According to the headlines of nearly every blog and magazine out there, one’s fifties are supposed to be a time of new beginnings. Fifty is the new thirty, right? Articles brim with women with ripped abs and sleek workout wear running a road race or executing a perfect yoga position. And if the piece isn’t focused on their workouts, it’s focused on their lifestyles.
There are women who have moved to different countries to live clean vegan lives on farms in the rainforest or some equally exotic locale, women who started innovative new businesses and now control an empire from their living rooms. Each article practically bubbles over with the news about how our fifties are this amazing time of coming into our own, claiming our space and living our best lives. This is your time! Claim it! Climb it! Run it! Stretch it!
I Love Being in My 50s
And I guess the articles aren’t completely wrong. I’m sliding down the hill toward 54 and I have to say I really love my fifties. The freedom and joy of owning who I am without apologies, empty-nest adventures, and claiming space as a veteran in my profession feels good. But I have a bone to pick with all these blogs and magazine articles. Where are the women like me?
As a, shall we say, “sturdy gal,” (one of my favorite phrases) whose exercise consists of calm languid laps at the local Y each weekend, and an occasional stroll around the neighborhood or nearby walking trails, I’ve been wondering about this trend.
Does the only representation of fantastic life in your fifties come in the form of stock photos of marathon running-hot yoga sweating-kayaking-cycling-crossfitting- mountain hiking, kombucha-swilling- hard bodied women who we are told should be considered courageous because they don’t color the few strands of gray in their perfect hair, or workout without makeup on?
Where are the women who made it to their fifties and thought “ahhh, I can feel free to enjoy my elastic-waist linen pants and Eileen Fisher flowy tops with abandon.” I’ve been training for this moment my whole life and finally it’s here! Where are the women like me? They certainly aren’t in any of the articles I’ve read, and I feel we need equal airtime.
A year or so ago I had just finished my mile-swim at the local Y and was changing to head out for a lovely leisurely Saturday. I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in years, and was enjoying catching up with her in the locker room. “We should get together sometime!” I offered, “for a drink or dinner or something.” “We should get together for SALADS,” she replied. “I mean, that’s why we’re here working out, right?” she said, looking at me knowingly.
I’m sure my friend assumed I was swimming to lose weight. That’s a natural assumption one would make about someone my size and I get that. But I haven’t weighed myself in years and had no intention of starting now. And I certainly didn’t want to schedule an evening out with a friend that would be all about salads.
I had reached the holy grail; I was an empty nester with a girl more than half-way through college. I had navigated two sets of teenage years (mine and hers) in a world obsessed with thin people. I was proud that even with all that ‘noise’ I had raised a girl with a healthy sense of self-esteem, razor-sharp wit, and a good kind heart who never talks of food in terms of ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
Sure we grow them bigger than average in my family, but we’re also taller than average and I’d worked hard for her to always see the body she’d been given as a beautiful one and to recognize the joy that comes with sharing wonderful food with the people you love — even if that food isn’t a salad.
I No Longer Play the Weight Loss Game
I’d done my time in the weight loss trenches–probably losing and gaining myself four times over on various “lifestyle change” programs. I often think if I’d never started trying to lose weight in my twenties, I would weigh much less than I do now, such is the ripple effect of 30 years of diet plans. I’d cut down and counted and stepped and journaled and tracked myself silly and frankly I was tired.
So, I stopped. Just stopped the game. Stopped weighing myself, even at the doctor’s office. Stopped counting calories. Stopped tracking workouts. I moved when I wanted to, ate as healthy as I could, but also enjoyed a whole lot of ice cream and some really good glasses of wine. I was blessed by two doctors who understand that fat doesn’t automatically mean unhealthy, who treat my entire being, and who have been with me long enough to understand that I was through with the weight loss cycle.
It hasn’t always been easy. I still fall into the trap of comparing myself to women my age with rock-hard abs and shiny long hair. I’m in awe of women my age who run marathons and hike mountains, and I still struggle with not taking every single workout or weight loss post as if it’s aimed at me personally. But for the most part I feel free. And I feel rebellious.
And maybe that’s what our fifties and this new stage of empty-nest life is all about. The freedom to find and reinvent ourselves — not just by breaking a new personal best record in a triathlon, or opening a new business, or running for office — but by saying (with apologies to the ‘Greatest Showman’ soundtrack) “this is me. I’m enough just as I am,” and to fully embrace that most rebellious of acts — liking ourselves just as we are.
The kids have flown or are flying. And so, these are our fifties. They’re fun, they’re fine they’re fleeting, and they’re fabulous whether you’re fit or you’re fat. Enjoy them and live them.
You Might Also Enjoy Reading These:
Katie Collins is a native Mainer who has called New Hampshire home for the past 29 years. A nonprofit development professional by trade, Katie also has over 25 years of experience in community and professional theater and in 2013 was awarded NH Theater Award for Lead Actress in a Drama or Comedy. She resides in quiet domesticity with her adorable wife, with occasional visits from her talented daughter, a college junior . Katie is a lover of musical theater, the original Star Trek, cheeseburgers, old Carol Burnett show reruns, and weekly lap swimming at the local YMCA. She tries very hard not to take herself too seriously.