The Good Life
with a Southern Drawl

This Is 40: An Achievement Not A Punishment

By Amy Bailey — May 12, 2021

I HAVE 40 years. J’ai quarant ans. If you translate ‘I am 40 years old’ to French that is the translation. There is no ‘old’ at the end, the phrase is ‘I HAVE 40 years’. Isn’t it beautiful? And isn’t it more correct than our American translation which implies getting old and the loss of time? I began taking French classes and that is one thing I learned that immediately brought tears to my eyes. I HAVE 40 years.

We often think of time as passing us by. As we drove through Provence passed fields of lavender and poppies, rows of grapevines and olive trees I wondered if maybe we were just looking at it wrong. Maybe instead of thinking of time as something that we lose, maybe we should think of it as something we collect. With every passing day, with every memory, with every birthday, we are gathering more time in our basket. We are collecting moments that will become a part of us. With every lavender field, every vineyard, every sunset and sunrise, every new face, every laugh, every cry we are collecting moments. Time goes by, but what a beautiful thing to collect such memories and build a life.

Recently, I was walking along 60th Street in New York City with a friend when this woman appeared – slender, white hair, dressed to the nines in what looked like 4 inch heels. She was quite old, how old we could not tell, but our guess was 80s or possibly 90s. We stood there staring in awe as if we were watching an endangered species, like one of those flowers that only blooms once in its lifetime. (It is called the Queen of the Andes and it only blooms when the plant reaches an age of about 80 to 100 years old.) She looked like an angel and in that moment I felt how beautiful it must be to be a vibrant, healthy 80 year old.

It was around 39 years old that I began to have a change in perspective. After listening to the same ole tired played out phrases like ‘Lordy Lordy so-so is 40’ and ‘Oh God I can’t believe I’m going to be 40’ and ‘We are so old’, I stopped, looked around at my life and thought to myself, “This feels pretty awesome, what is all the complaining about?” I felt such a deep gratitude for everything in my life that it seemed absurd to look at getting older as some type of punishment. I started talking to my friends and mentors that were 40 and older and again and again I was told, “Your 40s are wonderful, you’ll see.” And as I looked at their faces I noticed something that before youth had blinded me from seeing – I saw a certain strength, wisdom and grace that evades youth. I realized that the most beautiful, the most confident, the most admired women I know are all 40 and beyond and they are incredible. And for the first time in my life I realized that getting older certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, but that’s where the really good stuff in life is. I felt like I had been told the secret to infinite youth and it wasn’t to stay young at all, it is to age, to truly see the beauty in the world around you, it is the wisdom to understand what ‘living’ really means.

As I sat in the Bergdorf’s shoe department in October, I looked around and noticed what seems to be a new sub species of women – they all resemble each other. You can tell they are older but how old is hard to say. They are blonde, very high cheek bones, puffy lips and their skin looks as if you touched it might just mold like play-doh. I think about the harsh critical way I look at my own face, wrinkles due to laughing and grief, pigmentation that wasn’t there a year ago, and I empathize greatly with the battle these women have taken on, fighting for their youth. But I can’t help but question these odd standards we are holding ourselves to in order to look wrinkle free. I wish I could tell you that it’s all nonsense, but this nonsense affects me too.

Right now I am in a battle with my own face, it’s like Custer’s Last Stand, and guess who’s Custer?!?! Armed with lasers, creams, and needles and a truly wonderful dermatologist, some days I feel like I’m going slightly insane, I’m hallucinating, and I’m going to lose. It just happens so fast, I do not AT ALL want to go back to be being that 25 year old or even 35 year old, but it would have been nice to know, “Hey this is the pinnacle of your youthful beauty – enjoy it!” Like in the same way I wish I would have known when I was having the last long conversation with my grandmother or how I wish I would have known it was the last year my daughter would look a like a little girl before she began looking like a teenager. It just would have been nice to know so I could savor the moment. They say youth is wasted on the wrong people, it’s true. If I could tell my younger self one thing it would be, “Stop worrying so much, you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. You are a beautiful, smart soul but you will make mistakes and it will be ok, in fact the mistakes will help you become the woman you are today. Sit and listen to the older women in your family, they have beautiful stories, they have wisdom and they won’t be around forever. Enjoy yourself, pursue your passions, avoid distractions, seek peace and write!”

What I do know is there is a lie being spread to women and it is this – that aging should be feared. Yes I have wrinkles I did not used to have and sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder where did that young girl go – but my oh my the things that are better. I feel better than ever, I feel so comfortable in who I am, I am in the best shape of my life, my brain feels like a sponge that wants to absorb more than ever before, and I feel such gratitude and such peace in my heart. I think 40 may be the best kept secret on this planet, and at 50 I hope I feel the same way.

I asked several women I admire what they thought about aging and I hope you will enjoy their answers as much as I did:

“I recently lost my mother to Alzheimer’s, and it was so hard to watch what she went through. After losing her, I decided to take control of what I could. I truly believe it has everything to do with your point of view and frame of mind. If you choose acceptance, choose happiness and choose to live your best life then you are ahead of the game. I will say that time becomes so important! I don’t waste any of mine anymore and live life to the fullest.” – Moll Anderson, New York Times Bestseller and Lifestyle & Color Expert

“There is a misconception about getting older, getting older is wonderful.” – Annie Leibovitz, Award Winning Photographer

“We hear it over and over but do we really think about what these words convey- with age comes wisdom. Maybe it’s a combination of the mistakes we’ve made, the efforts we go through to right a wrong, the fear of stepping out, the regret of not taking a step or a stand, the time we’ve wasted on the unimportant things in life…If I could tell myself of 40 years ago anything it would be to slow down, to think about my words and deeds before I acted or committed and to spend my “volunteer hours” with my own family first. So many of us have given so much to others that we often fail to realize that those who need us the most are sometimes the ones to whom we give the least. Our time, uninterrupted and often unstructured, is what matters most. So next Saturday morning, put away your electronics, turn off the television, cook up some bacon, get out your skillet, waffle maker, coffee pot, or whatever makes you smile and spend the morning messing up your kitchen, talking about days gone by and memories of old or dreams for tomorrow and share your table with those you hold most dear. You won’t regret it!” – Judge Karen Hall

“With aging, comes confidence. I like myself more with each passing year as I grow into a wiser, more empathetic human being.” -Alexa Pulitzer, Stationary Designer

“I don’t really detest anything about getting older! I’m comfortable in my own skin and I love the way God naturally created and molded me. Whether it’s 40 or 60, getting older is not a destination. It’s a continuous journey. There is always the alternative!” – Mo Davis, Photographer

“We are all aging and the decision to not only accept, but embrace aging is a very deliberate choice for me. I try to approach it from a place of gratitude. Grateful that I wake each day (maybe with a few more wrinkles on my face and stiffness in my knees) but also with sense of calm and a little more wisdom than the day before.” – Catherine Courtney, Certified Personal Trainer and Finess Nutrition Specialist

Did you know there are cultures in this world in which you are not recognized as a fully developed human being until you are 40? Perhaps it is time to rethink this term ‘anti-aging’ that we have heard almost everyday since we were children, what if instead we were ‘pro-aging’. What if we began looking at aging as an achievement, as a gift, and not a punishment. Make a choice to live and live well and wear your age with a sense of pride. We are women watch us age.