50 Is the New Crappy
I just got back from the mammogram I don't believe in.
In the spring, my doctor handed me an envelope decorated with a cluster of bright balloons and the words "Happy Birthday!"
Alas, this deceptively cheerful package concealed the usual tips on diet and exercise, plus requisition forms for all the annual medical tests I'd be getting from now on.
The mammogram is bad enough. I got my first one before having my doubts about the procedure confirmed, and now I'm stuck in the "Ontario Breast Screening Program" because "free" "health" "care."
But now I also have to get blood work for cholesterol (how 1970s!), glucose and a bunch of other things, plus an ECG.
The worst part: I need to send little swabs of poo* through the mail. (Although it could be worse: it could be my job to open those envelopes. And a special shout-out to my Facebook friend for sharing her "float a Chinet dessert plate in the toilet" trick.)
It's all part of the splendor and pageantry of turning 50.
(* As you can see from the video below, which my tax dollars helped pay for, "poo" is the actual scientific term!)
I've been annoyed about turning 50 since my 49th birthday, if not earlier.
When I hit the big 4-0, I could still realistically get away with saying, "Hey, I've got half my life ahead of me!"
When the calendar clicked over to "2014," my dread intensified each month, as May drew closer.
Speaking of "each passing month," if you'd told me when I was 12 years old that one day I'd be sad about not getting my period, I'd have kicked you in the shins.
I never even used my uterus for its intended purpose, yet the looming prospect of not spotting (pun intended) that reliable signal of youth, fertility (and, yes, usefulness) is bumming me out.
Hell, my now-infrequent strolls down the drug store's feminine hygiene aisle can bring nostalgic tears to my eyes, and I don't even go swimming or horseback riding.
Look, I never go to the Toronto Film Festival, but I still want it around, as a sign that I'm not living in Hicksville.
Menopause is my Hicksville.
French actress Catherine Deneuve has been quoted as saying, "After a certain age, you have to choose between your fanny and your face."
Many of the things you do in the name of staying in shape—counting calories, tallying fat grams, following a uber-healthy nutrition plan, logging hours at the gym—begin to do a number on your face as you close in on 40. You start to lose facial volume, which can cause eyes to look slightly sunken, cheeks to hollow out, and skin to lose its firmness and elasticity. Maintaining a low body mass index (BMI) exacerbates the problem because fat is the very thing that helps plump out lines and wrinkles.
Like most plain women, I'm terribly vain, and not willing to choose between one and the other.
My face and figure may be more "burnt-orange shag" than "red carpet," but there's no point in deteriorating further, if I can help it.
I've worn a 40 SPF or higher sunscreen every day since my lupus diagnosis almost 25 years ago. Between that and my Paula's Choice-or-nothing philosophy, my skin is fairly wrinkle- and age-spot free, although not as trampoline-tight as I'd like.
Having come of age with Siouxsie Sioux, Soo Catwoman and Nina Hagen as my chalk-faced, crimson-lipped style icons, it took a nice lady named Charla Krupp to finally talk me down from the roof of the Goth Beauty Building.
Tragically, Krupp up and dropped dead just as I was getting into her book which was – you guess it – another excuse for me to feel bummed.
As for the rest of me from the neck down:
I've veered from a size 0 to a 14 twice in adulthood; one round was health related (see "lupus," above), the other was after I quit smoking and met my future husband, who has a raging sweet tooth.
Right now, I'm a size 4, and have finally accepted, after a ten-year mourning period, that I will never be a 0 (with a 20 inch waist) again.
In fact, this year I discovered that my "ideal weight" wasn't quite what I always thought it should be.
The old fashioned actuarial rule used to be that a 5-foot-nothing female should weigh 100 pounds. During my teens through my 20s I did, which meant I could still shop in the children's department. (No sales tax!)
But it turns out I wasn't taking something called "frame size" into account. Your crazy loud aunt was right: "Big boned" is an actual thing.
While I was briefly mortified to learn that, according to this formula, I had a "large" frame, it was also enlightening and reassuring to be told that I'm actually supposed to weigh between 116 and 127 pounds.
Plus I don't let myself listen to Adam Carolla's podcast unless I'm on the treadmill, so that gets me down to the condo's fitness room every day.
Is there anything I'm happy about when it comes to turning 50?
Well, I have used that milestone birthday as my excuse to stop reading books out of duty.
That may not seem like a big deal, but as a writer, I'm obligated to read almost as much as I write if I want to stay sharp.
The trouble is, I kept falling asleep after trying to read the same paragraph six times.
This year I decided that, nearly 13 years after 9/11, I've read all the books I ever needed to with the word "Islam" in the title.
Ditto tedious, redundant hardcover conservative punditry.
Right now I'm on a completely guilt-free "history of popular music" jag. Sure enough, I can now read for hours at a time without nodding off. The last book I finished was Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth and I don't care who knows it.
Other than that, being a 50-year-old woman is a constant, low-level irritant, a droning psychological and emotional background noise.
My one consolation is the same one that's gotten me through everything else in my life:
One day I'll be able to get a book out of it.