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On getting old

So far I’m okay with being 38. I have everything I’ve ever dreamed of. Two amazing babies. A top-notch partner. A job that I mostly like. A house that I love. Financial freedom. There might even be an old M&M rolling around under one of the cushions of this chair. Lots of people have a hell of a lot less and are happy all the fucking time, so what’s MY PROBLEM?

Actually, lets all agree that people who are happy all the time are the ones with a problem. Even if the problem is just that I don’t want to hang out with them.

But I think there’s a part of me that’s freaking out. I’m having a serious case of MyClothesDon’tFitMyHairIsBlahIShouldWearMakeup-itis. This happens every so often and I usually beat it back, but this year it’s not going AWAY. I mean, I’ve been having dreams about cutting my hair for weeks. I think it’s because I am now so very, very old. I seem to be spending more time wondering whether I should make an effort to look better.

I keep thinking about this backhanded compliment my brother gave me a few years ago: It’s clear you don’t care about your appearance. I know what he meant and it’s not as insulting as it sounds. But I do care about my appearance. I just feel like it’s futile to do anything. Here’s the basic cycle my thoughts go through.


Some of you must go through similar things. Or not. Maybe you think anyone who worries about this one way or the other is silly. Whatever. I’ll have you know that I AM silly.

Am I having a mid-life crisis? Will this just go away? Will it get worse? Do I need to take a course in gender studies next semester to get me out of the cycle? I get free tuition.



23 Comments Post a comment
  1. Winter Blue #

    YES! I (at 39 myself) suspect this is just how it is going to go – I remember walking with my mom on a spring day years ago, she must have been around 50, and I was around 25, and she said she noticed that as she aged, eyes were no longer on her, that she felt like she’d disappeared. Her comment stuck with me – I didn’t think of her as having such thoughts. I also took it as somewhat of a premonition for how the future would be. So how do we get used to this?

    I also wonder how much hair colouring/make up/plastic surgery (!) works to fight this feeling?? I suspect it just becomes a vicious cycle but I have no idea. As for make up – you’d be surprised what a bit of gloss/sheer lipstick and/ or mascara can do for your perception of how you look (and really, that’s what matters I guess). Skip the spackle and start with those, much less chance of anyone even noticing.

    Go for the haircut. Who cares what they think about whether you should colour your hair? Tell them you don’t have time to style/upkeep colour and you want something you can still easily tie back if you want to. A good hairstylist won’t make you feel crappy about how you want to look! Ask or search yelp for recommendations.

    April 24, 2014
    • I think this is such a good point. One thing that stops me from doing it is the fear that trying to make it better will just make it worse and next thing I know I’ll be getting a face lift.

      May 6, 2014
  2. Nicky #

    Yes, you have everything in the world to make you happy. You also have Brain Chemistry that predisposes you to depression. Your genes are your problem.

    I am pretty happy all the time. My grandmother was severely depressed, my mother was mildly depressed, and my brother is moderately depressed (much happier now that he is being treated, though). He got a bad roll of the dice, I got a good roll. My family has found a few things to help increase the natural set-point of happiness. We enjoyed The Buddha in your Mirror.

    Yes, you should cut your hair. You will love it, really. The trick is finding a style that works with your hair type and a stylist who is savvy enough to look at you, your hair, and your desire to do absolutely nothing but wash and brush your hair. (I wash and brush my hair, and it looks pretty good with zero work.) You will need to make appointments to get your hair cut every 3 months or so, but I’m sure you can fit it in. You see the dentist twice a year, right?

    What I did was look around me at people on the bus (back when I worked out of the home, and took the bus to work). I looked at ladies hair and tried to find someone whose hair looked like mine. (Fine strands, fairly thin, slightly wavy towards the bottom but stick-straight at the top of my head. Bonus if it was light brown.) Then, I’d notice if I liked their haircut, and why. Then, when I felt really brave, I’d compliment them and ask where they got their hair cut, and write down the info. If that is too much effort, look for somewhere in town in the middle of the price range. No Cost Cutters, until you figure out a style that works.

    You are strong enough to tell a hairstylist exactly what you want. It’s their job to figure out how to give you what you want, and not to push you to color your hair. (I don’t color, either.) If they push you, take your business elsewhere.

    Makeup: That just sounds like work, I don’t bother. My mom wears light makeup every day, and seems to enjoy it.

    Feminism does NOT mean you have to have bad hair and no makeup. It also doesn’t mean you HAVE to work and not stay home. (Feminist housewife with a MS in biochemistry, right here.) Feminism means you have the CHOICE of whether to fuss with your hair or makeup, or not. Fellow feminists won’t judge you.

