I’m Almost 40 and I’m Still Fly
‘While some women leave their 30s in protest — kicking and screaming — thankfully, I don’t think that will be me’
Almost every Black person has heard or repeated the saying “Black don’t crack” in a declaration of how good we look throughout the aging process. But what constitutes looking good? Minimal wrinkles, fit bodies, and the absence of grays? Or full booties, softly rounded tummies, and the friendly crinkle of crow’s feet?
As I stare 40 in the eye, contemplating these questions, growing older is not nearly as scary as I thought it would be. A younger me expected to feel beat down by my late thirties or that I would be wearing muumuus and slides. But I’m still as fly as I was when I was 26. (Yes, I am being a bit dramatic.) Still, the truth is ageism is real, and society places extreme pressure on women to do anything and everything to retain their “youth.” Black women feel this pressure too, even if our Black don’t crack.
That’s why fighting Father Time is a billion-dollar industry no matter your race, and it preys on the fear of a woman becoming the crazy cat lady, or at the very least, no longer feeling sexy or physically appealing. But some women are not only embracing their age; they’re redefining the aging process for themselves — Botox, new boobs, gray hairs, and all.
At about 33, I began to notice wrinkles that would crease around my eyes when I smiled. I’m not exactly sure when my crow’s feet took residence. It felt like they just popped up, unexpected and definitely uninvited, like rude house guests. When I got married a couple of years later, I even contemplated getting Botox around my eyes. Despite my friends telling me that I was crazy and saying my crow’s feet were barely noticeable, I noticed them. Although I did not pull the trigger to get Botox for my wedding, I continued to feel self-conscious and was painfully aware of their existence. I was not alone. An Allergen study found that that seven out of 10 women ages 25 to 34 feel pressured to look younger. Mind you, 25 is far from being “old,” but the ageism issues sprout early.
The same study found the pressure that many women feel to look like young nymphs — even well into their nineties—is not just reserved for selfies and Instagram reels, but also follows them into their place of employment. More than half of women feel judged on how they present in the workplace, with 34% stating that they believe their looks impact their prospect of getting a promotion. Additionally, 67% of women say they feel under more pressure to look younger than their male co-workers.
So, let me get this right. While Black women have to duck and dodge racism and sexism in the workforce, some also are worried about what their supervisor might think about the appearance of their emerging frown lines. This feels like a cruel joke on top of the usual litany of -isms we face, but the sad reality is that attractiveness bias exists, and people who are considered attractive sometimes experience preferential treatment. One of the standards of beauty for women in America is proximity to light or white skin and another is maintaining a youthful appearance. It’s important to note that looking young does not only apply to the face but the body as well, including a firm butt, perky breasts, and a flat stomach. This explains the gradual normalizing of cosmetic enhancements to achieve or maintain smooth skin and a supple and taut silhouette.
Yes. Yes. Black people carry some genetic benefits within our skin that save us from showing our age compared to White folks. But sometimes Black does crack, and breasts begin to sag and behinds start to spread, and when they do, plastic surgeons are only one call away. And, yes, Black women do indeed go to plastic surgeons.
Then there are the injectables. Botox and other fillers are widely used by women who wish to refine, reduce, or reshape the appearance of fine lines and other facial features. Women —myself included —also use prescription and over-the-counter products that promise to reduce or slow down the aging process. Over 60% of women ages 35 to 54 use anti-aging creams, and the average woman spends about $313 per month on her appearance, which adds up to $3,756 per year or $225,360 throughout a lifetime. Last year alone, the global anti-aging market was estimated at $58.5 billion.
Other women bypass the use of anti-aging products and procedures and go au naturel. I fall somewhere in the middle. Either way, one thing is for sure: As we grow a little longer in the tooth, we don’t have to look like it, and we most certainly do not have to feel it. At least not in a negative way. While talking to a close friend who recently turned 40, she shared that she feels the sexiest and most confident she has ever felt. Getting older does not have to come with an automatic membership into the ancient auntie “baby-here’s-a-peppermint” club unless you want it to. I think coming to this realization was instrumental in me getting over my crow’s feet and just enjoying life.
Perhaps the most critical part of growing older is rejecting the notion that we either have to compete with Instagram models fresh out of high school or walk around wearing a housecoat and sponge rollers in our hair. It could be that the beauty of aging is the gift of growth, learning, expansion, self-awareness, and life. So while some women leave their thirties in protest, kicking and screaming, when the time comes, thankfully, I don’t think that will be me.