Kim France writes the blog Girls of a Certain Age, and is the founding editor of Lucky Magazine. She has written for a wide range of publications, including Sassy, New York, the New York Times Book Review, Rolling Stone, and Spin. For TODAY's "This is 50" series, Kim, who turned 50 this year, writes about emerging from the professional and emotional rockiness of her 40s with a new perspective, a simpler life and a hard-won comfort in her own skin.
About six months before I turned 50, I got a tattoo: a length of flowers, inspired by a Liberty of London print, that wrap, bracelet-like, around my wrist. It is quite beautiful, and very hard to miss. “Enjoying your 30s much?” asked a friend I hadn’t seen for a while when we got together for lunch. And we both laughed, but I don’t see it that way at all. To me, the tattoo is a daily reminder of a certain hard-won comfort I feel within my skin, one that I’m certain only comes with time.
When I was 40, my life was a disaster. From the exterior, it looked fantastic: I had a huge job as editor in chief of a fashion magazine, a gorgeous 19th-century Brooklyn brownstone, a clothing allowance, and scores of fabulous and successful friends. But I was also so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, and while medication had helped to subdue this darkness in the past, it wasn’t working now. I was beginning to realize that I pretty definitively didn’t want to be married to my husband anymore. I wasn’t eating, my hair was falling out, and against the backdrop of all of this, I was diagnosed with a serious illness.
It would take years before things were completely right again, years that would see my life—and then me—fall dramatically apart. And during those years, and their aftermath, I missed a lot. Relationships didn’t happen, children didn’t happen. I would listen to co-workers talk about their kids and family vacations and feel acutely as though I were living half the existence of the people around me.
But at 50, it no longer bothers me that my life doesn’t look the way I always assumed it would by that age. There are all sorts of reasons for this, but two stand out. I was fired from the fancy job a few years back, and surprised myself by immediately feeling nothing but relief and excitement over the prospect of starting over—albeit far more modestly. And I received some simple but—to me—powerful advice from somebody who’d gone through some rough years himself: “Don’t mourn the life you didn’t get,” he said, and rather magically, I stopped.
I’ve missed out on the richness of family life, and that is a big loss. But the flip side of that is an autonomy that I cherish. My choices after getting fired—to take a year off, return to writing, start a blog—would have been unthinkable were I concerned with supporting somebody other than myself. I live in a considerably smaller place than the Brooklyn brownstone now, and much more simply—but so, so much more happily.
I know that I am no longer young, and in some ways it does hurt—nostalgia will get the best of me, or I’ll wonder how life might have gone differently had I liked myself better a bit earlier, or made smarter choices. Sometimes vanity does me in: I died a tiny death the other day when reading that a professional organization I am part of would be starting a subgroup of “older members”—and that the qualifying age was 50.
But I’m also aware that at 50, I’m equipped to view life with a kind of perspective I never possessed before—a very good thing, because by 50, perspective is necessary for survival. And I care a lot less what people think of me—something I wish could have happened decades ago, but of course that’s never how it works.
And the truth is that even though I am now that person who asks waiters to turn the music down in restaurants, and I don’t dare leave the house without my reading glasses (and I really don’t dare leave the house without makeup on)—I don’t feel especially old.
What I do feel sometimes—and this can be the source of some difficulty—is that many, many people are younger than me. And envying the young is dangerous business, so whenever I catch myself doing that, I step back for a second and remember the woman I was at 25, at 30, at 40. And I wouldn’t trade her for the person I am now, not for a second.
All week, TODAY is exploring what 50 is like today, from dating to sex, health, fitness and finances. Follow the series here.