    Figure out what makes you happy, and then DO IT!

    April 24, 2014
  3. Your post cracked me up because I have similar thoughts about makeup and clothing. I rarely wear makeup, and my “style” is boring/non-existent. (My hair is a different story. I am fortunate to have natural curls, which means as long as I have a good haircut, it is pretty much wash-and-go with the right styling products in it.)

    FWIW, I don’t think caring about how you look is anti-feminist. If you want to change your hair, find a friend or acquaintance whose hairstyle you like and ask her who cuts her hair. You don’t have to color it–which, I agree, is a big time/energy commitment–if you don’t want to, and if you decide you don’t want to keep it up, you can always let it grow out.

    For makeup, I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful BFF who has a deft but light touch in applying it, wears it daily and is willing to give me tips. Do you have anyone like that in your life who’d be willing to help?

    April 24, 2014
  4. I’ve been reading your blog for a long (pre Bun Bun) time. I think you’re very funny and nuts in a good way and I have copied bits of your posts on parenting here an there and emailed them to myself for future reference for my someday, hopeful, maybe child because I think you have a really smart, well-reasoned, intuitive parenting style. So yeah, that’s me, hi.

    I’m commenting now after all this time because, hair. It has always been a big thing in my life. I have a ton of very curly hair and have battled with it since I was a kid. I always kept it long so I could just put it all in a bun, which was what I did 99% of the time. It wasn’t any one thing, but about two years ago I was suddenly just so tired of the hair, the bun, and always looking the same, and I got the itch to cut it, cut it now! I fought it for a while, trimmed a couple of inches, and then finally one day just bit the bullet, made an appointment with a random stylist at a salon from Groupon (DO NOT DO THIS), and went. Then I went home and cried and cried. It was too short, I hated it, nightmare. The guy legit did a bad job, but I played with it for a while, it grew a bit and after not all that long I found myself liking it. It’s a bit more work than before, but really not much, and can still be bunned in an emergency with the help of a few bobby pins. My point is, I think you should cut your hair because it sounds like you feel trapped by it. (I truly don’t think this is a feminist issue, but if it is, then feeling trapped by your own hair is a psychological minefield, ha). If you cut it and hate it, that will suck, but then, without you having to make any decisions at all, it will grow and you’ll eventually end up with the same hair you have now, but without the angst.

    As for makeup, I think it’s a huge pain in the ass and very rarely wear it, but I will say that for occasions, it is amazing what mascara, a little blush and lip gloss can do and I’ve thought more than once of making those three a part of my daily routine. Takes less than 5 minutes and just kind of looks like a brighter eyed, rosier cheeked you, not like someone who’s been spackled.

    I hope you find a resolution that you’re happy with. And happy birthday ๐Ÿ™‚

    April 24, 2014
  5. I have the same hair thing. I started getting my hair cut at a salon where I pay money two years ago. NB: this means I have done it twice, because I am not into that high maintenance thing. Anyway, I recommend it. What happens is, I look fantastic when I leave the salon. Amazing. Realistically, I am never in a million years going to blow dry my hair the way they do, because for one thing, my arms aren’t that long, which means I will never look that good again. But I don’t care, because the actual haircut makes me feel like I look that good pretty regularly for several months. (By the way, my impression is that we have somewhat similar hair. If such a thing is possible, I recommend trying to find a Japanese salon. They do good things with the long, fairly straight hair, it seems.) After a few months, I go back to wearing it in a bun all the time, because, hello, I have shit to do. But it’s fun while it lasts, and I understand there’s no actual law against getting it cut more than once a year.

    Makeup. Forget spackle. Take a shade of lipstick you like. Put two small dots on the part of your cheek bone below the outer half of your eye. Use the heel of your hand to blend up, diagonally towards your fabulous hair. Now put some on your lips. Mascara if you are fancy. Eyeshadow as eyeliner if you are very fancy. But really, the lipstick on the cheeks is the thing. Amazing how not-dead it makes a person look.

