This Is Forty

matteo montanari for d la repubblica delle donne

By Gabrielle. Image by Matteo Montanari for d la repubblica delle donne.

So. I didn’t mention it last week, but on Saturday it was my birthday. I feel odd about mentioning my birthday on the blog. With a forum like Design Mom, I’m lucky, because I get kind comments and emails from readers regularly, so it somehow feels greedy if I mention my birthday, as though I’m hoping for special greetings. But now that’s it’s over, I want to talk about it. Because it was a big one. I turned 40!

I’ve been thinking about this birthday for awhile. Forty has a reputation for being a difficult birthday, and I wanted to avoid feeling bummed out. I figured if I made a good plan in advance, I wouldn’t be caught off guard when the big day arrived. The idea of a mid-life crisis is really discouraging to me, and I think I’m actively trying to avoid it if at all possible.

So in January of this year, when I was working on New Year’s Resolutions and plans for 2014, I put some thought into my birthday. What did I want to do? Have a big party? Go on a trip? Accomplish a goal? Get in good shape? Make a list of 40 things I could do to commemorate the day?

I pondered possibilities over a few days and the thought that kept coming back to me was: grooming.

What do I mean by grooming?

Well, I mean actual grooming. Hair and nails and skin care and makeup and shaved legs and the whole thing.

I guess I feel like by 40, I should have long mastered grooming. But instead, there are many days where I see my nails and think, “Really? You’re not embarrassed of yourself?”  Or I’ll attempt a certain eye makeup technique for a big event, and get it totally wrong and remember that I’ve never properly learned to do makeup. Or I’ll leave the house for a late night errand, wearing something that essentially communicates I’ve given up on life (which I haven’t, so I shouldn’t be communicating that). Or I’ll want to wear a certain skirt, then have to pick an alternate outfit because I didn’t make time to shave my legs.

On some days, I get it right. But on lots of days, I don’t. None of this is terribly important, none of it is even remotely life or death, it’s just that I assumed that I would have mastered these basic tasks by the age of forty.

So my initial idea for celebrating my fortieth year was to master grooming. To look and feel as good as possible every day of my fortieth year. To make consistent hair appointments, to dedicate enough time every morning to properly get ready for the day, to remember to reapply lipstick as needed. I could even have my teeth straightened, which I’ve wanted to do for years! Stuff like that. And I still really like that idea, but it lead to a related idea that I think I like even more.

I’m consistently intrigued with conversations about women and beauty and identity. How we view ourselves. The image we project to others. How and when we feel beautiful, and why we sometimes (and sometimes often) don’t feel beautiful. What we’re willing to do to achieve a certain identity or beauty ideal. And how it all relates.

When we moved to France, Ben Blair didn’t have a beard and had never had a beard. At some point, while we lived there he had a few days of facial hair growth and was about to shave, but we had a conversation. I was curious. I said, “So you’re able to grow a beard, but you’re never going to grow one? Don’t you wonder what it would be like or how you would look?”

And I guess he did wonder. Up to that point, he wasn’t against growing a beard, he just found the process was too itchy, so after a few days, he would shave. But after our conversation, he spoke with our favorite pharmacist (who happened to be bearded), and the pharmacist recommended several options to deal with the itchiness, and they worked, and Ben Blair suddenly had a beard.

Turns out, Ben liked it so much, that he hasn’t shaved it since!

When I started thinking about grooming and beauty and identity I remembered Ben’s beard experience, and thought to myself, well, It’s possible for me to go blonde, like Gwen Stefani (age 44, btw) white blonde. And I’m just never going to try that? What if I like myself better as a blonde. Or what if I like how people respond to me?

Or, I could shave my head and wear dark, heavy eye makeup and have a completely different, much edgier look, and I’m never going to try that either? I find that look really appealing. Maybe I would love it in the same way Ben likes having a beard. The idea of having a look that isn’t typical of a mother of six is appealing to me.

Or maybe I should try a really sharp, short bob — sort of Japanese style (similar to the image at top). My hair wouldn’t do it very well on its own, but I could wear a wig. There are whole sections of the population that wear wigs regularly (think: Beyoncé). I always covet that sharp bob look. Why not adopt it for myself?

I want to say here that I realize my ideas are not quite the same thing as the beard. A beard is a natural human body process, but bleaching hair or putting on heavy eye makeup is not. But you get the idea. In this day and age we have a lot of control of how we look. I dye my grey hair and have done so since my mid-twenties. I wear contacts on some days instead of glasses. I choose specific clothes, consciously or subconsciously, so I can portray a certain look and receive a certain response from the people I encounter. We all do.

