I'm 34. I'm fat. I'm not married. I'm childless. And for those of you whose first instinct was to go "Awww" — are you kidding me? Save your deep concern for the homeless and the terminally ill, will you? Geez.
Believe it or not, this isn't a tale of woe.
My mother gave birth to me in 1979, when she was 44 years old, and I think this has shaped my entire outlook on what a woman's timeline is "supposed" to be. My parents were the same age, a good ten years older than any of my friends' parents, but it was never something that affected me when I was growing up. You often hear people say that they don't want to have children when they're "too old" because they want to be able to "keep up" with their kids...but my parents managed just fine. To be fair, I was a writer and a nerd, so there was less running around and more writing Star Trek: The Next Generation fan fiction for me anyway, but still. We traveled as a family. They each entertained and played with me in their own ways. They loved me and cared for me. Plus, I had the added benefit of a brother and sister who are fifteen and sixteen years my senior, which was like having another set of younger, hipper parents who took me to to Debbie Gibson and Paula Abdul concerts.
It wasn't until high school that I learned that my mother had been advised by her doctor to abort me. After all, it was 1979, and my mother was over forty. She was clearly "too old" to be pregnant, so her not going through with it would've been understandable. I was supposed to have been born with Downs Syndrome, or any variety of birth defects. My mother, deciding to cross those bridges if they ever came, didn't take that advice, and here I am. Bridges uncrossed. Not only was I used as an example of a "Perfect, Healthy Baby" by a class of medical students coming through the hospital on the day I was born, but I was valedictorian of my nursery school class (yes we had one, and yes I made a speech), an honor student through high school, and I graduated with a BFA in Drama and English Literature from NYU, going on to pursue a career as a writer.
BOOM. Take that, Universe.
Growing up with a mother who was determined to have me at the age of forty-four taught me that timelines are arbitrary crap. That your life is what you make it, and you can do whatever you want at whatever age you want, and if people don't like it, they can shove it. So, I was never one of those girls who thought about what her wedding would be like, or thought too hard about having children. My attitude, from the time I was little, was the old cliche, Whatever happens, happens. I was never in a rush to make those milestones.
Lest you think I was completely awesome and impervious to what people thought of me, I was not. Sure I never thought about marriage or kids, nor did I treat dating like a mission with a clear end goal. But by golly, I wanted a boyfriend. I'm a red-blooded female, and I wanted a cute, red-blooded male to call my own. My crushes were EPIC. I didn't crush often, but when I did, I crushed HARD, and for years at a time. But throughout high school and college, I had nothing to show for those crushes. I've been fat my entire life, and the thing you learn to internalize when you grow up a fat girl is that, as big as you are, you're invisible. So, I never expected guys to like me, and usually they never did. If by some random chance a guy hit on me or asked me out, since I was clearly not someone who's "supposed" to get male attention, I assumed there was something wrong with him and rebuffed his advances. After all, why would someone in his right mind ask me out? Let me reject him, before I bring a whole truckload of crazy down on myself...
Silly, young Teresa.
I thought about how completely messed up that way of thinking is as I read artist Molly Crabapple's wonderful piece "On Turning 30" over at Vice.com. In it, she talks about women being only as valuable as their looks and their youth. She talks about how as she got closer to thirty she, like many other women, feared what was on the other side of that number, because of how society would see her. Or fail to see her. Crabapple talks about how a woman's youthful beauty fades over time, and so becomes invisible to society once she hits her "expiration date." While I really enjoyed the article, and definitely see the truth in it, I marveled at how different her experience is from mine. I couldn't help but think about the women, like me, who were invisible to begin with.
I was never a "hot" young woman, and though I always had brain or my personality to see me through, I was also very easy for people to ignore. Intelligent women who aren't conventionally attractive don't really get to count. What's worse is that it isn't just men who ignore you. Sometimes other girls and women ignore you, too, for fear that your unattractiveness is contagious and will bring down their market value. Since you're not considered "hot" enough to party with, you live less life, because fewer people want to live it with you, and you become less interesting to be around because there are no "exciting" experiences for you to share. This can really get into your head when you're young, and becomes a vicious cycle:
I'm fat — No one wants to hang out with me or date me — I never do anything adventurous — I have nothing cool to talk about — I feel crappy about myself — I eat when I'm sad and lonely — I'm fat — No one wants to hang out with me or date me — I never do anything adventurous — I have nothing cool to talk about — I feel crappy about myself — I eat when I'm sad and lonely…
And then you look at the "lucky ones." The pretty girls who are always getting stopped and whistled at. The ones guys stare up and down. The ones they holler after in the street. And you wish it could be you.
How screwed up is THAT? You feel less-than because you're NOT being harassed. Jesus Harold Tap-Dancing Christmas!
And just because I never worried about turning thirty doesn't mean that The Worry never affected me. I have plenty of friends my age who had the same concerns about turning thirty that Molly expresses, and then I'd get worried because I wasn't worried. Like "Am I missing something? SHOULD I be worried?" My friends and I were engaged in a worry spiral that even the most level-headed 20-something would find it difficult to escape.
But as I said earlier, this isn't a tale of woe. Because in this case, becoming an older woman is what saved me from myself.
The closer I got to thirty, the more I thought, "F@!k this s#@t!!" Because I was old enough to realize that you don't have to wait around for interesting experiences to happen to you or be brought to you by others. You can seek them out yourself.
Know what? I've had more interesting experiences and gotten laid more as a fat 30-something than a fat 20-something, because:
1) Confidence is always attractive.
And confidence comes with age, experience, and getting to know yourself better
2) Just because mainstream media tells us what "men like" or "women like" doesn't mean it's true.
If you look around in the real world, you'll discover that people's sexual preferences and interests are as varied as humanity itself. Human beings find a MULTITUDE of things attractive, and all the messages we get from mainstream media are not only sexist, but don't paint an accurate picture of what people actually want. All they do is make us afraid to speak up, convincing us from the time we're young that everyone is supposed to want the same thing, and This Is the Beauty Standard, and if you don't like it, there's Something Wrong With You. They are lying to you to sell you grooming products and weight-loss supplements. Don't listen.
I wish I'd had the knowledge and confidence to not listen to those messages when I was younger. I wasted a lot of time worrying about unsubstantiated claims that I wasn't good enough. I also wish that the adults in my life hadn't also been taken in by them.
3) No matter how "attractive" people find me (or don't), I have my brain and my personality the same way I always have, and they can actually GET ME THINGS, because I've cultivated their use MY WHOLE LIFE.
Many women like me bide their time until their age suits what they have to offer the world. What's funny is that the arbiters of this society that puts women down for not being young and pretty enough thinks they're punishing young women who don't fit the mold by ignoring them early. What they've actually done is given them the tools they need to thrive as older women. By ignoring them because of their looks, they've taught them that their looks don't matter. That in order to get along in the world, they should be smart and independent and compassionate. That sounds like a lesson all women should learn, no matter what their appearance.
Turning thirty never scared me. I always saw my 30s as my reward for getting through my boring-ass 20s. Now that I'm almost exactly halfway through my 30s, I'm loving them, because I've never been more comfortable in my own skin than I am right now! This is when life has truly taken off, and I'm so glad my "best years" aren't behind me. They're in front of me, exactly where they should be.
Teresa Jusino was born the day Skylab fell. Coincidence? She doesn't think so. Follow her on Twitter: @teresajusino.