Age-defying advice from a 30-something


Age-defying advice from a 30-something

Because you can’t let your spirits sag, no matter what else does

By Mihika Pai  September 29th, 2015

In 13 Going On 30, Jenna Rink (Jennifer Garner) goes to bed an embarrassed teen and wakes up the next morning a confident and glamorous 30-year-old. I, on the other hand, woke up on my 30th birthday feeling every bit as awkward turning  as I did back then (wait, so chick flicks aren’t the gospel truth?). The changes were subtle and they crept up on me rather sneakily. My body felt fuller, the texture of my skin and the colour of my hair seemed different somehow (in a less-than-happy way) and I found myself looking at my wardrobe and not completely recognising myself in its contents.

What had happened here? Wasn’t I supposed to have a signature style by now? One that anyone who knew me would identify as solely mine: the way I wear my hair, a favourite fragrance or even just the way I like my coffee? And where had I been when all those greys decided to show up? It was like puberty all over again. And I wasn’t any better at it the second time around. I hit the panic button, of course. Overnight, I went from washing my face once a day and pretending my skin came with inbuilt sunscreen to contemplating experiments with nightingale droppings (it’s a geisha secret) for smooth skin.

It didn’t help that there were others around me turning 30 with complete ease. Some were getting fitter, others had gone from being style don’ts to dos and my closest friend tells me she now feels more confident in her skin, which reflects positively on the way she looks as well. I had no idea what she was talking about.

So, who did I want to be? Ideally, I wanted to be just like my mum. She’s been a classical dancer all her life and breezed through her bharatnatyam arangetram in her forties, a feat that traditionally most don’t attempt post 20. But in a smaller, more relatable, everyday sense, I wanted to learn to grow older like a French woman. Ageing confidently and nonchalantly, acing mussed-up hair and smudged eyeliner, and turning even cargo pants sexy. I went through four books (my favourites were Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro, and Mireille Guiliano’s fitness bible French Women Don’t Get Fat) and countless lists of ‘French Girl Beauty Rules’, which all seemed to agree that being unabashedly yourself was imperative; in France, the concept of peer pressure is an urban legend. Okay, that wasn’t relatable at all.

Next, I turned to Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck, which turned out to be the perfect antidote to my bewilderment. In her warm, familiar tone, and with empathy, she offers light-hearted perspective to sagging necks, broken hearts, raising kids and everything in between — “Sometimes I think that not having to worry about your hair any more is the secret upside of death”  — but she sugarcoats nothing. The cover of the book is bare, except for a beauty product jar, which I like to think contains hope and confidence, the two things,  Ephron concludes, that any woman needs in spades if she wants to grow older gracefully. It was time to face the fact, namely the changes were just a part of growing older and my mind needed to catch up ASAP.

I took my time. The old, nervy me fell away eventually in chips and bits. Slowly, I stopped referring to the ’90s as “just a few years ago” or reacting vehemently when the kids in my apartment building called me the A-word. Up until this point, I never did more than the bare minimum for my skin. But now I started making small alterations to my routine. For starters, I dropped the bird goo idea and took my mum’s advice instead. I now start and end my days with some TLC for my skin. I’ve settled into a skincare routine that works for me. I don’t view it as an indulgence or a task; it’s just an essential part of my day and one that I enjoy. I learnt to embrace the inevitable changes and started paying a lot more attention to what I put inside my body. I begin my mornings with the juice of two lemons and try to limit my refined sugar intake. Physically, it’s more about being strong and fit than just a thinner, possibly weaker, version of myself. I’ve even found an exercise routine I love, Zumba. It helped me shed my negative body image and more than anything, I love that exercise can be this much fun. All that cool, torchbearing French girl wisdom was finally seeping in.   

Turns out there is no novel, new answer to getting old well; the truth is in the cliché: If you feel good about yourself, you’ll look good too, and not the other way around. Respecting your sense of self, even if that sense of self isn’t able to make up her mind about whether she likes her perfume with top notes of gardenia or tuberose, is much too underrated. Maybe giving new things a shot and not being in a habit-driven rut is what defines me. (Also, these days I like my coffee with just a dash of butter, so there’s that to consider.) The fact is that ten years from now we’re going to be looking back at this very moment through a soft focus lens and feeling nostalgic about the time our waistlines weren’t trying to keep up with our chronological ages.

