A new romcom paints a hilariously bleak picture of kissing your 30s goodbye. But is it really that bad? Two women tell all By Claie Wilson (age 39¾)
‘Am I tragic for dancing in a beach bar in my bikini?’
Becky Conoley, a gym instructor, lives in Chelmsford, Essex, and has been with her boyfriend, Kevin, 38, for six months. She turned 40 last November. She says:
“Standing on the treadmill, my hand hovered over the display as it flashed wildly, demanding to know my age before I could start my workout.
For a second, I considered putting in 35. It wasn’t strictly true, but if I put in my real age then I’d have to acknowledge the truth. I was 40. Me! How the hell had that happened? It seemed like only yesterday I was 21, and now, here I was, contemplating lying to a machine about my age.
For as long as I can remember, 40 signified being middle-aged. It conjured up pictures of cardigans, sensible shoes and cosy nights in with a husband. And that’s just not me.
For a start, I’ve never settled down and had a family – I just haven’t had the urge. I skipped through my 30s without a care in the world, shopping at New Look and Topshop, going on girlie city breaks, and raucous holidays to Ibiza. I felt more like a 20 year old than someone careering towards the big 4-0.
But now I’m finally here, I’ve started to doubt myself. Should I still be wearing the same skyscraper heels and thigh-high dresses that hang in my wardrobe? Have I become – gulp – mutton dressed as lamb?
The truth is, I still feel young at heart and, it may sound conceited, but many 20-somethings would be happy with a body like mine.
As a gym instructor, working out is my job, so I feel as fit as ever. Plus, at 5ft 7in and 9st, I’m a trim size 8, my hair hasn’t started to go grey yet and, with few wrinkles, I haven’t felt the need to resort to Botox.
But still, whenever anyone asks me my age, I can’t help but grimace. I never say ‘40’ with a smile. It’s always with a groan and a frown. They immediately reply that I don’t look it, but that doesn’t change the fact I am!
Age anxiety really hit last summer on holiday in Ibiza. As I danced in a beach bar wearing a bikini and tiny shorts alongside girls half my age, I suddenly felt self-conscious.
Were they looking at me, thinking I was tragic? In the end, I shrugged it off – even if they did think that, I was having too much fun to stop.
Ironically, I had a huge celebration for my 40th birthday, mostly because I wanted an excuse to party like a teen. I went for dinner with my boyfriend and a bunch of mates and then we all went on to a club till the early hours.
Wearing a bodycon dress and killer heels, I danced away to Tinie Tempah and Rihanna with my friends, next to an identical gang of girls. The only difference was I was clutching a 40th birthday balloon and one of the girls was wearing an 18th birthday sash.
It was a great night, but the next day reality hit – along with a monster hangover. My body felt every one of my 40 years. Still, I have no intention of hanging up my dancing shoes just yet. Although some day soon, I may have to pack those bodycon minidresses off to a charity shop!”
‘I feel more confident than ever’
Loretta Nelson is an admin assistant from east London. She is single and lives with her 23-year-old son, Kieron, a property consultant. She turned 40 last December. She says:
“At 17, I was a mum, and by 25, a single parent, so that meant I had to grow up fast at a very young age. While my friends were out clubbing and meeting boys in their 20s, I was stuck at home potty training a toddler.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved being a mum, but it didn’t stop me feeling jealous when I saw carefree young girls shopping with their mates on a Saturday afternoon.
But as the years passed, I realised my time to have fun would come – just a bit later than most. That was why I didn’t suffer from any ‘40 fear’ as my birthday approached. I’d been a grown-up for years and, if anything, it marked the beginning of a new period in my life when Kieron was a responsible adult and I could have more freedom.
And now, I actually think it’s a really exciting age to be. Many of those mates I envied in my 20s are the ones stuck at home on a Saturday night with a colicky baby, while I’m out enjoying myself, going on dates or meeting friends at bars and restaurants.
Plus, I feel much more secure and confident about myself than I ever did in my 20s. I don’t need to pretend to be anything I’m not. I’m a 40-year-old mum and can’t think of anything worse than dressing in a tiny miniskirt and low-cut top. That’s just not me.
I still shop in places like Primark and River Island, but I buy clothes that look good on me, such as tea dresses or nice jeans and a jacket. I’d certainly never go for something just because it’s on this week’s must-have list.
I didn’t want a big fanfare about hitting 40 – which was just as well, considering my mum Mary and Kieron both forgot! They were so apologetic, but I didn’t mind at all. Really, I don’t understand why some people make such a big deal about it.
I’m proud to have a grown-up son, especially when I’m in the supermarket with Kieron and he calls me ‘Mum’. It’s a real ego boost when people look around to see who he’s talking to, as they just can’t believe it’s me!
Maybe that’s down to the fact that, like many women these days, I don’t actually fit into the stereotype of what a 40-something should look like. For so many people, that age still conjures up images of dowdy women in sensible slacks and slippers, but that’s just not accurate any more.
I’m 5ft 3in and 8st, and I eat healthily and jog every day to keep my size-10 body in shape. I’m fortunate because I still don’t have any wrinkles and only the odd grey hair. I have no idea whether that’s down to luck, genes or just a healthy lifestyle. Whatever it is, I’m glad it works!
But I’m not afraid of ageing, either. It happens to all of us. Of course, there are days when I wish my boobs were a little bit perkier and my hands didn’t get so stiff. They’re real reminders that I am getting older, and no amount of fancy clothes or cosmetic procedures can change that.
I think every woman should embrace who she is and how old she is. Be proud of what you’ve achieved and stay excited about where you’re going. Who knows where life will lead you next.”
- This Is 40 (15) is released at cinemas on Thursday.
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