On Turning 45
by Annie Kemp
It's almost 3am in the morning and today is my birthday. I am officially forty-five years old. Whenever I think of age I recall Jane Fonda turning 50 and saying "this is what fifty
looks like for me and that is what fifty looks like for her and so on." It occurred to me that I have spent the majority of the first half of my life avoiding mirrors. I grew up in a
time when beauty was defined in terms that I could not possibly meet but that didn't stop me from trying. Like Whoopi Goldberg I wrapped towels around my head to get a sense of what long hair felt
like. Like my schoolmates I tried dippity doo in my painfully short hair with brush rollers and wound up having to cut most of my hair off to get the curlers out.
I washed and scrubbed my face daily and nightly in the fervent hope I would wake up as beautiful as the women in the magazines that professed to define the terms of beauty for me.
There were only two times in my life that I was "thin" and therefore supposedly more attractive. One was when I was homeless and living on the streets. The other was during my
first marriage when I became convinced that my weight was the problem and solving that problem would save my marriage. I was wrong.
For forty-five years I have rejected this body I was given, although for the majority of those years it never let me down. This body carried me through four childbirths with two children who lived. It carried me through floors scrubbed on my hands and knees, working night shifts, going to college all day and living on two hours sleep. This body rocked babies to sleep against its softness, comforted a heartbroken teenage girl and allowed a man child to break down when his daughter was moved to Florida along with her mother.
Yet for all that and more I have hated this body endlessly. It was too fat, too short,
it didn't have enough stamina, wasn't sexy, was too utilitarian. It was the kind of body that inspired men to think of me as their "buddy." I tried disguises...stretch pants and big loose shirts. It worked until i walked past a window one day and didn't recognize the woman staring back at me. Slowly and painstakingly I began to fight against the hundreds of messages I'd been given. Baby steps...one at a time, learning to be comfortable with a hairdresser, discovering the fashion industry finally realized large women have money too, discovering makeup and perfume at the age of forty-two. I transformed myself into the quintessential professional woman, a sophisticated external package. Yet I continued to avoid things as critical as a mammogram because it would necessitate my taking off the "costume" and being seen as I still knew, I truly was...ugly.
So for my forty-fifth year on this earth I have pledged to myself that I shall accept this body I have been given. There is not a wrinkle on my face thanks to melatonin and good genes. My
teeth are as crooked now as they were when I was ten years old. I am still pear shaped.
My breasts no longer reach toward the sun but they are still a soft place for a weary head or a broken heart to rest upon. My skin remains astonishingly soft and my touch has gentled with time and self-confidence. I can still do a perfect ballerina point with both feet as long as I'm sitting in my wheelchair. My arms are strong from pushing the chair as well as years of use. Despite my large size my small hands, slender wrists and tiny feet continue to baffle me as well as make me smile.
It is the forty-fifth year of my life. I am, as they say, officially half way there. I feel as if I spent my twenties making mistakes and my thirties making repairs. My forties seem to be
about finding a level of peace within myself, first intellectually and now physically. This is who I am...soft, gentle, shy, capable of standing my ground on another's behalf. I am a passionate
lover, a learning to be loving mother and grandmother and a new wife all at the same time. I am a quilter, a writer, a research analyst.
For all this and more, this is what forty-five looks like on me and I am pleased.
I really enjoyed your article, it brought tears to my eyes. Turning forty this summer, and sometimes I am pleased, other times, sad. thanks again. - Mary Murphy
Please visit Annie's site,
"Stories of Race in America"