So my second idea was to use this year, my fortieth year, to experiment with beauty and identity. And then to discuss these topics here on the blog. I could try on several different looks — change them up every month or every quarter or whenever it makes sense. Maybe I could make videos — time lapse recordings of me transitioning from one look to another. I could talk about how I feel with each look. How my kids respond. How strangers respond.

Some of the looks might require lots of daily grooming, but another time, I could experiment and see what it’s like to wear no makeup, and do the least amount of grooming (while still being healthy), and see what happens if I do that over several weeks. Do people respond to me differently? Do I feel less confident or beautiful? What if I have to speak at an event? Would I still be committed enough to wear no makeup? And if I’m spending less time on grooming, do I use that freed up time productively, or do I use it to watch more Netflix?

I’m not totally sure how to go about the second idea. Do I start with something dramatic like going blonde? Do I make a plan of all the different looks I want to try this year? Or just decide as I go along? Will I need to change up my wardrobe for every new look? Do I progressively cut my hair shorter and shorter until I buzz it at the end? I’m not sure yet.

I’m in Salt Lake City for Alt Summit, and happen to have a hair appointment today. Maybe I should do something simple to start things off — like get bangs cut.

We’ll see. It’s easy to type, but making physical changes actually takes some guts (at least for me). Even simple things like bangs can feel like a huge change and take some time to get used to.

Okay. That was a long post. Thanks for sticking with it, because I’d really love your thoughts and feedback. What do you think of the idea? Would you find it interesting to see someone (me) try on completely different looks for weeks at a time over the course of a year? Do you have any interest in discussions about beauty and identity and grooming and how we perceive ourselves? Is this an important conversation to you? Should I cut bangs today, or should I wait and do something more extreme for the first change? Have you ever thought of changing your appearance in a significant way? Let me know if this post sparks any ideas for you!

P.S. — For my actual birthday, at my request, we kept it really low-key. I didn’t want a party, I didn’t want any gifts. We thought about going out, but it suddenly felt like a lot of pressure, like it had to be fabulous since it was the big 4 0. So I decided to go super laid-back instead. Ben and the kids made breakfast in bed and sang happy birthday, which was delightful, but other than that it was a normal Saturday. Errands and laundry, and prepping for Alt Summit. I didn’t even Instagram that day! : ) For those of you who have had landmark birthdays (30, 40, 50, etc.), did you feel pressure to do something big?

158 thoughts on “This Is Forty”

  1. I think it’s a really interesting, brave idea Gabrielle. I will be so curious to see what happens at the end of it all. I love so many edgier looks too but I tend to keep it long and brown, straight and narrow, although I can be wild with my clothing choices. I’m so interested to see what longer term effects (after the year) it will have on you self-image and physical image. I have cute my hair quite short before and at different times in my life felt either wonderfully cute, light and pixie-like, and at other times uncomfortably like a boy. I’ll be watching and listening! And Happy Birthday. Nothing greedy about that, we’re glad you were born. :)

  2. Happy belated birthday!

    I admit that I have double feelings towards grooming and being so conscious of ones appearance. I don’t shave anything out of principal because I think women are beautiful as they are. On the other hand I accept that this is not the common view and that it makes an outsider of you. Conforming to general appearances and accepting that society expects this of women also has its merits.

    In general I would say: go for it! Experimenting is always good and if it doesn’t work out then you can always revert back to what you are used to and are comfortable with.

  3. That is a great idea. You should do it (one or all). I’ve long dreamt of having Sarah Jessica Parker hair (Sex and the City era) for my 40th. It’s kind of the same reasoning as you – it feels unexpected for a 40 year-old-mom. And, like you, I wonder: “what am I waiting for? Why not get rid of the bob now?”

    On another note: shaving your head = very liberating. I donated my hair to cancer with some of my students several years ago, and I think it something every woman should rock once in their lifetime!

  4. Happy Birthday!
    I had to respond as I was 40 on Tuesday and it was an odd birthday. I had intended to have a party, but then other things happening in my life made that seem like an unappealing idea. We went out for Chinese on the day, and then on Saturday my mum and sister took me to London for a day out (I live 40mins away on the train) and we went to see a dance performance and the Matisse exhibition. It was great.
    The image thing is interesting. One of the things I have done for my 40th is to get invisalign to straighten my teeth. They were crowded and my gums showed a lot because my teeth were angled inwards. They also banged into each other when I closed my mouth and the bottom ones were wearing down. I am pleased with the progress so far, but it is quite high effort! I think there is an element of being out of control of how you look as you age and the ageing process happens to you. Doing something definite to your image brings that control back again and is fun!

