IS 50 THE NEW 12, AN AGE WHERE WE JUST DON’T FIT IN?

I clearly remember the confusion of being a twelve year old girl. One minute longing for a new Barbie doll with an extendable braid, and the next minute fantasizing about the boy I wanted to dance with at the school’s Valentine’s Day party. It was an extremely difficult phase in my life where I felt compelled to abandon my childhood pursuits and rush head first into the new and uncharted territory of my teenage years.

Having already passed the milestone of 50 a few years back, I’m starting to find myself inundated with a similar sense of confusion. Although acutely aware that I am officially seeing middle age in the rear view mirror, I still can’t help myself from dreaming about that one perfect job that is going to fulfill every facet of my career aspirations while sheepishly accepting the 15% senior’s discount at Applebee’s during my lunch break. A confusing state of being.

How can a woman in her 50’s still be searching for career fulfillment when society is starting to serve her senior’s portions at discounted prices? Like I asked, is 50 the new 12, and is that why I just don’t feel comfortable?

I’ve accepted that mini skirts and braless summer dresses are definitely out, but rubber-soled winter boots and sweater sets, apparently the new gift of choice, are not something I’d feel comfortable in wearing either. No matter how many times I beg my family not to pick out clothes for me, I can already envision the Tan Jay store’s gift box peeking out from underneath the wrapping paper come Christmas.

Like I said, I feel like I’m 12 years old all over again, and I find myself torn between dressing like the vibrant young woman I was in my 40’s, or giving up and donning a knitted cardigan, the accepted uniform of a well preserved grandmother in her 60’s, always mindful to tuck a couple tissues up my sleeve for those unexpected runny noses.

It seems to me like the 50’s might be an age gap where fashion and society in general have yet to figure out what to do with us. I’ve noticed that men are not plagued by the same degree of clothing obstacles as their female counterparts. A pair of black dress shoes, straight legged denim jeans, and an untucked dress shirt still look just as good on a 25 year old university student as a 60 year old businessman. Exasperating, to say the least.

Personally, I’ve worn my hair long, with or without bangs, ever since I was a teenager. This has afforded me the flexibility of being able to pull it up into a bun when I was in my 20’s and trying to impress a new boss, or to tease the freshly curled waves that gently bounced on my shoulders when accompanying my husband out on the town. Mid-length blonde hair has been my signature look for over forty years, and I truly believe that I can still carry it off.   

However, this spring, my well-meaning mother-in-law began inquiring as to when I was finally going to cut my hair, especially since she’d noticed it wasn’t nearly as thick as it used to be, additionally promising that the summer heat would be easier to take with an age appropriate cut. She continued to explain that I’d have the freedom that her and the other matriarchs of the extended family had achieved in decade’s past, plus the obvious benefit of not having to repeatedly bleach the grey out of my roots would be a definite bonus when I finally let my hair return to its natural color.   

NO FLIPPIN’ WAY! I’m not ready for the ‘boy-cut’ that so many of her generation have seemed to adopt. You know the style, the lady’s short-crop that every hairdresser in the world has obviously mastered? Too short for a curling iron, yet long enough that you need to book a trim when the hair starts to grow over the ears every four to five weeks. No damn way! Not for me.

And for the record, I don’t ‘bleach’ my roots. I haven’t bleached my hair since burning my entire scalp with a bottle of Sun-In that my sister had proudly proclaimed to be the hottest look for the summer of grade ten. I had learned my lesson, and now choose to sip gourmet coffee while my colorist applies foil highlights to frame the contours of my face, a service she’s deemed worth an entire day’s pay.

I  think its’ a good time to share a story from a few months back to help you appreciate my dilemma. As a routine part of my job, I initially briefed myself on my clients personal file before meeting for a quick coffee at a downtown restaurant. Within ten minutes of being introduced, the lady proudly announced that she worked out five days a week and could still share clothes with her twenty-eight year old daughter. I admit, from the shoulders down, her body was a testament to the value of a well used gym membership, but the wrinkles on her neck coupled with the jet black hair, and the patchwork of blue veins crisscrossing her bony hands gave the lady an unsettling, almost goth-like appearance.

Suddenly concerned that I might be overly critical of her look and possibly even a little bit jealous of her toned physique, I still couldn’t help but notice a group of middle-aged businessmen as they turned their attention towards my client just minutes after she rose from the table to visit the lady’s room. As she crossed the floor and neared the men’s location, their initial interest suddenly turned to smirks of amusement as they quietly began chuckling to themselves, turning their attention back down toward their drinks as my guest’s high heels clicked past them on the restaurant’s tiled floor.

They’d obviously spotted her trim body from across the room but were not at all impressed with her age when she closed in on them and her proximity suddenly revealed the surprisingly wrinkled face of an overly tanned, sixty year old woman.

Any lingering pangs of  jealousy immediately morphed into pity, and I couldn’t wait to pay the tab and get out of the restaurant as soon as humanly possible before someone dared to utter an inappropriate comment that might inadvertently reach her ears.   

Yes, I am well aware of the fact that I have no right to pity her, as she was obviously proud of her look and should be commended for achieving, and ultimately maintaining, such a high level of personal fitness. But the skin-tight black jeans, complete with gaping holes in the knees, all topped off with the bustier-styled satin top wasn’t an appropriate outfit for anyone but a twenty year old attending a Rolling Stones concert back in the mid 80’s.    

I too want to be attractive, and viewed as desirable by the opposite sex, but I don’t want to embarrass myself to achieve this effect. And yes, I’ve heard the chant of liberated women everywhere since I was an awkward teenager struggling to fit in with my peers.  

“Screw everybody else, and wear what you want. Wear what makes you feel good, no matter what anybody thinks.”

Well I haven’t felt good in a tube-top and booty shorts since I was fifteen. And under no circumstances am I looking to dive into a pile of knitted sweaters or drown myself in the elasticized waists of polyester dress pants. But there has to be life in between, and hopefully more options in my wardrobe than business suits and yoga pants.   

I truly believe I’m still young enough for a positive career change, and if an establishment is willing to give anyone over 50 a break on their menu prices, I’m going to take it.

So here I sit, actively searching for my 50 year old look, my 50 year old career change, and the confidence to stand up to my mother-in-law. I dream of these future milestones, as I too hold my head up and proudly proclaim myself a member of the FIFTY CANDLES CLUB.  

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