I just turned 60, which seems equally just impossible and no big deal.
No matter how you look at it, 60 is a big number – 10 more push-ups than you should ever ask anyone to do – and is undeniably at the tail end of even the modern female lifespan. I could continue to consider myself middle-aged, but even if it were possible, would I want to live to be 120? No, I do not know.
But honestly, how can I be 60 if I still don’t know how to apply foundation or fold a fitted sheet? If my idea of a perfect meal is graham crackers and peanut butter and my idea of ”cleaning up” is putting the books that cover every surface of my house in a pile and calling it a day?
I’m grateful to be alive, especially after a pandemic, but I certainly don’t feel wiser, calmer, more comfortable with myself or the other wonderful feelings others have documented as they enter their seventh decade of life.
Nor do I feel lonely, have a greater fear of death, or have no connection to popular culture or digital technology. Having two young adults and a teenager definitely helps – not only do they force me to at least try to keep up with the music and TikTok trends, it’s also hard to feel close to death when the children regularly address you as “Bruh”, “Girl”. “Queen” or the endearment form of “b-” (almost always followed by an immediate “Oh, sorry Mom”).
When I occasionally have to google their latest slang; I know how to use my smartphone, including (and for the record) how to turn off the flashlight.
OK, I only use one thumb when texting and sometimes take what’s considered “too long” to use the Fire TV Stick’s search function, but I also know how to write a real check and use stamps, and Apparently I do too, the only one in our family who can access all of our various passwords.
Sure, I have a knee that’s acting up, but the thing has been acting up ever since I dislocated my kneecap while drunkenly dancing at a college party (don’t ask). And of course I’m tired – we’re all tired – but not as tired as I was when I had two small children in their late 30s, or a toddler and two just slightly older children in their early 40s.
I’d like to think I’m now old enough to blithely step into the queue, as I’ve done all my life admiring old ladies, but my children assure me, in horrified embarrassment, that I’m not.
The only thing that has really changed is the type of advertising that appears on my digital media platforms. How many times a day do these algorithms think I need to be convinced that 60 is the new 40 while offering them miracle cures for wrinkled skin, age spots and, my personal favorite, apron abs? I wish I could say I’m unfamiliar with these conditions, but still, I don’t appreciate being promised that the “secret” to tightening aging skin or reversing menopausal weight gain is just a click away .
Sixty is not the new fool.
After living a life with a thousand freckles, I know that skin will do whatever it wants, and when I recently realized that I had gotten a little too fat, I managed to lose weight by removing the groundbreaking diet where I gave up sugar And eat less.
Menopause certainly results in a surprising redistribution of weight – sometimes I swear I could see the fat on my thighs and butt fleeing to the warmer climes of my midsection. But in my case, the win was the direct result of a conscious decision: If I had to endure the nightmare of migraines, heart palpitations, hot flashes, and insomnia, then I definitely had the right to eat cinnamon rolls whenever I felt like at least three Snickers Minis before bedtime.
I mean, this is pure science.
The fact that 60 is the new 40 is numerically absurd. There isn’t enough Spanx in the world to compress two decades into nothingness. I own every single year I’ve lived on this planet, even the ones I’d rather not remember. Especially the ones I’d rather not remember.
In any case, it’s not so much about 60 being the new 40, but rather that 60 can finally only be 60. Especially for women.
I grew up in a time where women who weren’t, say, 27 or younger didn’t “admit” their age because age was a sword of judgment. Forty was bad, 50 was worse, and 60, well, that was considered immediately and irrevocably old. At 60, women were expected to resign themselves to only getting talcum powder and soap sets for their birthday and watching everyone else have all the fun.
Those who had vocal opinions could choose to be seen as argumentative or fearsome. The rest were credited with a version of Grandma. Even the ones who weren’t real grandmothers.
There were exceptions, of course there are always exceptions, but culturally women were expected to fade away at 60 – into caricature, into caring or simply into the background.
Everywhere women looked in popular culture, this assumption was dramatically underlined. Irene Ryan was 60 when she started playing Grandma on The Beverly Hillbillies, and if there was a character in the history of television who appeared older, that character was a zombie.
Years later, “The Golden Girls,” a show based on the radical idea that older women had lives, defined “older” primarily as those in their late 40s and early to mid-50s. (Estelle Getty was 62 when the Series began, and starred the 79.) Male actors could play romantic leads well into their 70s, but throughout film history, most actresses over 50 have been forced to play someone’s grandmother or crazy great-aunt – Bette Davis was 54 when she starred in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” That’s four years younger than Sarah Jessica Parker, who is currently reprising Carrie Bradshaw in And Just Like That.
As a woman who never had to fight for the right to vote, go to college, use birth control legally, or pursue the career I chose, I am grateful daily for these brave, brilliant, and tenacious women who did the hard work for me. And now, at 60, I feel the same way.
Nowadays, no one would argue that 62-year-old Julia Louis-Dreyfus can only play grandmas, just as no one would say that 61-year-old Tom Cruise should stop parachuting off cliffs. The 21st century version of “The Golden Girls” is “Grace and Frankie,” starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, both in their 80s. The cutest TV couple of the year are undoubtedly Meryl Streep, 74, and Martin Short, 73, in “Only Murders in the Building.” The indefatigable Dolly Parton and Debbie Allen are 73; Oprah Winfrey is 69; Julianne Moore and Tilda Swinton are 62; Michelle Yeoh is 61; and Vanessa Williams and Lisa Kudrow achieved the big 6-0 success with me this year.
Yes, that’s right, I’m the same age as Vanessa Williams. I’ll show you my driver’s license.
This is just a shortened list, and outside of Hollywood there are even more examples of women defying traditional definitions of “old.” Think of the baby boomers, feminism, the fitness movement, Eileen Fisher, or even the rise of Botox and cosmetic surgery; 60 is no longer the beginning of the end.
Surely we salute all the women who refused to accept 60, 70 or 80 as anything other than a number.
Of course, ageism still exists, but at least it now has a name (as opposed to, you know, “life”) and, in some cases, the hope of legal action. The lack of financial safety nets, including retirement plans, in this country forces too many people to choose between a life of permanent work or poverty (and in some cases does not provide the choice between permanent work). Just as a lack of good, affordable housing and health care can mean increasing age leads to greater vulnerability, particularly in Black and brown communities.
But age itself no longer forces people, especially women, to take on certain limited roles and feel that they have to stop being who they are because the calendar year has changed, or that they have to fade away , because society tells them to.
Being 60 simply means being 60. It feels like 50, only better – no menstrual cramps or Hot flashes.
I’m not too old to learn how to apply foundation or fold fitted sheets. But when you have a thousand freckles, foundation never works anyway, and I’ve never seen the point of folding fitted sheets – I just keep tucking them into the pillowcase like I’ve been doing for 40 years.