      1. I am 65, and I started Invisalign in January. I never had braces as a teen because my teeth were fairly straight, but my bottom teeth have become quite crowded. It’s not hard, but I do find it annoying. I can’t complain because I inflicted this on myself. :) I do find that I clench my teeth a lot, and I miss being able to drink soda or iced tea whenever I want throughout the day. I should be done in another 15 months. Can’t wait!

  5. Khali Whatley

    Happy Birthday Gabrielle! I would love your idea of experimenting with the concept of beauty and identity and would be so intrigued to follow your journey. I recently went from long hair to a pixie cut and have noticed changes in how others (and how I) perceive me. It would be such a fun experiment! Would you consider trying an outrageous hair colour? Maybe pink? ;)

  6. I for one would love to see some experimenting. Especially the idea of going blonde! It would be really interesting to hear whether you felt different, and whether you felt people treated you differently.

  7. I just turned 39!

    This is so funny because I think this about grooming all the time, especially with my nails. And with my hair I wonder, shouldn’t I have hair figured out by now? (My hair is like yours – curly and thick and dark. I like it the way it is, but still wondering about hair cuts and styles…)

    For my 39th birthday, I got pregnant (number 7!) which brings up a whole new aspect of grooming. How do I dress well at my age, pregnant?

  8. Happy Belated Birthday Gabrielle!

    It’s strange how attached women are to their hair. Every time I go for a haircut, I worry that the hairdresser will mess it up. I have mid-length hair and I always been fairly traditional in my choice of hairstyles…haven’t gathered the courage to go really short because I think, “what if doesn’t grow back!” Illogical, I know. But someday soon, I will try bangs…that doesn’t seem so radical somehow:-)

    If you feel like bangs, try it. It’s always nice to try one thing once so that we don’t regret not doing it. Good luck!

  9. I lived in a tropical environment for several years. I stopped wearing makeup and just washed my hair, combed it and let it dry. During this period of time I took swimming lessons and tennis lessons. At first it felt a bit akward for me not to wear makeup or fix my hair……but after a week it felt so freeing. I realized I worried less about what people thought of me. I felt great about myself because I was learning new skills and my body became toned….and I was smiling more.

    I ran a 5K for my 40th birthday. My first one. I did not run fast…I never stopped and walked….that was my goal, even if I ran very slow. It was a wonderful experience.

    All your ideas sound great. Good luck!

  10. This soooooooooooo resonated with me (and most women I’m sure)! Grooming ticks me off . I want to be good at it, to take more than two showers a week and wash my face every night and moisturize my pale flaky skin, but who has the time?! Men have it so easy. There’s so much more aesthetic pressure on women, and it kinda stinks. Do I want to give up? Sorta, but my pride won’t let me. So I’m left feeling like a failure because I leave the house and realize I have food on my clothes or that I forgot to put on mascara or that my toenails were painted weeks ago and therefore the paint is chipping away to a nice rocker chic look which is okay for a 14 year old or even a 23 year old, but I’m 33 and it just looks sad. I’ve always been a rather confident person, but have been struggling with this feeling like a mess issue lately. In one of my many conversations with my husband about it, he looked me square in the eyes and said, “Too much focus on self.” Dang. He was right. Hit me hard. So I’ve been trying to apply that to my life and still feel good about my appearance. Also, I secretly want to shave one side of my head and get a sleeve of tattoos, like really bad. I don’t have a single tattoo by the way. At least then my chipped nails will go with my overall look. Thanks for a great post and for keeping it real! And Happy Birthday!!

  11. Yes! Great idea for your 40th (Happy Birthday!). I’d be fascinated to see the changes and to hear how people respond. I always feel like I never have it “together” and wish I was more effortlessly polished. I love reading simple tips or tricks, even if i don’t necessarily put them into practice all the time.
    Its never been a huge priority of mine, but it does make you feel different and good!!

  12. Oh Gabrielle, I adore you. I think taking the time to mindfully explore one’s identity – which of course can manifest in how we present ourselves to the world, but is perhaps just as much about finding new ways to make our internal self external – should be a life-long journey. And if not now, when? Shake up the status quo and see what wonders bloom.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Darcy! I really am excited by the idea of identity exploration. I know certain celebrities do this sort of thing all the time, but why not a regular old person like me?

      (Perhaps I’ll find out there are lots of good reasons non-celebrities don’t experiment as much. I’m guessing costs and time involved will shock me.)

