I love my birthday. I love the calls, the messages, the texts, going out to eat for every meal, the plans my husband makes and the way my kids say, “Happy Birthday Mom” at least five times each.
However, there is one part of my birthday that makes me cringe just a bit. It started last year and comes right after that happy birthday wish: “29 again huh?” followed by a knowing wink or a little #29again on social media. To be perfectly clear, I am 38, not 29 again.
This 29 thing doesn’t sit well with me. I look about 38, so claiming 29 just makes me the poster child for that skin care line everyone keeps messaging me about. To be honest, there are times I’ve been tempted to tack 10 years onto my age because I look really good for 48, so that reaction would be fun to watch.
But it’s more than the superficial. At 29, the world looked a little different to me. I defined myself by what I could achieve on the outside; I discussed people instead of ideas and thought I was right about almost everything and everyone. Nine years later, almost everything I was sure of at 29 has been ironically disproven, and today, the only thing I am absolutely certain of is that I have nothing all figured out.
As I look back, I’m not embarrassed by my younger self. I just hadn’t had much life experience and needed some time to deepen and change. Every stage has been part of the process, part of learning and becoming, which is why aging should not be lamented, it should be celebrated.
I have earned each year. Some have been ugly and have given me circles under my eyes and gray in my hair. But they have also given me empathy, perspective and a softer view of the world. These years taught me that life was never meant to be perfect and that it is OK to need, to be honest, to ache and that things get better. Other years have been full of magic and adventure. They deepened my smile lines, added stretch marks to my stomach and peppered my skin with sunspots. In those years I experienced peace and joy that made me intensely grateful for the people by my side and the story I get to tell.
For these reasons, I revolt against the idea that a woman’s value decreases with age. She does not become less relevant, less important, less enjoyable or even less beautiful. Each year brings about a certain patina that is genuine and unable to be reproduced with cheap tricks and tucks. It cannot be found in a youthful glow or shapely legs; this is the kind of beauty that is only earned through experience.
So then why are women taught that age should only be printed on government documents and discussed during doctor’s visits? That youth trumps sophistication? That women should risk everything, including financial security, comfort, health and mental wellness in the losing battle against age?
Women are not fragile items with expiration dates or decorations to be admired, they are forces for progress, goodness and light. Each year the tally of lessons learned, people served, intelligence gathered and gifts magnified increases, creating a much more vibrant, interesting and powerful person. Women should never shortchange themselves by minimizing their own existence or bartering personal growth for a more socially acceptable number.
We should enjoy being 29, and 38, and 44, and 59, and 67, and 75 and every year after. On our birthdays we should celebrate how life has shaped and molded us into someone deep and unexpected, not wish we could turn back the clock.
So, no more lying about or hiding your age. Instead, say it, own it and embrace it. Love every moment, lesson and memory that number represents. There is nothing magical about being 29 again, but there is limitless possibility in the future you choose to create. Regardless of age, I am certain that, if you let it, the best of you is yet to come.