I worry that the slow, oozing descent into middle age has already begun for me and I blame it on the swim shorts. Gone are the days of the off-the-rack one-piece. I’d say bikini, but the last time I wore one of those was in high school on Senior Ditch Day and I spent the entire afternoon rearranging it at the bottom of each and every waterslide. No, my one and only foray into bikini-dom was about as successful as my one and only foray into smoking when I singed the back of a little person’s neck at a concert with my ash. A once-in-a -lifetime experience.
So, for years I devoted myself to the one-piece, preferably with some sort of embedded cup and low hip line. And for a long time, the one-piece served me well. As well as a piece of lycra can do. But now, in its place, is the proverbial tankini, defined by a halter top and white “swim shorts” which, for some, might as well be synonymous with “I give up.” And as much as I should probably rage against the dying of my swimwear light, I’m really OK with it. I’ve settled into swim shorts with a whimper, not a yell, and I doubt I’ll ever go back.
I love my swim shorts more than is humanly appropriate. I adore them. I have, at times, taken them out of my drawer in the winter just to look at them. They have opened up a new world for me – one of independence and self-acceptance and I am forever grateful for that fateful Land’s End catalog which opened my eyes to this new and wonderful world. Gone are the days of tugging at the bottom of my swimsuit so as to avoid blinding passersby with my literally lily-white fanny. Gone are the days of walking with my legs slightly apart to give the inane impression that my thighs don’t ever rub together. And, perhaps most importantly, gone are the days of worrying incessantly about lawn maintenance. Please don’t make me elaborate. You know what I’m talking about. I’ll just say that, while the lawn is still edged, it’s not mowed within an inch of its life.
Perhaps I should be ashamed of the white swim shorts. Maybe I should fight back and use them as a reminder of what I don’t want to wear…or even use a string bikini as a carrot on a stick for a body goal. But I just don’t want to. I don’t want to fight this particular battle anymore. I’m done. I’ve Thighmastered and Nair-ed myself within an inch of my life and, as parenting books often tell us, you need to pick your battles. And this is one battle that I am happy to wave the white shorts, I mean, flag over.
Which isn’t to say that I won’t continue to fight back on certain things. My mother has always said that women of a certain age shouldn’t wear short sleeves. And as I watch my arms get older I wonder if the threat of, what I recently heard referred to as, “bingo wings” (imagine an older lady yelling “bingo!” while waving her arms around and you’ll get the reference) might force me to abandon short sleeves forever, or at least tank tops. But I’m not quite there yet. I don’t have Michelle Obama’s arms, but I do like short sleeves and spaghetti strap dresses and as long as my arms maintain some semblance of elasticity, I’ll continue along the path of resistance.
And as I watch the older ladies at my local MacCalous department store purchase a year’s worth of tent-like underpants, I wonder when I will succumb to undergarments the size of picnic blankets. But, happily, I’m not there yet either.
The gray hair dilemma has me flummoxed. I don’t have enough to really go all out on full hair dye, and yet I have enough that I periodically catch my husband, who is five inches taller than me, staring down at the faint mohawk of gray lining the part in the hair. I’ve plucked the most offensive of them, and even tried that little mascara-looking do-hickey that dyes just the little patches you apply it to. But I do wonder what I will do as the gray takes over. It’s seemingly manageable for now, but what will I do when, as my hairdresser lovingly warns, “your gray goes from spotting to heavy flow.” I’m fighting it with a mascara wand and tweezers for now.
One fight I know I need to give up is my long-standing refusal to jog. For twenty-two years I’ve put off running for recreation (I don’t count running away from things in terror) since enduring four years of cross-country and track in high school. For decades I’ve told myself, and anyone who would listen, that I’ve “done my time” running. That a high school career of lumbering along, dreaming of tripping into a ditch to end the agony, was enough to last me a lifetime. But just today I ran. I tuned into my newly crafted Spotify playlist, the aptly titled “I Hate Every Minute of This”, and ran. And while, in my mind, I’m sure I looked like Andre the Giant running away from something, I did it anyway. And I’m going to do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And hopefully the next day. Until I like it. I have to like it at some point, right? I didn’t like it for four years as a teenager, but there’s still time.
Aside from the physical aspects of turning 40, I’ve begun to consider just what routines, personality flaws and other lifetime baggage I’d like to shed by the time I hit that particular milestone. I do think I’m finally at a place where I’d like to stop worrying so much what other people think. Not in terms of suddenly being mean and nasty and barreling down my social path like a bulldozer. I mean, as I near 40, I look forward to easing into a sense of self that precludes maintaining that ever-present “third eye” that’s constantly trying to see myself as other’s see me. I’ll admit I sometimes pick out outfits more for the other people attending the party than myself. And I have, at times, come home from a party and dissected everything I said and did to make sure I didn’t come across as odd. I edit myself from making the Monty Python references. Or singing at the top of my lungs. And I think about what my butt looks like from behind. And how I come across to my friends. And what the overall image people have of me is. And, after all these years, I’m finally trying to silence these judgmental voices in my head and just be authentic. To move into a psychological space in which I’m just more welcoming of myself and who I really am.
Also, I’ve been more aware lately of the decisions I make in life and why I make them. I’ve attempted to be more carefree and take more risks when it comes to everyday pleasure. Case in point…we recently came home from our annual vacation to Maine and, while there, we had the pleasure of attending a long-time island favorite’s 80th birthday party. We celebrated with a gorgeous cocktail party on the porch of their cottage. The gin and tonics flowed, the sun set over the Atlantic and, soon after the party came to its beautiful end, my two sons wanted to jump off the high dive of the wharf because high tide was hitting later that evening. So, they trundled off to change into their swimsuits while my husband and I made our way down to the wharf to meet them for their moonlight dip.
Once there, with the moon on the water and the smell of the spruce trees and the sounds of the waves hitting the pilings, I regretted not changing into my swimsuit with the boys. Until I realized that one doesn’t necessarily need a swimsuit to take advantage of an amazing moment. Which is why I jumped off the high dive, holding the hand of my older son, wearing khakis and a white bra with the underwire sticking out. And the action of not caring, of not being eternally mindful of what I looked like to the world around me, and just seizing the moment for myself and the memories it would create, was truly liberating. Yes, my father-in-law, with his aquiline nose high in the hair, watched me from the dock, but I didn’t care. I leapt and I loved every minute of it.
Now that we’re back, and I’ve had a chance to go through the myriad photographs from that trip, I was happily reminded that my dear friend was on-hand to capture the moment. And there, among the photographs of lupines and lobster boats and gorgeous ocean vistas, is a picture of a nearing-forty woman, in mid-leap, the moon reflecting off of the underwire of her white bra. And while I wore soggy khakis instead of my white swim shorts, the freedom remained the same.
No matter how you look at it, turning 40 is a milestone. Whether socially inflicted upon us or not, the fact remains that, for many, turning 40 is like a huge age-specific New Year’s Eve. We have the opportunity to create resolutions for ourselves and enter this new epoch with, perhaps, a little less clutter. I, for one, am hopeful that my 40s will be full of new adventures and laughter and just a little less worry. That I’ll run in short sleeves, making Holy Grail references in smaller-than-a-tent underpants. And that I’ll leap, whether in soggy khakis or white swim shorts, into the cold water and love every minute of it.