I celebrated my 42nd birthday last weekend. And despite all the popular culture and conventional wisdom informing me that I shouldn't admit to that—42—I just did. Because I am not ashamed of the woman I have become, and that woman has been 42 years in the making.
A quick recap of how I celebrated: I started the day with a mocha from my favorite coffee shop, played tennis for nearly two hours with a lovely human, then went to my favorite noon class the gym (I'm an Orange Theory devotee), showered, ran some errands, and grabbed a taco and "a" margarita for lunch at my favorite spot in town (the place where I used to hold a Thursday afternoon residency pre-pandemic: I'd walk in with 2-3 volumes of poetry under my arm, grab a stool at the bar, and throw down a couple margaritas and the happy hour nachos while sobbing to the lines of Jack Gilbert, Tony Hoagland, Galway Kinnell, or Mary Oliver). After a fun surprise chat with a friend there, I headed home to prepare for a small birthday gathering in my backyard with a handful of (vaccinated) friends. There were rice bowls and badminton and funny banter and the joy of being surrounded by people to love and be loved by.
It was quite nearly a perfect day. Filled with the small things I love and the big things I love, like my family and friends and sports and laughter and community. I received heartfelt phone calls and messages and gifts from dear friends and family that made me feel held in love. The weekend continued in much the same vein (dampened only by Djokovic's loss in the US Open final on Sunday afternoon), even including a pile of thoughtful presents (three of which were LEGO sets, none of which I got to do. Thanks kids!).
I was thinking this afternoon about a social media post about my birthday (aren't we all constantly composing social media posts while we try to live our actual lives?), based on the top picture—me at my happy place (thanks for being you, TacoVino). Over the weekend, people kept making jokes about "not looking a day over 41" or how I might want to obscure my age—but I don't want to. I've never understood that. I've never understood lying about or otherwise trying to betray one's own life, the wisdom and pain that come from hard experience, the joys that come from all the friends, family, laughter, and love that carry us through the years.
I won't deny that these days it's harder to post pictures of myself online, hard to find the angle, lighting, variety of smile that's flattering, that lets me hold onto that fragment of beauty that was a currency in my youth. I am not unaware that my face is aging, and that it shows, and that it is not okay for my face to be aging publicly in 21st century America.
But oh, the life my face has lived! The sun damage it accrued playing ultimate frisbee and soccer for a dozen hours every week in LA, or hiking solo in the high Sierras or the San Gabriels week after week after week for years; the summer hours I've spent on rivers and lakes and oceans, on sand dunes and sandy beaches; languid afternoons picnicking with friends at wineries, parks, in backyards; years of sleep I've lost tending to my three beatific babies; late nights drinking and laughing with cousins; and so many margaritas: all of these show up in my face, none of these would I give up for a smoother forehead (but yo, if you know anything that would fix my hair and make up for the bad hair decade that I'm having, I'm 100% in). I've always been far more concerned in cultivating the way my soul inhabits the world than I have been in the way my face inhabits pop culture.
I have traveled, I have loved, I have been broken, I have been lost, I have found things—people, commitments, mountains—to build a life out of. I am at the age when I feel the pressure, through popular and social media and a growing number of friends, to smooth myself out, to try to keep passing for beautiful, like beautiful is the only thing worth passing for. To that I say a boastful and resounding fuck no: I'd rather pass for mature, experienced, wise, nuanced, faulted, genuine, me. Always, always, always me. No one's version of beauty is worth more than my own sense that I have lived a beautiful life in a beautiful body, and it is mine, and I am proud of it. So I will wear this on my sleeve, and my face, and the achy way I walk when I get up after sitting for a while.
I am 42. This is me.