misunderstand me. Not caring if I look sexy is not the same thing as not caring if I have sex. I still care. But only if it’s with the guy who’s still turned on by a 53 year old woman in Star Trek pants.

What lovely irony – the only one who I actually care about attracting is the one who’s uninterested in how I happened to be packaged that day.

Yes, at 53, I can finally exhale. For a lot of reasons.

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