Am I letting myself go? Or does age set you free?

Is there a certain age when you just stop caring? I turned forty back in November, so I’m not old but not exactly young either. It just feels like I’ve changed a lot – and rather recently.

Am I letting myself go?

I roll out of bed at the very last minute and sometimes I even drop off my daughter at school with wet hair. I wear jeans and hoodies almost every day and I really hate putting on make-up. Even if I start the day with my hair down, it usually ends up in a ponytail. Maybe I should try to look nicer but I don’t care enough to do anything about it.

Why am I even concerned? Actually, this is probably more of an observation than a concern.

It wasn’t too long ago that I wouldn’t dare leave the house without a full face of make-up and styled hair. My morning routine took well over an hour. Cute outfits were a must for every occasion – I’m talking even going to Wal-Mart here. A relative once told me it’s good to look polished and I really took that to heart. Maybe I looked nice but at the time I always felt ugly. I was in competition with every other woman in the room.

So what changed? I really don’t know.

I’m married and a mom so maybe looks aren’t as important now, but it really feels more recent that I let myself go. Is it an age thing?

My priorities have shifted a little. Obviously, my daughter always comes first, but as an individual, I would rather be recognized for my art and writing than my looks. Not to mention my job in the supportive arts program – sometimes there’s just as much paint on me as the canvas…and sometimes I’m proud of that.

None of this stops me from feeling self-conscious. Even so, I just don’t feel like dressing any nicer. Putting in the effort feels a little pointless and quite frankly, I’m tired of it.

I was obsessed with looks. Is forty the age when I finally found some freedom?

I would love to hear from you guys. How do you feel about your looks and your age? Did you let yourself go? Does it even matter? Did it ever matter?

Just for the record – I know my relative meant well but I will never tell my daughter that she has to look polished.


  1. Allison says

    I think there’s a point at which you stop caring if you are doing what “they say” you’re supposed to do. I suspect you still make efforts for those who you care about, such as your child, your husband, maybe the people you know and respect. But do they really care whether you drive your kid to school with wet hair? And would it bother you if, say, Lauren Boebert disapproved?

    At some point, age and experience (and the realization that the end of your life is getting visibly closer) give you the courage to define for yourself what is important and put your efforts into those things and stop wasting your precious remaining days on stuff that doesn’t really matter. (Shocking revelation: despite what your mother told you, the nurses and doctors that save your life in the ER really don’t care if you are wearing ratty underwear.)

    In my own life, I realized around age 50 that I had been spending my life trying to be someone I wasn’t, and it was killing me. I kind of decided that even if being who I really was would get me killed (spoiler: it didn’t), those few years (days?) of living as myself were worth more than years of being who I wasn’t — and actually couldn’t really be anyway. (Of course, I first had to figure out who I really was.) It led me to things like divorce and a gender transition, and a life that feels a whole lot more worth living.

  2. Katydid says

    Culture in the USA varies from place to place, but one constant is that women are expected to do more to themselves to fit whatever standard is currently the favorite. It takes an awful lot of time and effort to meet that standard–and I think that’s the point.

    Here’s a humorous example, from one of those “how to be” movie shorts in black-and-white from the 1940s. Women were just starting to be able to go to college in any sort of numbers. The men were urged to bathe and brush their teeth; the women were urged to not only do that, but to look their best–hair, fingernails, makeup, etc. One girl is shamed because her little white fold-over lacy socks are not perfectly even to each other.

    Likewise, there’s a black-and-white film short of Amelia Earhart after being the first woman to successfully fly over the Atlantic. You see her smiling and happy and accepting congratulations as the voiceover male voice tells her condescendingly to “Comb your hair, kid!” I wonder how many groundbreaking men were told that?!?

    Women spend so much more time, money, and brainspace trying to meet those ridiculous “requirements”. Speaking of money; the pink tax is real. Ever compare (for example) women’s deodorant to men’s? The men get more for less money. Women’s razors are more expensive than men’s razors. And so forth and so on. Then there’s the whole makeup-and-hair products costs on top of that.

    So, congratulations to you on learning the “secret”; the world doesn’t stop turning if you don’t look like you stepped out of a modeling gig when you drop your daughter off at school. You don’t have to look like you just stepped off the red carpet when you pick up cat food at Walmart. As the old saying goes, “The people who matter don’t mind, and the people who mind don’t matter.”

  3. John Morales says

    Seems to me like you’ve gotten enough self-confidence (yes, I know you still feel self-conscious) to deprioritise trying to conform to perceived norms and societal expectations. Definitely helped by age and lived experience, but it’s just an opportunity, not a given.

    So, no, I can’t see that you’ve stopped caring in a general sense, rather that you care more for yourself and less for role-playing. A good thing, I reckon.


  4. sonofrojblake says

    Ever compare (for example) women’s deodorant to men’s? The men get more for less money.

    Do they though? I mean, yes, if all you care about is volume, then sure, the men’s stuff is cheaper. Whoopee fuckin doo, dogshit’s cheaper than roses. The problem you have is that you have more money left in your pocket, but you smell like men’s deodorant. And nobody with any sense should want that. One of the best bits of grooming advice I ever picked up was “don’t buy men’s anti-perspirant – look in the women’s aisle, and buy the “unscented” stuff. Then add some actually nice smelling aftershave or whatever to yourself afterwards.

    Women’s razors are more expensive than men’s razors

    I shall assume that’s true. It speaks very badly of women if it is, given that the actual product is near identical (unlike the deodorant, where there are qualitative differences, see above). If you can be persuaded to part with more money for a product whose function is unaffected by colour, simply because it’s pink rather than black, frankly you deserve to have less money. Alternatively, explain to me why you can’t just buy and use “men’s” razors – certainly when I was shaving my razors were never safe from whatever woman I was living with at the time.

    On topic: I never let myself go, because I never had a hold of myself to begin with. You might say that as a man, I have that luxury. That said, I’ve always been mainly attracted to women who had the same attitude. Never for me the made-up dolly-bird, daintily sipping G&T through a straw to preserve the lipstick. Introduce me to the one with no makeup, her hair slicked back and drenched in sweat because she’s been dancing hard… or rock climbing or whatever. Another advantage is that such women (in my view and experience) don’t peak at 18 and spend the rest of their lives straining to recreate how they looked then – they just get better and better (in my eyes) until around fiftyish, at which point a lifetime of experience is showing on their face. They don’t “let themselves go”, because they were never chasing that chimera in the first place any more than I was.

    Fundamentally, I think the place to be is where you’re taking care of the basics (clean teeth, clean underwear and so on), but beyond that not really giving much of a monkey’s what other people think. I have hung around, briefly, in groups where who (rather than what) you wore mattered. I wondered idly what they were compensating for, but I’d be lying if I said I was really interested or cared.

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