Of Reading Glasses and Hair Dyes: How I Embrace My 40 – Like a 40yo

On the night I turned 40, my best friend and I were out having drinks. She had turned the big age a year before and had spent the night convincing me that I must be needing reading glasses now that I had officially turned 40.

It was all just a joke until the bill came. She shook her head when she saw the bill: “I forgot my glasses.” I laughed and grabbed the bill, but soon realized that it was no longer funny.

I pulled out my credit card and admitted: “I can’t see a bloody thing. I’ll check it when I get home.”

And just like that – my very existence started to depend on whether or not I can find my reading glasses.

I have been wearing it for over six months now, and every day my glasses would get to the office by a rideshare service, costing me a good Rp 25,000 a day – which is infuriating. Of course the only reason this has to happen is because of that other thing that happens when you’re older: I always forget to bring them with me.

I come from a place where there are only two types of people my age: one believes that hitting 40 means they’re ancient and they deserve all the utmost respect and pity and all that jazz; the other believes that 40 is the new 20 with more money.

I don’t belong to either group. I believe that I am 40 and deserve it. When I look back and think about my last 40 years, it does feel like 40 years. I don’t begrudge the no-bikini wisdom, because I have lived in them in my 20s. I don’t miss the all-night dancing and chatting with friends, because I have had enough hangover and raccoon eyes in my 20s and early 30s that I will continue to bear till the day I die.

In short, I am ok with being 40 – or at least I think I am with most of the things that happens when you’re 40.

Here are just some of them:

  1. Any interaction with strangers would start with them calling you “Tante” (auntie) or “Ibu” (Mam). I hate this. There is no other way I can explain this deep seeded dislike other than the fact that the words “Tante” and “Ibu” conjure up a mental image of a middle aged woman with a 2-meter high teased hair.
  1. Let’s just say that I am never a big fan of having my pictures taken from the side. My whole family was just not blessed with great chin and neck genes. My late grandmother – bless her soul – found her neck such a big source of contention that she puts “a man with long neck” as one of her requirements to marry. She did end up marrying a 7-feet tall man with long neck who was pretty much the Asian version of James Dean. Her theory was that this would be an improvement of the family’s gene, the result being the necks and chins of her children and their subsequent generation would be the median of hers and her husband’s. But as two generations of us women in the family have learned, it doesn’t work that way. Genes can’t exactly be averaged out. It was more like picking out a lottery ticket. So here I am, with my double chin that in my younger years looked like a cute chicken goblet but now as I grow older looks more like a hemorrhoid chicken butt.
  1. If you are now still in your 20s and feeling like you spend most of your time in the waxing parlor, here is something you can look forward to. When I hit 40, I realized that what was waxed or pulled or threaded, just don’t grow back quite as furiously as before. I love this part of maturing up!
  1. Exercising becomes a mean of survival. I am sure I am not the only person who has spends the majority of her life vowing to exercise and stay fit. I have periods of time when I was fit and longer periods of time when I was slacking off. I work as a videographer and this means carrying at least 20 pounds on a single work day is considered light. Last year I was shooting in a beautiful untouched beach that requires you to walk down a steep hill through thick layers of trees to get to it. I took my shoes off and placed my bags on the sand, relishing the clear blue sky and the ocean wind on my face, all the while thinking whether or not I’d remembered to put on sunblock that morning so I would not spend the next 48 hours looking like a wrinkled lobster. This thought soon dissipated when the local boys ran up the hill shouting: “Up! Up! The tide is coming!” I grabbed my bags and tried to run up the hill with them. Three minutes in, I ran out of breath. My knees gave, and I waved Rp 50,000 bills to the boys, shouting: “Come and bring my bags up!”  I made it up safely with my bags and three teenage boys. The whole adventure cost me Rp 150,000, but I learned two things that day:  exercising is important as a means of survival and I am grateful that I am at the age when I can spend Rp 150,000 without blinking to save my life.
  1. Blessed is the one who invented hair coloring. Hair coloring may not feel like a big thing nowadays but it was a groundbreaking invention and I think stays as one of the most vital one in the history of maturing up. Historically people have been coloring their hair since the days of the Gaul in Ancient Rome. It was also used by the Egyptian, and the Phoenicians had been known to splurge with gold dust to change the color of their hair. In my teenage years, I had shown up at the breakfast table with blue hair, maroon hair, purple and green. I actually never liked the color green but at that age, I guess I did everything to channel my rebellious steam out of my system. Today, subdued natural hair coloring is in my unwritten monthly shopping list. I don’t invest much time anymore thinking whether it is a feminist thing to do to hide my grey hair or not. For me, the very word “feminism” has had its meaning evolved through time. I now believe that beyond all the theories, it is about me feeling good about myself. It is about me looking at myself in the mirror and smile instead of feeling miserable to please others or fulfill anyone else’s fantasy of what a woman should look like or a feminist should be like.
  1. You will no longer be able to identify with anyone in the magazine or in the shop windows. Simply because no one models a mannequin after a 40-something year old woman. I know this might come across as bitterness but it isn’t. It all comes down to decades of dressing up every morning and living through waves of fashion crazes (and surviving it!) hopefully without much proof of damage in the reputation and self- dignity department. I am now a master of compensatory dressing with shopping failure rate of 60 percent. I am a pro.
  1. I love reading. I can’t quite stress that enough. I love reading obituaries and spend hours making up stories about the person who died based on the design of their death announcement, how her or his kids’ names are listed and all the basic information you found in an obituary in your newspapers. (Yes, I grew up with newspapers). I don’t do it quite as much anymore now maybe because there are less to imagine and any strain of imagination in this direction soon ends with elaborate and excessive planning on how I would like mine to look like.
  1. Did I tell you I love reading? Not just obituaries, but everything, really. I read every sign on the road when I drive. I read the thank-you page at the end of every book I have read. I read the small writings on the box of everything I buy. Except that now, I can’t do any of that without my reading glasses. And this, is making me sad.

So what do I tell my children about growing old?  I tell my girls every day to get to know and love themselves. I think they’re perfect, but I am their mother and I know I am most likely biased. I understand that they have insecurities and there are parts of their body that they are not crazy about. But whatever that might be, get to know it and make peace with it. The sooner you make peace with it, the easier life would be and the happier you would be as well.

Dianthus Saputra has been struggling with her relationship with glasses since she was 10. She used to wear her glasses to sleep because otherwise her dreams will be blurry. This resulted in many casualties on the glasses side until she decided to get a LASIK. And a few years later began yet another rocky relationship with her now near-sighted glasses.


As published on magdalene.co Feb 21, 2018

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