  13. I experimented with hair color enough in my 20s and 30s. Now, at 42, I know that it’s best not to stray too far from my natural color… or at least what my natural color would be without those pesky little silvers. I had my 2nd child at the age of 40, and I’m now pregnant with my 3rd at 42. So, maybe I’m just going with what’s simplest at this point. Straying too far from natural is too time high maintenance and time consuming right now. I do, however, take the time to have my nails (hands and feet) professionally groomed every 2-3 weeks, and I didn’t start doing that until I was 40 and pregnant. So, that is something I did to improve my appearance to make myself feel better at this age. I also stopped buying drugstore beauty products and makeup. I switched to an organic skincare routine. I don’t always have time for a Professional facial, so I only do that a few times per year, and I buy my Eminence brand products there so I can continue the routine at home. I wake up 20 minutes early a couple days per week to apply treatments before showering. That’s how I work it into my busy schedule. I use a natural (mineral) sunblock every single day, and I use excellent moisturizer, and I take the time to address any skin issues I may be having by consulting a professional and adjusting my routine. My skin actually looks better than it has in years. I now wear less makeup, and I feel great about my skin. At 40, feeling good, beautiful and confident should be your ultimate goal, and your routine that gets those results should be one that fits into your current lifestyle and schedule. I hope you have lots of fun experimenting. I think it will be a fun adventure, and I hope you share your results and feelings along the way. As for me, my next goal is to stop covering my grays by the age of 50 and embrace my age.

  14. Happy birthday, I turned 43 on Saturday. My weekend was spent shuffling the kids around for their big dance recital on Sunday. Doesn’t seem like there’s enough time to focus on yourself post-kids.

  15. I just turned 25 a few weeks ago, and have always felt like I lacked skills in the grooming department. I don’t wear makeup (mainly because I don’t make time for it), I’m terrible at drying my own hair, and although I love painted nails, it drives me crazy to have them chip a few days later!

    I’m in a strange period now where some of my friends are married, others have one or two children, others are jet-setting around the world while working their dream job. Thankfully I have friends who are single like me to remind me that everyone moves at their own pace.

  16. I love your idea and would be fascinated to follow along and learn with you what difference these things actually make – to you and in your relationships with the world at large. Cool!
    I turned 50 in January. Like you, I had been giving it a lot of thought in advance and trying to head off any blue feelings I might have. I became paralysed by the options of what to do and the absolute expectation from the people around me that it be Celebrated Big in some way. The pressure! I knew I didn’t want a big fuss like a party, but a little fuss would have been nice. In the end, my rejection to the idea of a party or Big Event was misinterpreted as a desire to do nothing and the day went unremarked and my fears that I would be catapulted into the blues were realised and unfortunately it ended up being a pretty sad day. The pressure of these “Big Birthdays” is just too much – why do we do this to ourselves? Ugh. Glad you managed to hit the right tone on yours and will love to follow your “year of grooming” if you decide to go for it! Wigs! HA! I love it! Why not???

  17. I turned 40 in February. I ditched town with just my husband and son! We headed to Salt Lake and did absolutely everything I could want to do in a day. It was the perfect way to celebrate.

  18. julia g blair

    Proud of you, Gabby, darling! Happy, happy birthday! I love everything you
    do and say! Bangs sound wonderful! Eager to see you in Utah.

    love and total appreciation and identification!

  19. I turned 40 this year too and admit it was kinda hard. I’d always dressed and looked younger than my age, so the “number” didn’t bother me until I hit the big 4-0. I had a child much later in life and this year has been a constant debate if we want to have another. My age urges me to do it (it’s now or never!), and yet stops me at the same time.

    Happy Birthday Gabrielle <3 very best wishes.

  20. Happy Birthday! And great post. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I present myself. I turned 43 in May, and my twins will be 2 in Oct. Since pregnancy, the amount of self-care I have had the energy and time for has really plummeted. I often don’t even have or take time to think of what I look like when I leave the house, and then I catch sight of myself and want to let out a yelp! ha! Other times, I just don’t care. That led me to thinking about if what society often calls “letting one’s self go” is just caring less what others think as we get older. Not that I want to be in food-stained clothes with my hair standing on end, but I do think I worry less about the outer these days, and more on the inner. But…sometimes those things are also very linked. For me one big decision I have brewing is whether to let my gray grow out. I’m probably about 30-50% gray and I have been dyeing for years. But I’m so tired of keeping up with it, and tired of the expense and chemicals. Then there is the worry that I’m going to look more like my girls’ grandma than their mom! Either way, this has been an interesting journey into the 40’s so far, and I think it is nice to have some deliberate and thoughtful exploration into finding ones truest self. Have fun experimenting! xx

    1. Robin W. I agree completely with you. At 43 I want to make sure I’m working on my inner self more than my outer self because frankly peoples’ opinions of my looks matter less and less to me as I grow older. Being healthy and happy are my true goals that I have set for myself.

