By Jane Fallon
Last summer I bought some dungarees. This is hardly news in itself. They were everywhere. Cute, comfortable, comforting in the chaos of a pandemic. But I had a big—biiiig—birthday coming up in a few months. Could I carry them off? And then came the decider.
Foolishly I read one of those opinion pieces online. Things women over 50 should never wear. I was almost out the other end of that decade already. Dungarees were number three after boyfriend jeans and combat trousers. That clinched it. I’ve always hated being told what to do. I ordered some immediately. And then I pottered around happily in the early summer heatwave in my overalls, a vest top (another no-no apparently—God forbid a bit of menopausal arm flesh might wobble) and brightly colored trainers (unacceptable). I felt fabulous. I felt like me.
Sixty is a polarising birthday. The age that—when I was growing up—ladies retired and succumbed to a life of bingo wings and crochet. As I approached the big day I had friends warn me that I should keep it to myself, that I would be written off, consigned to the scrap heap. One gave me the number for an eye surgeon. I decided I needed new friends.
"I’m 60 in a few months/weeks/days," I started announcing to anyone who asked how I was. I couldn’t help it, it just came out of my mouth. Of course, I was hoping for the "No! You don’t look a day over..." reaction. I’m still that shallow. But it wasn’t just that. It felt like freedom. Like I could finally stop worrying about what anyone else thought and just be me.
I’ve always been crippled by the need to prove myself: as a painfully shy kid who knew they had a lot to say if they could only get up the courage to open their mouth, as the youngest of a big family who needed a way to stand out from the crowd, as the plus one of a famous partner, as a woman. So I focused on having a career that would give me a voice. First TV and then miraculously, my lifelong dream of writing novels.
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But still I was always looking over my shoulder. Was I good enough? Would it last? If not, what then? I put horrendous pressure on myself instead of just enjoying my successes. And then last year that all fell away. ‘You’re about to be 60,’ the voice in my head started saying. ‘No one expects anything of you any more. Everything you achieve is a bonus.’
Maybe it was the pandemic that forced me to reassess my priorities, as it did many people. Or maybe it was just that that age, that milestone that has always felt like a watershed just didn’t seem so scary when you looked it right in the face. It felt like a gift. A relief. A chance to do things for the love of it, not just to prove a point.
I have no intention of growing older gracefully but I am going to try to do it naturally. There’s a beauty in our history. I don’t want to look as if my face has been ironed, permanently startled, blank. I want to look like me. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up. Far from it. I work out (a lot) to ensure that my apparently offensive 60- year-old arms are as lean and toned as they can be. I plan to show them off at every possible opportunity.
I’m going to seek out lists of what women my age shouldn’t wear and put it all on at once. I still have my hair streaked blonde because grey and my natural tendency to frizz feels like a step too far. I spend what seems like hours each day plucking hairs from my chin in my scary x10 magnification mirror. But the point is that I do these things for me, not because I’m trying to fool anyone into thinking I’m younger than I am. Time moves forward, we all get older. Why is that such a bad thing? We should celebrate it.
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