So, I am fast (very fast) approaching thirty. I’ve been preparing myself for this since just before I turned twenty-nine actually, and I think I’m ok with it. I feel like if my sixteen year-old self met me now, she wouldn’t be too disappointed. Ok, rather than being a full time anarchist I now work for ‘the man’ (read, the local council), my tattoo sleeve never did quite become fully realised and I still can’t drive, but I think overall, I have managed to achieve most of what my sixteen year old self would have imagined I would by the time I was this age (although at that age, I probably actually couldn’t conceive of being 30; twenty-one probably seemed like the end of time).
I never really knew as a youngster what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up;’ I just wanted to be happy in a job that I enjoyed. So although I didn’t actually get the job as the person who oils up the male models for photo-shoots, (still, I maintain, the only job I would ever do for free) I found my way into a career that I hadn’t thought of at sixteen, but am now wholly glad I did find. I always thought that I would have a very bohemian relationship with a gorgeous man. Ok, so the relationship is probably not as unconventional as I’d thought, the gorgeous man is here, and he doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, so those two boxes have been ticked. I worked hard and got an education I’m proud of. I have managed to fulfil some of my ambitions along the way. I’ve travelled to Australia, viewed art in Paris and I’ve been to Disney World. I still do some of the things I loved to do at sixteen, like go to see bands play live regularly, read and write for pleasure, in fact, I’ve probably got more motivation now than I ever did as a teenager to do these sorts of things.
I think the great realisation is that I still want to keep doing these things for a long time yet. I might go back to study more (seriously, I’d love to be a professor, I might have to make to with a PhD though.) I hope to continue going to see the bands I love and doing the things that make me happy. There’s a lot of the world that I still plan to see. I’d like to at least write a book and have a go at getting published (come on, if ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ can become the best-selling paperback of all time surely they’ll publish any old shit!) When you’re a teenager, it is quite difficult to project into the future. One of the benefits of being 30 is that you have seen some of how your future can unfold and develop. It’s given me a taste for it, and a determination to keep pushing on. Very far from the boring, settled-down, done-everything-I-can person that many young people think you’ll become.
Now, inevitably, approaching thirty has led to some ridicule from others about getting ‘old’, namely from my dad and my sprightly, twenty-two year old brother. Now I can understand it coming from my brother, but dad? Come on, what does having a thirty year old daughter say about how old my parents are? Surely they should be joining in on the old twenty-one again facade? I try to take it with a pinch of salt. Banter is a big thing in my family, and we all lovingly slag each other off fairly regularly. They just want to get a rise out of me, and that’s fine because we all do it. Then someone made a ‘tick-tock, biological clock’ joke. I laughed it off, but it got me thinking. Not about my biological clock (as if) but about how, when my brother eventually turns thirty, I’ll bet the consensus won’t be that he’s getting a bit sad and old, but that he’s maturing nicely. Men get more ‘distinguished’ as they get older, women apparently just get what’s left. Men are more respected as they get older; I’ve seen and heard many young men ridiculed for being young, looking young, being the ‘rookie’ or the ‘young buck.’ If a man gets to thirty and is unmarried and without children, he gets to be a bachelor, or, if he’s really lucky, a playboy. If it’s a woman, then she’s a spinster. Is the joking, subconsciously, because I’m a woman?
The word ‘subconscious’ is important here, because I don’t believe that either my father or brother are sexist. Sure, my dad is quite traditional, but he has always been my biggest supporter in terms of what I can achieve and not taking any shit from people. He instilled in me that I could do whatever I wanted to do, follow whatever path I wanted to in life, as long as it made me happy and I didn’t go to the Dark Side. He supported me even when he didn’t agree with the decisions I made. My brother is usually so right on with this sort of stuff that he’s practically an honorary member of the sisterhood. So why does this feel anti-female? Do they really feel that deep down, a woman of my age is only truly complete if she is married with children? As I am neither married, nor with child, does this mean that none of my other achievements count? There is also the fact that, well, I don’t feel old. I still feel that stuff like this might come in the future, and that I still have plenty of time to think like this. Or am I simply being too sensitive (read: girly) about a comment that was possibly intended to be taken exactly as it seemed on the surface? Just another attempt to wind me up.