    April 24, 2014
  6. Martha #

    Spackle– that is hilarious. What on earth did you say to that one?
    I have to comment to say I completely relate to your thoughts here. Hair– the same as high school but greyer, and it varies in length by about 5-10 cm. That’s nearly 20 years! Have had bangs twice but this was a Mistake, because my refusal to do styling wrecks it all. Makeup– felt very limited for ages because I never had the junior high learning curve everyone else did and as a result I can only apply mascara with any finesse. However, it makes me feel 1000x more awake-looking so that is all I do (shh- i don’t bother removing it! any left after the day washes off the next morning). But, my 32 year old sister recently stayed, discovered I never wear foundation or cover-up, decided it must be why I don’t have many zits, and she’s stopped wearing it too, with good results for her skin too. So that’s perhaps a bonus of complete makeup idiocy!
    My own personal ridiculous further issues result from a complete lack of any sense of dress style so I get overwhelmed at the shops very easily. I am sure a personal shopper would fix everything but my glamorous lifestyle won’t quite stretch to it.
    Please let us know how you did with this stuff! also a before/after hair shot? A little external distraction cannot hurt your current situation. Then at least you have a focus for the angst.

    April 24, 2014
  7. Amy #

    Oh yes, allllll these things I wear makeup probably three or four times a year. The specialist occasions only. Every time I dust off the makeup bag (literally, it gets totally dusty), I realize nearly all the shit in it is probably expired…by a lot. I haven’t had a haircut since November…of 2012. I know that donating the length (I even researched and found better alternatives to Locks of Love – Children With Hair Loss and Wigs for Kids!) will make me feel great even if the cut itself doesn’t. I haven’t plucked my eyebrows since my brother’s wedding in November (at least that was just last year and not the year before?). I have never colored my hair. I know, especially when I’m feeling icky about my self/appearance, that doing some of these things at least semi-regularly would probably make me feel…nicer? better? something a little more…elevated? But in the end I usually can’t be bothered. I did just find a nice SPF 30 moisturizer I don’t hate, so that’s something…sort of? COOLA Cucumber, if you happen to also be looking for that. Giving a shit about ones appearance is not anti-feminist, but not all feminists give a shit very often, either! Hugs – I hope you feel better, whether you own your current routine or add to it.

    April 24, 2014
    • Amy #

      *yeah, not specialist. You know. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      April 24, 2014
  8. Sweetheart, are these comments proof enough that we are all, deep down, pretty much the same? Or, to put a negative tone into it, since your birthday is already done and gone: old bird, you are not all that special as you might have thought. ๐Ÿ˜€
    This old bird commenting here is not special either. My hair grows insanely quickly. Drives me batty. And gives me the corresponding look. When it is short, I have to wash it every other day, because it gets so greasy, I am practically a Snape in jeans. So the short bob that works best on me is not all that practical. It is all nice for the entire two weeks it shows I’ve had somethind done to it, and then it goes right back to being blah, and I get pissed off and put it back in a ponytail, or bun. Once in a loooooong while, I put it up nicely, retro-ishly, or french braid, and I realise it is so much work for so little reward, that I do not do it again soon. Right now I am torn between CUTCUTCUT and ILuuurveThe50sDo, which require longish hair, so I am in perfect balance, and the opposite drives compensate each other into nothingness.
    The makeup: silly as it sounds, even though I do not wear much make up, as in maybe once a week or fortnight I put on some BBcream and that is it, I remove/clean my face every morning and evening. It is such a bother. Yet I do it, because it makes me feel good afterwards, I feel like I am doing all I can to have a nicer complexion, and I have to say, a la longue, it shows. The wisedom of older age dries my skin, and moisturising it with creams makes me look two weeks younger. ๐Ÿ™‚
    In the end, it gets to be a habit, like flossing, so maybe you should try it. And since you’re already doing it, you could try putting on some tinted moisturiser in the morning, nothing more, just to give it a bit of light and sparkle. Most creams differ by their “skin feel”, don’t fall for marketing tools, for example, hyaluronic acid does not penetretate the skin unless it is injected, so forget those creams. This is where samples are useful, you can get a sense of how you like them on your skin and chose without too much pressure. The more expensive ones will not transform you, but they do feel nicer on the skin, so you will feel better, who doesn’t when they do something mice for themselves, plus the expensive bottles keep the cream better. You do not have to go all the way, putting all make up products one could get, you just have to do what makes YOU feel better, since this is the main idea. If doing nothing is what you love, then do just that. If you feel like you could feel betterish with a bit of an effort, start small, grow into the habits, and do exactly what you like. The beauty of growing old is that you KNOW you can do the rules yourself, and you don’t need to conform anymore.
    Whatever you do, nothing is irreversible, hair grows back, make up is removed quickly or in time, yadayada. And you still look wonderful, even though you don’t feel so, or want to even contemplate the possibility. Just ask your husband and children, see what they say. ๐Ÿ™‚

    April 24, 2014
  9. Bahha gender studies.

