Your 50s mean freedom from chasing what you can’t be

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I crossed some sort of self-acceptance threshold this morning, as I stepped out the door and down the sidewalk, looked down, and realized, oh horror of horrors, I was wearing high-waters.

The sting of merciless teasing for the same offense in the fifth grade, when my growth rate exceeded my mother’s willingness to buy me new pants, came rocketing forth from my subconscious. But that dissolved in a blink. Suddenly, I realized that I just don’t care.

Going back and changing seemed more bothersome than just continuing on to work, high-waters and all. This is a seismic psychological shift from my 40s, when I wouldn’t even have toyed with the notion of stepping out in public with my sensible gray socks peeking out from between the top of my sensible black walking shoes and the bottom of my fashionably flared (yet sensible) black stretchy yoga pants.

What a difference a decade makes. In my 40s, I managed to keep a horrible secret: I’m a dork. And not in that new, sexy, hipster way. I mean in the 1960s teased-on-the-schoolbus-for-high-waters-and-cat-eye-glasses way. I’ve hidden it well for most of my adult life. But in the safety of my own home? If it’s reasonably clean and doesn’t twist, spindle or bind my flesh in any way, I’ll wear it, even if it’s green plaid and purple polka dots. Comfort is blind.

You see, something happened to me over the last decade: I turned 50. I was lamenting that a bit on the last day of my 49th year, but I get it now: 50 means freedom.

I remember when freedom first rang. I was mowing the lawn one hot summer day in pink shorts that were two sizes two small (and not in a good way), a threadbare Corona T-shirt, ratty old Birkenstocks and a white visor stained with wine rings (no, I don’t know how they got there, but I assume I had fun) and no bra (again, not in a good way) and — I just didn’t care. The neighbors might see me? Oh well. Some teenaged boy passing by might get grossed out? Oh well. Teenage boys gross me out, so let’s call it even.

Since that day of lawnmowin’ like I just don’t care, I’ve unapologetically worn sweats to the grocery store. No makeup to social gatherings. Skipped washing my hair because it’s too cold, and my hair’s too dry anyway, and why do I “need” to wash my hair every day, and aren’t banana clips just fabulous. I can clip my hair back, slap on some red lipstick and become an aging Robert Palmer music video model who no longer fears cheeseburgers. If I can manage to look bored enough.

And then came today, strolling down the sidewalk, completely embracing for the first time the peculiar notion that I just really didn’t care what people might think about my lack of attention to fashion detail. I was comfortable, and that trumped being a “fashion don’t.” Your 50s liberate you from a lifetime of comparing yourself to a standard of beauty that can’t be attained without Photoshop and a daily regimen of bulimia and self-loathing. I spent most of my life chasing that size 6 on a stick.

And by the way — size 6 is considered obese by Hollywood standards.

Screw you, Hollywood.

As I savored this new 50s freedom, I started wondering why, exactly, it felt so satisfying. How is 53 different than 43? Well, for one thing, about 40 pounds. But it was more than just weight. Estrogen — or lack thereof? Oh, most definitely that’s impacted my attitude. But … not quite.

And then the “aha!” moment: I really didn’t care if I looked sexy right then. Nobody’d want to do the horizontal hula with me today. Bingo. It’s all about being sexy. Take sexy off the table, and suddenly you can exhale. Particularly because you’re in yoga pants and not skintight jeans and stilettos.

At 43, I could see that the opportunity to look sexy was beginning to sunset. I poured a lot of effort into trying to look 25. I still wanted to look like sex might actually happen for me, even if it really wasn’t. The potential was still there, and at the time, that seemed really important. But at 53, and remarried now, the only person I’m interested in appealing to is my husband, who inexplicably seems to like me, no matter how obviously comfortable I look that day. (Yes, he’s a keeper.)

You see, there’s a threshold we cross, except for the tragically sexy like George Clooney and Angelina Jolie, when you realize one day, “Wow, nobody wants to have sex with me anymore.” Sure, it’s a little sad and disorienting at first. There’s a mourning period. You’ll never be what you were again.

But the mitigation comes when you’re walking down the sidewalk in high-waters and sensible shoes, and the epiphany hits you — I can rest now! Relax and enjoy! I can stop chasing 25! Or 35, or 45, even! I don’t have to try so hard to be what I was. I can refocus on what I’ve yet to become, without the stress of holding myself to a standard of beauty — or youth — that I can’t achieve. I can let go of that now. Know what happens when you let go? You move forward. Nobody ever skated by holding onto the rail.

So, nobody wants to have sex with me today, in my high-waters and walking shoes? What a relief. I probably don’t want to have sex with them either anyway. I’m only interested in the guy who’s married to the 53 year old woman in high-waters and sensible shoes, and still insists she’s sexy.

What lovely irony — the only one who I actually care about attracting is the one who’s uninterested in how I happened to be packaged that day.

Yes, 50 means freedom. I can finally exhale. For a lot of reasons.

— Email Debra DeAngelo at; read more of her work at and

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