But for now we need to stop worrying and take Ms Ephron’s advice — it’s time to slip into our bikinis and not take them off till we’re 34, at least. 

In 13 Going On 30, Jenna Rink (Jennifer Garner) goes to bed an embarrassed teen and wakes up the next morning a confident and glamorous 30-year-old. I, on the other hand, woke up on my 30th birthday feeling every bit as awkward turning  as I did back then (wait, so chick flicks aren’t the gospel truth?). The changes were subtle and they crept up on me rather sneakily. My body felt fuller, the texture of my skin and the colour of my hair seemed different somehow (in a less-than-happy way) and I found myself looking at my wardrobe and not completely recognising myself in its contents.

What had happened here? Wasn’t I supposed to have a signature style by now? One that anyone who knew me would identify as solely mine: the way I wear my hair, a favourite fragrance or even just the way I like my coffee? And where had I been when all those greys decided to show up? It was like puberty all over again. And I wasn’t any better at it the second time around. I hit the panic button, of course. Overnight, I went from washing my face once a day and pretending my skin came with inbuilt sunscreen to contemplating experiments with nightingale droppings (it’s a geisha secret) for smooth skin.

It didn’t help that there were others around me turning 30 with complete ease. Some were getting fitter, others had gone from being style don’ts to dos and my closest friend tells me she now feels more confident in her skin, which reflects positively on the way she looks as well. I had no idea what she was talking about.

So, who did I want to be? Ideally, I wanted to be just like my mum. She’s been a classical dancer all her life and breezed through her bharatnatyam arangetram in her forties, a feat that traditionally most don’t attempt post 20. But in a smaller, more relatable, everyday sense, I wanted to learn to grow older like a French woman. Ageing confidently and nonchalantly, acing mussed-up hair and smudged eyeliner, and turning even cargo pants sexy. I went through four books (my favourites were Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro, and Mireille Guiliano’s fitness bible French Women Don’t Get Fat) and countless lists of ‘French Girl Beauty Rules’, which all seemed to agree that being unabashedly yourself was imperative; in France, the concept of peer pressure is an urban legend. Okay, that wasn’t relatable at all.

Next, I turned to Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck, which turned out to be the perfect antidote to my bewilderment. In her warm, familiar tone, and with empathy, she offers light-hearted perspective to sagging necks, broken hearts, raising kids and everything in between — “Sometimes I think that not having to worry about your hair any more is the secret upside of death”  — but she sugarcoats nothing. The cover of the book is bare, except for a beauty product jar, which I like to think contains hope and confidence, the two things,  Ephron concludes, that any woman needs in spades if she wants to grow older gracefully. It was time to face the fact, namely the changes were just a part of growing older and my mind needed to catch up ASAP.

I took my time. The old, nervy me fell away eventually in chips and bits. Slowly, I stopped referring to the ’90s as “just a few years ago” or reacting vehemently when the kids in my apartment building called me the A-word. Up until this point, I never did more than the bare minimum for my skin. But now I started making small alterations to my routine. For starters, I dropped the bird goo idea and took my mum’s advice instead. I now start and end my days with some TLC for my skin. I’ve settled into a skincare routine that works for me. I don’t view it as an indulgence or a task; it’s just an essential part of my day and one that I enjoy. I learnt to embrace the inevitable changes and started paying a lot more attention to what I put inside my body. I begin my mornings with the juice of two lemons and try to limit my refined sugar intake. Physically, it’s more about being strong and fit than just a thinner, possibly weaker, version of myself. I’ve even found an exercise routine I love, Zumba. It helped me shed my negative body image and more than anything, I love that exercise can be this much fun. All that cool, torchbearing French girl wisdom was finally seeping in.   

Turns out there is no novel, new answer to getting old well; the truth is in the cliché: If you feel good about yourself, you’ll look good too, and not the other way around. Respecting your sense of self, even if that sense of self isn’t able to make up her mind about whether she likes her perfume with top notes of gardenia or tuberose, is much too underrated. Maybe giving new things a shot and not being in a habit-driven rut is what defines me. (Also, these days I like my coffee with just a dash of butter, so there’s that to consider.) The fact is that ten years from now we’re going to be looking back at this very moment through a soft focus lens and feeling nostalgic about the time our waistlines weren’t trying to keep up with our chronological ages.

But for now we need to stop worrying and take Ms Ephron’s advice — it’s time to slip into our bikinis and not take them off till we’re 34, at least.