  21. I think this sounds like a fun idea and an opportunity for growth. I’ve always wondered what I would look like with bangs, and back in April a haircutter put in some longer side-swept bangs that I didn’t ask for and couldn’t stand it! When I was in my mid-twenties I had a shaved head (or variation thereof) for a few years and loved it- I loved the confidence I felt and how there was no daily maintenance- just a buzz every week and a half. I never had to look in the mirror because I always looked the same! :)
    A women’s appearance is a big thing for us. Of course we care about how we look, even if we wish we didn’t sometimes. We all want to put forth a certain image- I love your curly hair but also love how you decided to go straight, for a change. Change is good! Experimentation is good! It’s all only temporary, after all.
    Happy belated birthday to you, Gabrielle!

  22. I’m not your target audience, but I’m always surprised by how relevant your posts are to me. I just turned 20, and I’ve been having strikingly similar thoughts! I even have a hair appointment tomorrow morning, and I’ve been debating all week whether I should colour my hair, get highlights, or get bangs. I’ve never dyed my hair or made any other drastic changes to my appearance and I’m both terrified and excited by the idea of it. I’d love to know how I’d feel about a change of appearance, and whether people would engage with me differently; but I’m also terrified about making a poor decision. You’ve made me feel a little braver! I can’t wait to follow your experiments and see how you feel as you make changes! :)

    1. If you enjoy the blog, I totally count you as Target Audience no matter what your age. : )

      Good luck at your hair appointment tomorrow. I hope you LOVE whatever you decide to do.

  23. Happy Birthday!
    As my kids have gotten older, and much more self-sufficient, and all are in school or college now, I have found the 40 years to be full of freedom and joy with much more time for myself than I had when I had small children to look after all day. I hope you experience the same in the coming years.
    As far as feeling pressure to have big parties or celebrations….I think you did well to let that go! I always feel that we have to remain true to ourselves and what is truly important to us as individuals in order to maintain happiness on a daily basis. I have found that succumbing to pressure from others to do things only makes me miserable.
    I never had the “feeling old” thoughts when I turned 40. I felt gratitude just to be alive and to have healthy children and family, and I realized that to an 80 year old, 40 looks very young! Its all perspective.
    I also recognize that 40 plus women can be more beautiful and active than ever before, so I hope that you enjoy exploring new and additional grooming ideas. I personally recommend using a retinol cream along with your daily moisturizer. I know many women who do not use anything on their face, and they seem to age faster. and have more wrinkles than I have at 46. For me, Retinol and also the stronger Retin A have been good for staving off forehead wrinkles.
    Have a great year, and beyond!

    1. “I also recognize that 40 plus women can be more beautiful and active than ever before”

      Agreed. I’ve felt prettier in the last few years than I’ve ever felt in my life. I’m hoping that will continue into my forties.

  24. Happy 40! At 40 my style changed from romantic/bohemian to more classic clothing because I felt most women over 40 look more confident and stylish in classic lines. Although not Iris Apfel! I also have curly hair and have started to straighten it for the same reason. I took up running so that I would have a body I felt great in. I feel a bit like the 40’s are the teenage years of maturity, and some reinvention is essential to infuse the next chapter of your life with some zest! Looking forward to your journey.

  25. I’m not sure if this counts as an extreme or radical change in my grooming habits, but about a year ago, I started waxing my legs (or rather, having my legs waxed). I moved overseas, and our shower is tiny, and our hot water heater is tinier. I didn’t have the time or patience to shave my legs. Waxing them every 6-8 weeks has actually saved me money on shaving supplies, and my leg hair is finer now.

  26. Happy Birthday! I, too, have a long list of “grooming” that I would love to really try out. I never learned how to do makeup and almost never wear it, but I admire lots of makeup bloggers who make themselves look amazing. My hair has always been some version of dark brown mid-length to long, but I’ve always wanted to go red! And I’m jealous of women who look great with really short hair.

    At the same time though, I’m sort of mindful of not “going too far” in terms of doing something that my husband would really not like. He’s never told me not to cut my hair or how I should look at all, but I know how he prefers me to look and I do like knowing that he thinks I look good. On the flip side, my husband has always had facial hair and I really don’t like it when he shaves it off. I never tell him he can’t – it’s his face, LOL – but I’m always dismayed if he makes a mistake shaving and has to shave it off and let it grow back.

