Today is my birthday and I’ve just turned 39.
‘Wait so you’re not 26?’
‘I hope you don’t mind me asking but how old are you?’
‘Saw that pic of you looking like you were 12′
Yes these are all real things that have been said to me recently.
To date my age has remained a mystery. I avoid disclosing it and when asked I simply reply ‘I’m older than you think’. But then earlier this year I did confess when I was stopped by The Hollywood Reporter at the Cannes Film Festival for a street style fashion feature. I happily replied ‘38.’ Maybe it was because I was abroad that I felt I could be honest. I was thrilled to see myself in their iconic printed magazine but when I showed it to a few people the response was ‘Oh. It’s a shame they put your age.’
It’s in scenarios like this that adds pressure to make me want to hide my age. It doesn’t help that a large part of my career has been spent working in the media where age is something you’re best off hiding as a woman because the doors get get heavier to open the older you get and if you’re not a Millennial (which I just about miss out on) you’re not even considered to be relevant.
The value of validation
Over the summer I was having lunch with an actor who’s in his 20s but constantly gets cast as a school boy. He was alarmed when he discovered he’s younger than me as he assumed I was 23 but when I told him I was ‘nearly 40’ he replied that I spoke with a lot of experience and wisdom so in a way I couldn’t be in my 20s. This felt like the first bit of validation for my age I’ve ever received and it felt good.
Wisdom and experience is definitely something I have more than my fair share of. It largely comes from growing up quickly and having responsibilities like two sick parents and then dealing with losing them in my 20s. But aside from the emotional rollercoasters I’ve been on, I’ve had a lot of jobs, visited over 50 countries, become confident in things I never thought I could do and generally done a lot of things I wish I hadn’t: but hey ho.
Empty bucket syndrome
For many turning 39 may spark writing the ‘Things to do before I’m 40’ bucket list. I recently came across the bucket list I wrote when I was 29 listing all the things I wanted to achieve before I turned 30 and guess what? I haven’t achieved any of them. The day I realised this I burst into tears and buried my head in my pillow feeling like a failure. Even now, a few weeks on I can’t think about what’s on that ‘Things to do before I’m 30 list’ without feeling a sense of shame that in 10 years I’ve not managed to achieve the things I had set out to do. I don’t like this feeling of failure which is why I can’t bring myself to write another bucketlist, possibly ever again.
To date, I’ve had incredible opportunities but I’m absolutely not where I thought I’d be at 39.
My career, home and personal life aren’t even close to what I assumed they’d be by now and the realisation of this is hard to digest. Every single one of my friends and family members could give me the reassurance that ‘it doesn’t matter’ but that will not stop the human instinct to feel disappointed, even if it’s to dwell just for a short time. I think it’s acceptable to do this, so if you’re in a similar situation take comfort that it’s perfectly normal but try not to dwell for too long, that’s when it can become a problem.
The ‘C’ word
The only age related decision that I’m sure of it that I don’t want any children until I get into my 40s but as I approach the big ‘4 0’ my body clock isn’t just ticking, time is running out, (or so I’m told if I want a healthy child and no complications.) I can honestly say I’ve never once had a pang of wanting to be a mother. Even when I see the cutest baby or sweetest pair of hand knitted booties…there’s nothing that appeals. And part of me is now stressing that in 12 months time when I do hit 40 do I have to fulfil this and actually have one? Because I don’t think I have the energy for it now.
A decade ago I went to the gym like clockwork every other day. These days I barely make it there and I’ve noticed the difference. For 20 years between the ages of 17-37 I was the same dress size but whilst being 38 I’ve put on weight and and the result is that a lot of my favourite dresses don’t fit me any more. I find this bit difficult to get my head around because I feel like I’m in an alien body, not the one I recognise and grew up in. I have friends going though menopause who are dealing with far greater changes but that doesn’t lessen the impact of what I’m feeling. It does remind me though that further changes are coming.
2019 was also the year I started wearing trousers. Because my dresses no longer fitted me trousers were my solution. Unexpectedly after avoiding them for the best part of my life I’ve realised they are really comfortable and I’ve been missing out though I’m not going as far as buying a pair of jeans.
Year End reflections
Of course it’s natural to reflect on life when you’re approaching a big figure age, be that the state of your career, finances, body, health, relationships, but my big figures also coincide with the end of the year and the start of new decades and that makes it feel a whole lot more significant.
I’m happy with my lot but there is a part of me that wonders if I’ve actually made the best use of my time on earth in terms of giving back? My career in a word had been ‘fluffy.’ Writing articles and running craft workshops with the odd stint of presenting and temping in random jobs hasn’t exactly contributed to the greater good of humanity – no saving lives.
Was spending eight years working on a wedding magazine telling brides-to-be about bouquets trends actually of benefit to anyone? As humans should we be aiming to be more worthy or is it ok to just get on and live your own life in a silo? This is one of those ‘what is the meaning of life’ type questions but I don’t yet feel ready to confront the answer so I’ll skip this topic for now.
The alternative to ageing
I began 2019 without any work lined up. I’ve scraped through the year on the most adhoc and random jobs and for 2020 I’m in the same boat. I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to pay the bills and what type of work I’ll eventually land. And in the event that Brexit happens I’m not even sure I want to stay living in the UK. I don’t know a lot of things about what’s in store and I have too many ideas about what I’d like to do to actually make a reality but there’s one thing I am feeling confident about and am sure of and that’s telling people my age. Loudly and clearly, no mumbling or going into another room to avoid people hearing.
I am over hiding it, ignoring it and shying away from it.
I am 39. It’s a fact. It’s who I am, I was born on December 6th 1980 and I am sure that on that day I was the pride and joy of my parents and I vow to embody that essence and be proud of who I am too.
One of my favourite quotes is by Sue Krietzman: ‘What’s the alternative to getting old? Being dead’
Quite frankly I’d rather be alive.
So here I am entering the last year of my 30s feeling in shock about how quickly time flies and also nervous about what’s next for me, but at least not feeling embarrassed about telling people my age is one less thing to worry about.
My ‘Birthday photoshoot’:
This is a concept shoot I’ve wanted to do for a long time after I stumbled on the location a short walk from where I live. It’s a secret part of the River Thames in East London, perhaps one of the most lesser visited spots but that’s what makes it so mysterious and the fact that someone has left an abandoned sofa chair overlooking the water in a location that’s really hard to reach makes it all the more satisfying that I actually did it!
Sari: Gifted by my friend Ashanti Omkar
Styling & re-touching: By me
Photography: By Doodling Around
See my Birthday photoshoot from 2017 for more creative styling and East London locations.