Saturday, November 26, 2011

"My Formerly Hot Life: dispatches from just the other side of young" by Stephanie Dolgoff

When men stop making lecherous catcalls and Spanx get comfortable in your lingerie drawer, when marketers target you for Activia instead of $200 premium denim, when you have to start wearing makeup to get the "I'm not wearing any makeup" glow and are "ma'amed" outside the Deep South, it may dawn on you that somehow you have crossed an invisible line: You are not the young, relevant, in-the-mix woman you used to be. But neither are you old, or even what you think of as middle-aged. You are no longer what you were, but not quite sure what you are. Stephanie Dolgoff calls this stage of a woman's life "Formerly," the state of mind and body she herself is in now: Her roaring twenties are behind her, but she's not in hot flash territory, either. [This book], showcasing Dolgoff's wacky and wise observations about this little-discussed flux time, demonstrates that becoming a Formerly is intensely poignant if you're paying attention, and hilarious even if you're not. From fashion to friendship, beauty to body image, married sex to single searching, mothering to careering (or both), Dolgoff reveals the upside to not being forever 21 - even as you watch the things you once thought were so essential to a happy life go the way of the cassette tape. You may be formerly thin, formerly cool, formerly (seemingly) carefree, formerly cutting-edge, but in reading [this book] you are reminded that you are finally more comfortable in your skin (formerly obsessed with your weight), finally following your instincts (formerly ruled by the opinions of others), and finally happy with where you are) formerly focused on the guy or job you thought would take you where you thought you should be). While you may no longer be as close to the media-machine-generated idea of fabulous, you can do many, many more things fabulously.

OK, full disclosure - I have never thought of myself as "hot". Cute, maybe even kind of pretty at times, but the word "hot" has never been used by myself when describing my own person. So what's a "not-now-not-ever" hot lady like myself doing with a book like this? Laughing my {bleeping} butt off, that's what.

The territory here feels oh-so-familiar, as I am now in my early 40s. I totally understand where Dolgoff is coming from and feel her pain at realizing that I no longer fit in the 25-35 age category on most questionnaires. Sad but true - I'm one of those middle-aged women who certainly don't feel middle-aged. The only section I didn't relate too very well was the one about parenting, but that's because my husband and I are childless by choice. The rest of it, though, could have been written by yours truly at times.

For example, I love her take on all the new gadgets on the market. Like myself, she uses some of them, but isn't what you would call a "tech-geek", and for good reason. She explains: "I'm not fearful or dismissive of technology, even if I don't see it as the extension of self that younger people often do. The problem is, I am barely able to find the time and the presence of mind to learn what I need to know to make the technology I already have do the minimal things I ask it to do, let alone explore the next generation of gizmo and all of its many features..." EXACTLY! I finally broke down and bought a computer for home use, and yes, I have now had a cell phone for about 18 months, but I still don't fully embrace either one. The computer is basic and has what I need (and a lot that I don't); the phone is a pay-as-you-go not-so-smartphone that allows me to call my friends and send text messages. I think it would let me access the Internet if I could/would take the time to figure it out, but honestly, I don't care. I don't need it to take pictures, compare prices on goods, or any of the other multitude of things that others use their fancy phones to do. In fact, at one point before obtaining this model, I figured if I ever did buy one, it would be a Jitterbug model, the one designed for "older folks".

The other topic she covers at length is also one I relate to quite well, the issue of body image. She talks about TBMFU, also known as The Big Metabolic F*ck You, the sad fact that your metabolism at some point will turn on you like a rabid dog and cause you to gain weight in places you didn't even know it was possible to gain weight. And while it is frustrating to realize you can no longer eat the whole pint of Ben & Jerry's without seeing it on your saddlebags post-haste, you are also at that age where you realize there are bigger concerns in your life than the size of your thighs. She talks here about hearing a comment at a party made about still-stick-thin "formerly" women; the commenter says that they are very restrictive in their calorie intake. Dolgoff later says "It takes effort to not eat when you're hungry, to constantly be figuring what you can and cannot put in your mouth based on whether or not you think it'll make you fat or what you may or may not want to eat later. Doing so takes up buckets of mental energy, which can be in short supply when you're already overextended, stressed out and multitasking." I can attest to this myself; no, I've never been one to be severely restrictive with my food, but taking the time to be "on a diet" and think about food all the time is exhausting. I'd rather just try to cut back on all my portion sizes and eat what I want, maybe take an extra walk around the block, than do the diet thing. And I know I have more important things to focus on in my life than my waist size or the number on the bathroom scale.

If you're nearing your 40s, are firmly in them, or have left them behind in the dust, I highly recommend this book. It's so nice to know that there are others feeling this same way, and that we can think of ourselves as smarter, if not "hotter".

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