  27. Happy belated birthday! Sounds like it was the perfect day for you, and that’s what really counts on your birthday. :)

    My biggest milestone birthday so far was my 40th. That will be six years ago this winter. I really don’t remember what we did for it, which means it wasn’t a very big deal! However, my birthday is just before Christmas so it’s a tricky time since everyone (including me) is so distracted with holiday prep. At least I always have beautiful, twinkly Christmas lights on my birthday! I love that part of it.

    I really like your idea of exploring grooming, beauty, and how we (and others) react to ourselves with different looks. After turning 40 I discovered eyebrow pencils. A revelation for me! Seems silly, but that was huge for me. I suddenly liked my face a lot more. I also cut my hair into a pixie again after 40 and I’ve been very happy with it. However, it’s interesting that you mention buzzing your hair off. I harbor that fantasy too! Maybe you’ll inspire me.

    Can’t wait to see what you decide to do and I applaud your willingness to include us in your journey. I especially think it would be interesting to see how others react to your changing look. It puts me in mind of the #yesallwomen discussion you had here recently.

  28. for the front end of your beauty experiments, and depending on how public you want that stage to be, you could have a pinterest board(s) where you pin what’s appealing/what you’re thinking about and get opinions, advice, cautionary tales from your followers.

    and speaking of pinterest, there was a quote i pinned that had been circulating that said: “she never looked nice. she looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” (from Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell …which i haven’t read) and that’s kinda been my style/beauty mantra now that i’m in my mid-30s – well, my mantra for when my mantra isn’t “those jeans are clean enough (thanks Levis CEO) and I’ve brushed my teeth”.

    happy birthday!!!

  29. What an interesting topic to investigate. It would be fun and eye-opening to follow you through this process. I am about to turn 50 in two months, and I am wondering how I will spend it.

    I experimented with wacky haircuts in my late teens and early twenties, and unfortunately spend my late twenties, thirties, and early forties with short hair. As I hit mid 40’s my experiment was to let my hair grow long (quite long). I have enjoyed it for the most part and my husband loves it too. I also get compliments from others, except my own mother and grandmother, who think I am crazy for having long hair at my age – ha! That has been interesting to say the least.

    I am a minimalist. I know this about myself, so I am embracing it. I wear make-up, but it is minimal. Sometimes I go without on the weekends (but not at work). I sometimes paint my toenails, but never my fingernails. I like them natural. I love my hair color, even though there are a few grays mixed into my reddish brown hair now.

    I struggle more with the clothes/fashion aspect of my grooming than actual hairs/nails/make-up, etc. I hate to shop, so it is a struggle.

    Thanks for reflecting on this, I think it’s a great discussion topic.

    1. “I struggle more with the clothes/fashion aspect of my grooming than actual hairs/nails/make-up, etc. I hate to shop, so it is a struggle.”

      I think that’s true for so many women (me included). I hope I’ll be able to cover that angle as well as I figure out how to proceed with these ideas.

  30. I think this is a great idea and I’d love to read about your little transformations. :) If it were me, I’d start with something small, like bangs or a change in eyewear – like you say, physical changes can take some guts and I think small changes can be just as dramatic as bigger ones.

    Recently I made two changes to my appearance: I decided I was going to get highlights in my hair – a big deal for me because I hadn’t dyed my hair in a LONG time and had specifically grown it out to be my natural color – and I started curling it. Literally every friend that I came across in the following weeks took a step back and said ‘I didn’t even recognize you/you look fabulous’.
    I think it’s interesting to see people’s reactions to what I had considered such a small change. We get so used to seeing ourselves in the mirror every day that we don’t really notice how small changes look to other people. All the compliments reminded me that it was probably worth spending an extra 15 minutes in the bathroom each morning to put some effort into my ‘look’, because it made me feel great to know that I was looking good.

    I also never mastered some basic grooming techniques – like eyebrow shaping! I’ve never shaped my own eyebrows, I’ve just let them grow as they want to. Or proper eye makeup/foundation – a bit of cheek color and mascara is as much as I can manage. You’ve inspired me to give this a try too. :)

  31. I celebrated my 40th five months pregnant on my babymoon in NYC with my unexpected firstborn child. We had planned a longer and more elaborate trip to the city, but life had other plans. It’s been a great lesson to take into this season of my life: plan, but not so much that I’m bewildered when I get a curveball.

