The 40s are good. You're too old to be a young fool and you're too young to be in Depends.
In my teens and 20s I never felt beautiful enough. I thought I was too skinny, too flat-chested, too pointy-chinned, too hairy-thighed, and I had no idea what to do with my thick, frizzy, Irish thatch-roof hair. Having been raised Mormon, I also had no idea the lady garden could be manicured, hence I could've repopulated the entire rainforest with my pubic hair.
There was also the small matter of being attracted to philanderers. For the longest time I thought they cheated because I wasn't beautiful enough. Two words: Halle Berry. Men who cheat do so because they're cheaters, not because we're not beautiful enough.
In my 30s I was pregnant twice, which meant I felt fat and invisible. I came up with the name for my blog THE WOMAN FORMERLY KNOWN AS BEAUTIFUL when I was 7-months pregnant with my second child, standing in line at the meat counter at Bristol Farms in Beverly Hills. Five butchers (count 'em...five!) were helping a young, non-pregnant Pussycat Doll select a pound of cackle while I festered swollenly nearby trying to order one freaking carne asada!
Eventually I passed out from hypoglycemia due to LACK OF RED MEAT and when the paramedics arrived they forgot to collect my 50-lbs.-up limp form off the ground because they were too busy helping the Pussycat Doll carry her boneless, skinless chicken cutlets to her car.
Now here I am in my 40s. I've got a loving, solid husband. I'm not pregnant and I know what to do with my hair (and not just the hair on my head). So far this is the best decade for me when it comes to feeling beautiful. Here are some of the things I know about beauty now that I'm in my 40s...
Don't wear low-rise jeans.
They're just not for 40-somethings. I've spent more money trying to find shapewear that will keep my muffin top from spilling over my low-rise jeans like Gak from a pre-schooler's fist than I can afford. Which leads me to this...
Don't wear shape-wear under your low-rise jeans.
You're going to feel like you're in a hot, sweaty body cast when nothing is actually broken. See above.
You look better than you think you do.
I spent the years after giving birth missing my formerly slender frame instead of appreciating my newfound voluptuousness. I actually had breasts for the first time! But instead I worried I was too fat. I fixated on the afore-mentioned muffin top, what I perceived to be neck flesh you could pack the contents of an overnight valise in and the concern that my nose was getting longer.
So I did something radical. I posed for nude photos at age 46 and the kicker? I posed in the exact same positions I'd done at age 26. No, I'm not a professional stripper named Santana, but I had body image issues in my 20s and the nudes I took back then helped me see myself with gentler eyes.
When I saw this round of nudes I thought my plan had backfired. I was mortified by what appeared to be a broad-flanked crone (and my nose has gotten longer). But in the words of Kenneth Alton, a lovely man who commented on my nudes here at HuffPost --
"I have often considered it a trifle foolish the way that shallow youth is considered inherently beautiful. There is such a terrible beauty which only age brings, a depth of power that only deepens the sense of mystery that utterly, completely, captivates."
Feeling beautiful in your body is one part maintenance, one part acceptance.
Forget about losing weight. Just move. It doesn't matter if it's walking around the block with your dog or doing a mini-triathalon. It could even be just making love in a challenging position (Humpbacked Bridge anyone?)
This is the time to inhabit your body fully, to thank it for taking you this far, to breath into it and feel all of its furthest reaches. Just move. If you don't like it at first do it anyway. Eventually moving your body will feel like coming home.
Try something new once a month.
I've become friends with a 26-year old mom (who could be my daughter) and she'd been pestering me to go to a speakeasy with her in downtown L.A.
I had a million excuses not to go. Downtown was a half-hour drive, and what if there were traffic, an earthquake, the end of times? Parking was too difficult. I was exhausted after a long day of working and mom-ing. Also, Dancing With The Stars was on! When I heard that come out of my mouth I realized I was dangerously close to the abyss of mediocrity.
So I made myself go.
When we got downtown there was a movie being shot in the streets. Lots of foot traffic and interesting people. When we walked through the door of the speakeasy we were transported right back to Prohibition-era Chicago. The place was tiny, hidden, all varnished wood with vintage glassware, bartenders and waiters that looked like they came right off the set of Boardwalk Empire. There was a little upright piano accompanying a Billie Holliday chanteuse belting Lady Sings The Blues. And. There was an absinthe fairy.
I came-to at a cockfight in Guadalajara having grown an impressive handle-bar mustache. I hitch-hiked back to L.A. with a border coyote and made it home in time for morning drop-off at my daughters' elementary school.
That adventure lit me up for a week. And there's nothing more beautiful than a woman with adventure and novelty in her eyes.
When my kids were little I was in the trenches. There really wasn't time to learn news things because I was just trying to stay ahead of the onslaught of needs, crying, pooping, barfing, keeping them alive and not sleeping.
But now my kids are 7 & 9, and developing their own unique interests. So I I started my blog a year ago at 45. It's forced me to learn about social media, networking, computer apps, photography, filmmaking, editing, lighting, performing and writing. That's not to say I do any of those things well (yet), but I find them endlessly challenging and interesting. I can feel my atrophying brain coming alive again.
"Exuberance is Beauty" - Roland Barthes
Take time to give your lover a proper kiss once a day.
That means no "make it quick" little pats on his back. It means standing toe-to-toe with him. Wrapping your arms around his back. Running your hands through his hair (if he has any). Pressing your cheek to his so you can feel his stubble, smell his skin. Looking him in the eye, even if it frightens him a little and then, to paraphrase Barthes again, pressing your lips to his so that through your mouth your soul can pass into his.
Now that is beautiful.
To Read More In This Series, "What I Know About Beauty ..."
Now That I'm... In My 20s
Now That I'm... In My 30s
Now That I'm... In My 50s
Now That I'm... In My 60s
Follow Shannon Bradley-Colleary on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@shannoncollear