    I think we must be going through similar things, as I walked around a makeup store for 30 minutes trying to decide on a brand of foundation to try (I haven’t worn foundation since my mom and I did glamour shots back in the early 90s, HOLLA!). My conclusion, I just grabbed a sma.shbox one because the name appealled to me. Violence + Vagina Code = done! I now spend about 23 seconds putting on make-up in the morning…..I believe I have crossed into the girl column. It does make me feel good…I am sure a feminist just died.

    I vote get a haircut even if only for the purpose of having someone else wash and massage your scalp. That is pretty much the only reason I get my hair cut and it is AMAZING! In fact, you can just go in for a wash and blowdry if you don’t want the cut….I’ve never done this because I fear if I start I might go every other day.

    April 24, 2014
  10. Gads, you’ve gotten such good advice here. I only have to offer Clinique CC cream. It’s got SPF. Just smear the stuff on (a wee bit, smear probably not the right choice of word). It’s easy peasy lemon squeezy. As someone who struggles with confidence, I find that if I at least think that I look good/done the best I can (and I’m with you on the no effort hair thing), then it helps.

    April 25, 2014
  11. I feel the exact same way. When I get twitchy I just ask myself “Who exactly are you trying to impress?” and that usually calms me down. I’ll blowdry once and remember I’m not “that kind of person”. But concealer under my eyes, always. If not, people ask me if I’m sick. The nerve!

    April 26, 2014
  12. Rosalind #

    What do you like about your hair? Is there any way to enhance that? Same with body parts that you can put make-up on.

    I have thin, fine, hair and frankly can’t be arsed to do anything other than a ponytail or bun because when I wear it down it has no volume and tangles with the barest breeze. So, my hair tip is finding a stylist who will shoot straight with you. “Does this hair cut suit my hair type? No? Okay, what are my options?” What I asked for was something that looked nice (in my case, shoulderlength layers) IF I chose to wear it down. I asked once whether a loose perm would give me the body I’ve always longed for, but stylist said no, it would make my hair look like shit after a matter of days. I still go through the same crisis as you from time to time, but ultimately time spent styling hair is wasted–for me, in my opinion.

    As for the make-up, I like my eyes and long eyelashes, therefore I stick to eye make-up only. I’ve worn lipstick fewer than 10 times in my life because what a pain in the ass; I want to put delicious food in my mouth and drink coffee. I can’t keep reapplying gross-tasting paint to them. Plus I look like I have clown lips any time I apply it. Foundation presents the same hurdle. Reapplication is a time drain, plus the danger of that caked-on look.

    Bottom line: experiment, do what makes you feel pretty and confident. And happy birthday!

    A Feminist

    April 26, 2014
    • “I want to put delicious food in my mouth and drink coffee. I canโ€™t keep reapplying gross-tasting paint to them.” Totally cracked me up. And expresses my position, too.

      April 29, 2014
      • Rosalind #

        Food is crucial.

        “I have thin, fine, hair”

        Also, rogue comma. Sorry!

        April 29, 2014
  13. mmd #

    I have to say, one of the reasons I really enjoy your blog is that you seem to be going through the same struggles that I am (marriage, wee kids, job), and it feels good knowing that other people have the same issues. Plus, you are much more articulate and funny about them than I am able to be.

    I’m with the above commenters in thinking that you should try a professional haircut. My hair is long-ish (not quite boob-level) and straight-ish, and the stylist that I’ve been having cut it for the last couple of years manages to make it look like it has some body and a shape to it. I typically get it cut maybe 3x/year. Also, I’ve never had a stylist suggest coloring my hair. Along with wondering if I should wear makeup, I’ve also started wondering if I should start coloring or at least highlighting my hair. The gray is now serious enough that the hair at the top is noticeably grayer than the hair at the ends, and I don’t care for the two-tone look. I don’t think I could deal with the maintenance required in coloring my hair, though – as one of my uncles once pointed out to me, dying your hair is like telling a lie – once you start, you pretty much have to keep doing it.

    I’ve had a existential clothing crisis recently as well. My work clothes are totally fine, and I really don’t need any more. However, I found myself fantasy shopping for suits on the Banana Republic website the other night. I will never need to wear a suit professionally…I’m a science professor at a small state school in the boonies, which means that the standards for professional attire a my workplace are very low. And, the Dansko clogs that I have worn at work nearly every day for the past several years would not work with a sharp new suit, but yet…I still find myself thinking that I would look bad-ass in a suit.

    April 26, 2014
    • I have to say, I always liked the way people looked in a cute little blazer and skirt or pants, but every time I tried one on, I looked absurd. I thought it was me. And then I finally found a blazer that looks great! Not too short, not too long, amazing! From that very store you mentioned! And now I can be a person who wears a cute little blazer. So I say get that suit, and confound your students and colleagues by showing up in it every now and then. Hey, you might even spring for a new pair of clogs.

