When I turned forty, it seemed that I was assaulted by the phrase “forty is the new twenty.” It was especially targeted at women since advertisers seem to assume that we are more susceptible to these messages than men. I remember first hearing this proclamation when Demi Moore turned forty and pictures of her in a bikini were on all the newsstands. Like many women in their mid-thirties, I hit the gym a little harder, hoping to have a body like Demi when we turned forty.
Years later, we had to face everything we knew to be true about time and gravity. We women were still all for staying in shape, but we had to acknowledge the reality of trying to look twenty at forty. It is at best, overly optimistic, and at worst, borderline neurotic.
Around this time, women were given a new outlook on this pitch of forty being the new twenty when Demi and the much younger Ashton Kutcher became an item. Maybe we don’t need to look twenty, we all thought; maybe we can just act twenty. This brief fantasy didn’t feel right either. For most of us, there are too many responsibilities at forty that don’t allow us to act like we’re twenty. Although women with reliable baby sitters did get a few Saturday nights of acting twenty.
So if we didn’t want to look or act twenty, we needed to ask ourselves, “What is so great about twenty that anyone would want to recreate it at forty?” Aside from looking good in those skinny jeans that have made an unfortunate comeback, most women I know couldn’t think of anything. When we were twenty, we worried about what nearly everyone thought about us. By age forty, our list of people whose opinions we cared about was very small, and filled only with people who would say kind things about us.
Somewhere along the line, Demi Moore also seemed to find that there is a freedom to being in your forties that you don’t have in your twenties. Photos of her in glamorous clothes at Hollywood hotspots were replaced with photos of her in a ball cap driving her kids to soccer games. Of course this new look meant that she was photographed a lot less, but I guess she crossed the paparazzi of her list of people to impress about the same time we crossed off the women who go to gym wearing make-up and designer work-out clothes.
So after quite a bit of reflecting, I feel comfortable saying that women don’t want forty to be the new twenty. We wouldn’t mind a few less wrinkles and other trivial perks that come with being twenty, but we wouldn’t trade the lessons and the joys that graced us during the years between twenty and forty. I’d like to think that we are wiser at forty than we were at twenty. The true test is if we have learned to enjoy whatever age we happen to be and not waste a moment trying to go backwards.