Twenty-nine and seven one-thousandths. No, that’s not a fraction from the world’s worst third grade math problem. Twenty-nine is an age and seven one-thousandths of an inch is the diameter of an average human hair. When I was twenty-nine, a single, coarse, dark-brown hair sprouted from the underside of my chin. I already had a handful of gray hairs tucked under a bed of various browns on the front, right side of my head, but at least those grew from the part of my head that female hair is supposed to grow from.
Naturally, I put the tweezers to work as soon as I found the porcupine quill. And after a few months it still hadn’t returned, so I forgot all about it. Until it was there again. Nope, there was no mistaking that my chin had gone from baby-butt smooth to sporting a oddly placed unicorn horn overnight. The hair continued to appear at unpredictable intervals, sometimes giving me months between its offensive growth and other times only weeks. I invested in several more pairs of tweezers and placed them strategically in my bathroom, office, car, purse, and travel kit so I’d never be caught with my single-haired beard, unable to do anything about it. And that’s how I realized that I wasn’t going to be young forever. The next decade did nothing to prove that belief wrong.
I’d always been skinny, skinny, skinny. I grew up eating junk food nonstop. Candy. So much candy. And chips and unhealthy, prepackaged, microwave meals. But somehow I never broke 110 pounds…until I turned thirty. I went up to 127 pounds that year, which may not seem like a lot for most women, but everything is relative. That’s a 15% weight gain and more than enough to make sure that none of my clothes fit anymore.
A digestive revolt kicked off. Milk—so cold and refreshing—was no longer allowed. During all the years I lived overseas in countries where they have that weird unrefrigerated milk on shelves, one of the first things I did when I went back to visit my parents in Western New York was drink a huge glass of pasteurized, two percent. Now this pleasure came with an unpleasant, stinky price.
I also became a ma’am on a fairly regular basis. That’s a bit premature. I didn’t remotely look thirty-one. I am blessed with youthful genetics that have always made me look a good five years younger than I am. When I was fourteen and fifteen, my parents would still pass me off as a twelve-year-old to get the child discount. I hated it. HATED it. Yet there I was at thirty-one being called ma’am. Often. I wouldn’t even say that thirty-one is ma’am-able anyway. This makes no sense. Is this just something that young kids do whenever they know someone is not their age but they really can’t tell how old that person is?
I lost a lot of the weight I had gained two years prior. At least I was back under 120 pounds. It was pretty simple really. All I did was cut out sugar one hundred percent. I didn’t amp up my workout routine or eat much better at most meals. But I eliminated candy and dessert and soda completely, and the pounds melted away.
So that was good but…my facial skin has lost some of its brightness. I’d worn concealer for my undereye circles and powder for my shiny nose since high school, but that’s all. Any other cosmetics I dabbled with were only for fun and not an everyday habit. But at this age, I started wearing foundation. I spread it on lightly but knew I could never go back to not using it. Except in the deep summer when my skin is filled with sunshine and warmth, my naked face looks raw and uneven and tired without foundation.
More involuntary diet changes. Eggs and coffee began to do bad, bad things inside me. However, I cannot live without coffee so I learned to develop routines that help me manage the nasty side effects. Most days.
A second chin hair joined the first. This one appears with much more regularity. Good thing I have an army of tweezers at the ready.
My gray strays blossomed into a full-on Stacy London streak. But she’s beautiful and stylish, so I felt fine with it. I had no intention of trying to maintain a dye job to cover up the gray. Ain’t nobody got for time for that.
A sunspot. About a half inch tall and a quarter inch wide, prominently featured on my right cheek for all the world to see. I don’t think anyone but me has really noticed yet, but it’s there. And so is my mortality—not to be too dramatic.
Good things and sneezes might come in threes, but so do bad things.
Why was a bone in my left knee sticking out the wrong way? Ah, all those years of sitting on my feet with my legs bent in half caught up with me. I would now have knee problems for the rest of my life, just as I started to develop a passion for hiking and running. At least a simple drug store compression brace solved the issue…for now.
Why was my eye clouding over with this arc of bright wavy colors? I couldn’t see. What was happening to me? Ocular migraines apparently. At least simple drug store reading glasses and better work habits solved the issue…for now.
Why was there…? Oh no. Oh god. New gray hair. Down there.
Apparently I died and my body was rotting because I had mold on my stomach. Okay, not really. It was only an intradermal nevus, which the dermatologist quickly and painlessly zapped off.
Dermatologists. These are people women my age with disposable income visit frequently, right? Nope, I will not. Plastic surgery and the resulting puffy, shiny, alien, freak face will never be my thing. But removing a few moles (and waxing away those grays) doesn’t count since neither needles nor anesthesia are involved.
Hey, when did that sunspot disappear? Was it the cream I bought or just my skin regenerating itself thanks to healthier eating habits? Although I reintroduced sugar (in very, very small doses) to my diet years ago, I cleaned up my diet in other ways. Lots of whole foods and vegetables and very little snacking. And I stopped drinking coffee after noon. I never managed to give it up complete, despite the consequences, but after several sleepless nights, I realized that I was now one of those people who needs decaf in evening. Late night lattes and cappuccinos never used to affect me but they began to at this age. Coffee is a desiccant anyway, and my body craves water nonstop now. So it’s better for me and my skin to stick to two cups of coffee in the morning and no more.
So my (foundation covered) face was unmarred and beautifully hydrated once again, with only the slightest hint of crow’s feet when I smiled broadly, but my neck had become an embarrassment. I undeniably had developed old lady, crepe paper skin on my neck. When I turned my head to either side, if you focused right on the center of my neck, I might as well be 55 years old. If I were plump this wouldn’t be happening, but if I have to choose, I’ll take my svelte, runners body over a fat-filled, wrinkle-free neck.
I am a powerhouse. I became a fitness fiend, joining several different gyms and running clubs. I may not be able to control my skin or stomach or knees, but I can control my muscles and my lung capacity and my ability to exert mind over matter. Working out became an obsession. I admired the sculpture of my muscles as I sweated it out in the gym and pushed myself to do more and be stronger. Half marathons, 10Ks, trail runs, 14ers—I did it all and then sought out more. My body became fitter and stronger and sexier than it’s ever been.
I am so excited to be turning 40. Do you know why? Because the alternative is to be dead. The only people who don’t get old are those who die young, and I have way too much left to do to die now. Two years ago when I did the DeCaLiBron, on the way down from the first peak (Mt. Democrat), I passed a group of several women who appeared to be in their mid to late 60s. They were moving so slowly, and they made a comment as I barreled past about being jealous of my youth and ease of movement. I had to stop and turn around and tell them, no. They were wrong. They represented the goal. They represented the dream. If I’m still hiking fourteen thousand foot mountains when I’m 65, I won life. Some physical changes I can’t do anything about, or would be foolish to fight, but staying strong and active is something I can and absolutely will do. Bring on the second half because this body is ready!