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“Open your browser. Start typing, “40 is the new…” and what do you imagine pops up? I’ll tell you. It’s “30,” with 87 million results, and “20,” with a shocking 121 million results. Click on any number of the top articles and you’ll read bloggers’, columnists’, and health experts’ exultant claims about how and why 40 is no longer old. Of course, implicit in this argument is the perennial bias against aging, the assumption that everyone — if given the choice — would stay forever young.
I’ve been pondering my own 40th birthday, which arrives in a matter of days. I’ve talked to a number of people at all ends of the age spectrum and read dozens of articles like those I mention above. And based on this highly unscientific research, I admit that in some ways, I’m convinced: To be 40 now is certainly very different than being 40 at any other time in our history.
As a white, cisgender, more-or-less middle class American, I have the privileges of a longer life expectancy and better health outcomes than previous generations. I, like many others, have reinvented myself professionally, and to some degree even personally, more than a few times in my adult life. I have the freedom to choose my career, my spouse, and what I do with my time — a freedom most women in all of recorded history did not have. I have the benefit of access to information about nutrition, exercise, and stress reduction. I even have a little disposable income for things like moisturizer and eye cream. Taking all that into account, 40 for me feels unlike my mother’s 40, or my grandmother’s 40. It’s certainly different from what I might have imagined as a kid.”
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