Seventy-five Days of Phobias Day 27: I’m Afraid I’m Not Sally.

oldmaidTo celebrate the upcoming release of my third novel, Driving in Neutral—a love story about claustrophobia—I am running the 75 Days of Phobia series. Today, it’s all about number phobia.

Triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13 and the bad luck it signals. Friday the 13th,  the 13th apostle (Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus for some silver), and the 13 steps to the gallows are all tokens of bad luck, and they may explain why 13 makes some people uncomfortable and why, according to the, 80% of buildings pretend not to have a 13th floor. Triskaidekaphobia is a common fear, but an even more common phobia, especially in Western cultures, is Quadagintaphobia, the fear of the number 40. Bad luck may be wrapped up in the number 13, but being valued in modern western society is wrapped up in the number 40, particularly for females.

When Harry Met Sally makes note of this fear quite nicely.

I’M GOING TO BE FORTY…SOMEDAY!!  See what I mean? Sally’s all freaked out about “someday.”

Now, 40 may seem a pretty arbitrary number, but if you look life expectancy rates today, 40 signals the middle of one’s life, principally because people are now living into their 80s. Yet, at the start of the 20th Century, Western life expectancy was about 46. This supposed that, if you oldmaid2were a woman, you were middle-aged and all washed up at 26, which explains all the early 20th century Sally-ish moaning about being an 20 year-old unmarried female with fading prospects… someday! In 1904, as a middle aged  26 year-old woman, your value as an attractive, marriage-material, child-producing female had diminished and you were a spinster, on the downward slide with your biological clock tick-tick-ticking at the same time your doomsday clock was tick-tick-ticking. Yes, that sounds familiar and it brings me to the tick-tick-ticking to Quadagintaphobia. We’ve added an extra 20 or so years to our lives, but it seems that not dying at 40-ish and having a longer life has now become something to fear.

In 1904, unlike today, there wasn’t a machine propping up Quadagintaphobia, this manufactured, mass-produced fear of 40. And it is a manufactured fear.


In 1904 there wasn’t the fakery of Hollywood, or glossy, photo-shopped gossip magazines that showed ‘perfect’ women, or products to use to hide your imperfections, or products telling you  to fight ageing so you could look like one of those ‘perfected’ women on display. You weren’t bombarded by messages on TV, billboards, or faoldmaid3cebook spelling out your worth as a woman, or overtly stating that younger women were better because they were younger. In 2014 women are taught that not being 20 is bad and 40 is something to fear. Yes, there are men who worry about turning 40, but all that L’Oreal Anti-ageing crap, the Dove Pro-Age stuff, the anti-wrinkle serums, and skin-tightening and ‘40 is the new 20’ crap isn’t aimed at men. Advertising tosses that fear card right at women.

And we buy it.

Well, some of us do. Some of us get pissed off by it and hate expressions like “she looks good for her age”  or “she still looks hot.” Some of us believe she can simply “look good” or “look hot” without needing to qualify it.

Some of us embrace what we are and don’t buy into the edicts telling us how we “should do” 40 so that we’re “still hot.” We know we’re middle aged, and we work with what we’ve got — we have not “armored ourselves with yoga and pilates,” Mr Junod,* but we work to stay healthy, happy, and live to 80 or beyond. Yes, 40 is not what is used to be, which, in 1904 was, you know, close to dead. Maybe this is why some say, “40 is the new 20.”

But some of us think 40 isn’t the new 20, it’s THE NEW 40. It’s how womvintage-women-ads-24en define age on their own terms; it’s a renewal in confidence, & demand to be valued.

Some of us think 40 isn’t the new 20, it’s THE NEW 40. It’s not about how hot you are; it’s about how you refuse to try to stay 20 and make new rules for 40.

Some of us think 40 isn’t the new 20, its THE NEW 40. It’s Pro-woman, it’s supporting all women, at all ages, without slut-shaming or ‘cougaring,’ ‘old-maiding,’ or judging.

Some of us think 40 is THE NEW 40, and we do not have Quadagintaphobia

*Tom Junod, penned Esquire Magazine’s ‘In Praise of 42 Year-Old Women’  And while Junod means well, the piece is hardly praise-worthy.





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