    Turning 40 and becoming a mom (now to two) has been challenging in the style department but I am figuring it out. I’ve decided I am going to do what works for me instead of what I think I *should* be doing. I love fashion and trends but sometimes I just need to wear a ponytail. For eight months. Weekly pedicures? Hahaha. Jeans to work everyday? Yes!

    Cheers to new chapters, new years, and being blessed to celebrate birthdays even with those two gray hairs my stylist found at the back of my head last week.

  32. I just turned 41. For my 30th birthday, I was living overseas and ended up swimming in the Persian Gulf as a celebration. A lot has changed in 10 years, so for my 40th, I really just wanted my husband to cook and clean up dinner, and for the kids to behave and be nice (they were 2 & 3 years old). I got the dinner request, and husband helped with the kids request. It was a really low-key day, and I was Ok with that. I think we may make a big deal out of 50, as the kids will be older, and it’s an excuse to do something a bit crazy. I’d love to spend a week in the Florida Keys, or go to Guam, or on a solitary lake somewhere. But, that’s a ways away, and who knows what the next decade will bring. The difference between 30 and 40 was so huge, I’m looking forward to see what the next decade brings!

  33. Hi Gabrielle,
    I love your birthday post. On mid-life crisis, I think it can be avoided if you are doing what you love and being creative. At 40 my husband started several new creative hobbies, and it was amazing to see the gratification and relief he got! I started my creative business pre-40 but think it is what is getting me through—it seems like you are very much a creative person, and hoping this will carry you as well. The ability to make things/experiences for your loved ones (and audience) is meaningful and makes a tangible and emotional difference in so many lives. I believe this is what people crave when they begin to really understand mortality and the passing of time when they reach mid-life. Making a difference on this earth, leaving a mark, feeling joy! I also see the way we dress, do our hair, makeup, and even cook as a very creative expression, and hence very connected to fulfilling emotional needs as we age! Best to you! Happy Birthday! Lots of good stuff starts now!

  34. I turn 40 in September and for some reason, I feel really excited about it. My 3o’s were rough for so many reasons. My son was diagnosed with autism, there was a struggle to understand and make peace with it. These days, he’s a happy little boy, although not so little anymore and I feel better in my own skin than ever….I even think that I look better (LOL). I don’t think I want a big crazy party, but rather go somewhere, on a mini trip, a week-end, something of that sort….we shall see.
    Happy Birthday to you!

  35. What a wonderful gift- growth and change- to yourself on your 40th! I love this idea, and I’m excited to hear your reflections on how you, and the world around you, respond to these physical adjustments and related change. A related note- I work in a very male dominated industry, and have in the past 3 years lost 50 pounds, had twins, and am now holding on to 25 baby pounds. I am having such a time feeling treated differently because of those physical and life changes, and wondering how much of it is outsiders’ change of approach and how much is coming from inside me. I think I’ll join you in your experiment. Thanks as always for the inspiration!

  36. I like this topic for several reasons. I’m a 36 year old mom of four and have never put enough effort into taking care of my appearance. I have let myself go and I know it and I’m finding it difficult to learn how to put on makeup and how to do my hair at this stage in my life. (I still have young kids and am limited in time.) but also I don’t want to look like a 36 year old mom of four! I want to experiment with my looks and feel excited about what I see in the mirror. Where I live it seems like everyone is trying to look the same as everyone else. Same boob job, same clothes, same cars, same hair styles, etc… I want to look as different from them as possible:) Like you mentioned, I’ve though about going bleach blonde or perhaps dying my hair pink. I don’t want to feel like I’m too old to try new things and be unique.
    I’m also very drawn to topics of beauty and self esteem as over the years of pregnancies, weight gain and loss, body changes, etc…I find myself now without any positive self esteem. Although I know my husband loves me, he is not the type that is complimentary and really never comments on my looks and I have let that get into my head and turned it into some negative self talk. I really have begun to work on changing my view of myself regardless of what others may think and regardless of what “beauty standards” I don’t fit in to. It’s a very difficult thing to do on ones own but exptremely valuable in the end I’m sure. Not only do I want to make these changes for myself but I want my kids to see me as a vibrant woman with confidence. I want them to know there are all kinds of ways to be beautiful and not just the one way they see in the media (which is also the standard around here).

    Go for it Gaby! I think you’re the perfect person to do these experiments as well as discuss important topics regarding beauty and image. I’m looking forward to seeing what you decide to do!

  37. My husband and I share a birthday. Last year for our 40th, we had a big party. We invited about 50 people and had a wonderful time. It’s nice that we hit milestones together.

