Big birthdays have a tendency to inspire reflection on the choices we’ve made in our lives. They prompt questions such as: What have I achieved? Which long-lasting decisions are worth maintaining? And how do I want to live my next decade?
With my 40th birthday around the corner, I started pondering the past 20 years of my life in earnest. One decision I’d kept with since age 17 was a pescetarian diet that includes consumption of fish, but no other meat proteins. It’s made keeping kosher easy, and it’s also meant eating a lot of salmon over the course of my life, but to be honest, I was bored with my food choices.
My political motives for the diet hadn’t changed. I still hate the thought of animals being bred and harvested for their meat, something I feel is fundamentally wrong. The assurances from rabbinical authorities that the kosher method of slaughter is the most humane is absolutely no consolation. How, after all, do they know? I don’t ever want to visit an abattoir or see the moment of their slaying. And I don’t want to know how they end up on a plate looking like a tasty steak. But at the same time I am ready to expand my horizons, to stop thinking so hard and give myself the freedom to enjoy food a little more than I have to date.
The change happened quickly and seamlessly, much to the shock of my husband and friends. I’ve become the focus of animated mealtime conversation about how pseudo-vegetarians can “come around” even after 20-odd years of avid meat denial. In some ways I feel I’ve let the team down by moving the boundaries of my eating preferences. But I think it’s OK to re-think some decisions and open doors previously under lock and key.
My friend Sam used her 40th to inspire major weight loss, dissatisfied with the pounds that had steadily climbed aboard her once slender frame. For six months before her birthday, she changed her lifestyle, eating more sensibly and exercising in ways she’d not done before, determined not to start her next decade at the heavy end of the scale.
The 40s are a life-changing time for many women. They’re a time when we’re readier to embrace the highlights and hair colourings we previously rejected, adamant about staving off the visibility of those ugly grey strands that remind us just how old we are. Some friends are embracing Botox. For others, eyelash extensions are the new beauty must-have.
“I don’t think anyone our age should be wearing a bikini,” one friend declared at the swimsuit store. Her comment had everything to do with tzniut (modesty), and they made me wonder. Does there need to be a cut-off age for some types of clothing? Does 40 mean redefining the parameters of acceptability? Should I be leaning deliberately toward a more aged or mature version of self-expression?
I’m still figuring out the answers out as I muddle along, trying as best I can to hide the signs of age. The laugh lines that are starting to develop. The loose skin that was firm just yesterday, or so I thought. The mounting number of indications that, in the absence of plastic surgery, point steadfastly to the fact that age wise, I am definitely moving north.
Meanwhile, I bask in the glow of increasingly infrequent comments to the contrary. Like when a stranger tells me I look too young to have kids. Or when an esthetician seems stunned at my real age, explaining my skin suggests I’m way younger. Chances are it’s pure flattery to make me feel good.
But at this point I’m not thinking too hard about where those compliments come from.
I’ll take ’em, no problem.