Whichever is the correct diagnosis, it’s certainly an ailment that is prevailent in society, not just my immediate family. There are hundreds of examples of ageism in the world of entertainment, from Arlene Phillips being chucked off ‘Strictly’ in favour of the far less experienced, but undoubtedly younger, Alesha Dixon, to the increasingly sinister attempts of the tabloid darlings to inhibit the aging process by ever-more invasive surgical procedures. There is hardly a young woman in Britain today who does not know what Botox does, so commonplace is it in our media.
That’s before examining the pity we bestow on female celebrities over thirty, purely because they are not married. Poor old Jennifer Aniston can’t get her boyfriend to propose, never mind the fact that she is a hugely popular, highly successful multi-millionairess actress with her own production company who far out-earns her partner. No, we must assume that she is unsatisfied with all of her achievements because she is not happily married with a sprog in each arm. Poor Cameron Diaz, she can never get a man to commit, never mind the fact that she too is a highly successful, rich actress who has regularly appeared on ‘sexiest woman’ lists and in magazines encouraging women to achieve a body like hers. If Jennifer was a man, people would assume that she was focussing on her career, and applaud her for that. If Cameron was a man, she would be called a player, and guess what? Guys get the kudos for that too!
With these ideas and images so readily available in the world around us, is it any wonder that some of that has filtered back to us ‘normals?’ That maybe, after seeing it in magazines and on TV and film posters that someone could possibly misjudge the actual impression a joke could make?
I’m glad that, as a trained student of crap mags, I count myself as quite savvy about how the media works, so I know that, actually thirty isn’t really all that old at all. If I still feel the same way that I did when I was nineteen, and still have an abundance of hopes, dreams and plans for the future, then age really is just a number. In a time where people in the western world are living longer than ever, maybe it’s time for the media to re-define its boundaries of youth.
As a matter of fact, being thirty is much better than being twenty-one. Or eighteen even. Ok, so I’m not as skinny as I used to be, and I can’t hold my booze as well, but honestly? I’m happier, more confident, at ease with the person I’ve grown into and with an idea of what I’m doing with my life. At nineteen, I would refuse to eat before a night out in case I looked bloated. At twenty-nine, I accept that it’s perfectly acceptable to have a bit of a tummy. At twenty-one I was learning, but still a bit of an idiot, doing idiot things. I was still a bit insecure and worried about what people thought of me. Now, I try to do the right thing and be nice to other people, but I don’t agonise over it if someone doesn’t like the way I go about it. As long as I can look at myself in the mirror, and say I tried my best, then that’s the most important opinion about me. I own my own house, have my own money and can now afford to buy a round of drinks in a place that doesn’t do vodka-and-mixer-for-a-pound offers without worrying about whether I have enough money for the taxi home. Oh, and another thing, now it doesn’t matter that I can’t drive, because I made that decision for me, and I can afford that taxi now. These are all things I would have given my right arm for when I was twenty-one.
So yes, to conclude, I am quite excited about turning thirty, I think as a woman, it’s a time, particularly in terms of your career, where people start to give you a little more respect (on account of all that experience we must have clocked up, being so old and all). Having always looked a bit younger than my age, and subsequently patronised on occasion; I’m looking forward to being taken a bit more seriously. I’m definitely less prone to worrying about the small things, like if my hair misbehaves or if I’ll get a lumber, and more likely to think about how I can do all of the things I wanted to do when I was sixteen, but couldn’t because I wasn’t old enough.
However, I must say, that to be this happy approaching thirty, I needed to go through all of the other daft stuff when I was sixteen, eighteen, twenty-two, twenty six, twenty nine. It’s all of the daft stuff that makes you who you are today. The mistakes are how you learn, the happy memories teach you what you value and hold dear. My only hope is that I still feel this secure when I turn forty, maybe someone could send me a copy of this in ten year’s time?