  38. Happy Birthday! I hope your 40th year brings you lots of joy. As for changing up your look, it sounds like a fun experiment and sure, it would be interesting to see how far away from “your” image you could get. But I do wonder if maybe the reason you’ve “neglected” specific elements of grooming that you mentioned above is because those things just aren’t a priority to you or you don’t enjoy spending time doing those things. And if not, you may find that after a few new looks or even after one high-maintenance look (like a razor-sharp bob with bangs), you may get tired of keeping up the changes or putting a lot of thought and time into it. Unless you’re naturally a person who enjoys making hair, nail & waxing appts, etc. you might get a bit tired of it. I’d consider myself mid-maintenance: I color my hair and always put on makeup, but to be bothered with anything more on a consistent basis would take up too much time for me and I’d just rather be doing something else. With that said, go for it- why not? You may find a new look that you feel is more “you!”

    1. Totally. I think you’re right. I could try a certain look and find it’s way too high maintenance for me. Or find I don’t take joy in the experiments like I thought I would.

  39. Meggan Britton

    I love this idea. Have you read the book, “Garlic and Sapphires” by Ruth Reichl? It’s a memoir of her time as the New York Times food critic. When she first got the job she was immediately recognized, so she decided to put on different costumes in order to get really accurate reviews. She would review a restaurant in character, and then go back as herself and see if there was a difference in how she was treated (Yes, a lot of the time. Food critics get VIP treatment!). What was most interesting to her though was how different parts of her personality would come out depending one what she was wearing. It’s a fascinating book, and the descriptions of food will make you so hungry! It’s one of my favorite reads, because of the way she describes appearance affecting us.

  40. great idea! i am a natural brunette and went blonde for a bit this year. it was a shocking but fun change. it did make people interact with me differently, and it has also required that i take care of my hair differently (bleached hair is much more delicate). specifically re: hair changes, i will say that once you go platinum blonde (if you’re not already), it can really damage your hair and require a lot of upkeep. if i were planning a year of hair transformations, i’d talk with my stylist about what would make the most sense progression-wise over the course of a year. for example, if you’re going to try the blonde/shaved head/wig as your three big changes over the course of 12 months, then i’d think it might make sense to go blonde first, then shave my head second (thus making growing your hair out in its natural color easiest), and then try out wigs cause your natural hair will be super short. anyway, those are my random thoughts for you. :) have fun! i mean, why not? i can’t wait to read your updates.

  41. The 40’s is time of transition so embrace it!
    Grooming seems like a great place to start and a wonderful example for your girls.

    Personally I cut bangs ( cheaper than Botox) and continually apply sunscreen.

  42. Happy Birthday! You will love your 40s. I had a surprise baby at 42! I’m now 48 so 40 seems super young and so long ago to me!

  43. The best gift that people who choose to be hairless can give themselves is professional waxing or laser hair removal.

  44. I absolutely know what you mean about thinking you would have figured it out by now– I’ve had those thoughts myself! (Did I miss a critical slumber party when I would have gotten the key to understanding what works on my hair and skin?!)… one of the things I’ve thought about is doing a consult with a stylist that I appreciate. I’ve never looked into it at all, but Gabby– being high profile, maybe they would be flattered to do a mini-makeover? or give you design tips? It sounds fun!

    Anyway, I support your project and am curious as to how it will work out! Enjoy your 40’s… it’s supposed to be a wonderful decade :)

  45. My personal grooming rebellion (a few years years on from 40) has been to embrace the grey. I know some people love dying their hair and it can be fun, but there is also a huge amount of pressure on women (and increasingly men) not to be grey which is expensive, time consuming and potentially ageist. I find it liberating , but I do feel the need for a good cut and conditioner – so not quite free of the tyranny of grooming yet! Belated Birthday Wishes and good luck with the grooming experiments. x

    1. Catherine Hoskin

      Dear Julie,
      I was 45 when I decided to embrace the Grey!
      I started dying my hair when I was 21 because my hair stylist friend thought Eggplant purple would look pretty in my dark brown hair. That was certainly along time ago. My husband and kids urged me to let go of the hair dye and go natural. Now at the age of 48, I love my hair. And yes, it is liberating to step away from what society has to say about not letting your hair be natural.

      1. I also don’t color my hair and you’d be surprised (or at least I was) at the number of compliments I get on my natural, salt & pepper color!

  46. I’d actually like a guest post by Ben Blair on how to grow out a beard. What are key products/methods etc. My husband is a sometimes beard wearer, and I would like to get him some proper products.

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