      May 6, 2014
  14. I would have commented sooner, except that I was busy running the same tens of thousand iterations of these exact scripts (plus add the revamping of my diet and exercise regimens as a third script), and coming to similar conclusions. Except that now that I’m fucking forty, I should REALLY do something about how I look. Humโ€ฆexcuse me while I go research concealers and foundation.
    (see, I’ve got nothing useful to contribute).

    April 27, 2014
  15. Yes! These two things! The only reason I have my hair cut four times a year is because an old school friend is a hairdresser and cuts it for cheap from her laundry. I only discovered this when I ran into her at a wedding a couple of years ago. I had had shit hair (and worried about it) for more than a decade before that. (Partly because it’s curly and really hard to cut properly. A few bad haircuts in a row scarred me for a really, really long time.) I like Nicky’s idea of looking out for people with similar hair and nice cuts and maybe asking them where they get theirs done.

    I avoided makeup forever, and still don’t wear anything but sunscreen (hello, skin cancer capital of the world!) every day. But I did work up the courage to go into the Body Shop (not sure if these exist in the US?) before a wedding once and choose some concealer for the bags under my eyes and some really lightweight foundation that doesn’t cover up my freckles – spackle! – but just kind of smooths things out a bit, and now I wear that and some mascara for special occasions. Once in a blue moon I put on really bright red lipstick and feel like a completely different woman and it is GREAT! I highly recommend it. But it wouldn’t be fun if I did it all the time, plus laziness and feminism.

    Having kind of resolved these two issues for myself, the big thing I’m still stuck on re: grooming vs feminism is body hair. I haven’t shaved my armpits for about 15 years, but I still won’t wear a singlet to yoga. The legs get a go maybe once a year? Usually for weddings. (What am I going to do when all the people I know are married?) They were furry for my own wedding, and I wore a short dress. I can’t tell you how much angst that caused me. Nobody even noticed. (The pubic hair issue isn’t even an issue. I am perfectly happy with my bush, and nobody else gets a look in there.)

    April 27, 2014
  16. SRB #

    “Even if the problem is just that I donโ€™t want to hang out with them.” Heh. And YEP.

    One time, I was riding my bike down Busy City Street, and decided that I would turn left (a healthy-ish distance) in front of the streetcar. Except that I turned into the tracks, panicked, swerved out and nearly bailed in a weird three-way intersection. I had to pull over and CRY. My point is that it is kind of upsetting when you find yourself in a rut. (Not saying that you are in a rut necessarily, just that trying to swerve out is not advisable, but neither is riding your bike in the streetcar track…I’m losing it here…stay with me.)

    What I am TRYING to say, is that knowing what you don’t want, is just as good as knowing what you do. I give myself the anti-feminist “But…but…but” thing all the time, and it just makes me feel worse. At some point, I give myself a pass on the horrible cultural messaging I have internalized to the point where I am nearly comfortable at any given time. So, here’s the deal: You are an intelligent women with a good sense or self. I say, do whatever makes you feel good about yourself, for yourself (and possible Mr. Bun *wink wink*) and fuck the rest. Hey man, I feel good when I’ve curled my eyelashes. What the fuck is that? I don’t know. But that, and a well-fitting bra make me feel like I am awesome, which makes me more awesome. Not awesome enough to outrun a streetcar without a near-death experience, but just shy of that.

    And now I will read the rest of the comments since this one was not helpful in the least. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    April 30, 2014
  17. Seriously who needs make up? Is it a keeping up with society thing for most or is it mandatory like brushing teeth? I do brush my teeth, I just don’t understand make up. I have the dilemma frequently when I see people with make up on though. Almost like I really missed the boat on that one.

    True beauty comes from being yourself. Wear it if you like the way you feel wearing it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    April 30, 2014
  18. Those comments were interesting. Yes, yes.

    Funnily enough, as someone who could legitimately feel old, unlike you (whippersnapper), I don’t really. I am in my mid-forties, and this is okay. Well. While it is not precisely nice it is salutary to feel time is not limitless. Also, at this age, we are good at what we do. We have experience. We have drive. Also, it’s better than being dead. To put it in its simplest terms.

    So, to sum up, come over here, I will make you feel young (by comparison).

    In more simple terms, isn’t feminism about fairness and freedom? It is not unsisterly to wear make-up or get a haircut, in my opinion. Feel free.

    May 1, 2014

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