I'm 37. Here's Why I Wouldn't Do My 20s Or 30s Again If You Paid Me.

It took me until 37 to stand up to people with opinions on my body and my face, my fashion and my career. To actually just say, 'This is my body, my life. It’s really none of your business.'
Cat Woods

Idolising and romanticising youth is nothing new. We’ve always done it – in fact, loads of research has gone into proving that we are naturally drawn to faces and human features that indicate youth: round cheeks, dewy skin, lustrous hair.

While these features do indeed indicate youth, they also indicate health. And, thanks to laser treatments, botox, filler, pilates and improved nutritional awareness globally, women don’t lose these features post-35. I’d argue too, that we are more intellectually, creatively, sexually and professionally confident.

After over a decade of working in various full time corporate and government roles, I finally ended up pursuing my creative and professional goals as a freelancer by purely being willing to risk that I wouldn’t get work. I genuinely believed, after 20 years of writing for various media and clients, that I had the skills and experience to at least take a risk.

At 37, I’m a freelancer, which isn’t something I could have sustained in my twenties or even imagined was possible then. It isn’t bliss. There’s bills to pay, clients and editors who commission then go missing when the invoice arrives, and weeks where I wonder if I will ever get another job ever again… but every week, I see something I’ve written, photographed, or taken part in creating in some way, appear online or in print. Every week, I add something I’ve put time, effort, experience and care into creating to my portfolio.

In my teens, I had terrible acne and spent about two or three years on Roaccutane, which is a hardcore drug to clear skin of acne but the trade-off is peeling skin, depressed mood and a flaky scalp. I spent those years meticulously applying makeup every morning before school and regularly heading to the bathroom to ensure my concealer wasn’t caking and that half my face didn’t resemble a crumbling teacake. I didn’t shed that vulnerability and obsession with my skin throughout my twenties. But certainly, once I crossed the borderline of the big 3-0, I realised I hadn’t had a spot in over 10 years that hadn’t vanished again in two days. People would stop mid-sentence to say, “You have great skin.”

“Yes, there’s some creases and laughter lines around my eyes and mouth. I’m not wholly at peace with this, but I also know lines I earned through living joyfully”

Yes, there’s some creases and laughter lines developing around my eyes and mouth. I’m not wholly at peace with this, but I also have the wisdom and perspective to know these are lines I earned through living joyfully, laughing a lot, staying up all night at full-moon raves or nightclubs or just watching Project Runway repeats into the early hours. I don’t look 20, but considering the amount of 20-somethings who binge drink, starve to look good in their Instagram selfies, cut carbohydrates and work long, slavish hours just to pay their rent… why would I want to look 20?

Women still get age shamed for what they wear, their hair and makeup, their lack of botox, or even their overuse of it. Since we can’t win in everyone’s eyes, why not just please ourselves? I mean, if a supermodel can’t wear a corset-style top in her 50s with an incredibly sculpted, lean, muscular body and eternally divine face then why shouldn’t we all just shrug off the haters? It took me until 37 to stand up to people with opinions on my body and my face, my fashion and my career, to actually just say, “This is my body, this is my life. It’s really none of your business.”

I look like exactly who I am. A 37-year-old who teaches yoga, Pilates and barre. A 37-year-old who hasn’t had a drop of alcohol for 15 years at least. A 37-year-old who religiously uses sunscreen and drinks water and gulps down vitamins (viviscal, iron, calcium if you care to know) daily. I don’t look young for my age, I just look well. That’s something else I attained in my late 30s, after over a decade of eating disordered behaviour that devastated my mental and physical health.

From the age of 17 through to my early 30s, I struggled with anorexia and compulsive exercise. I felt guilty and obsessive over food. I lost jobs, weight, friends and barely managed to pay my rent and bills. Ironically, there were endless compliments throughout my twenties on my “amazing” body and “great legs”. There was also weekly check ins to make sure my heart wasn’t about to imminently shut down, my liver was still functioning, and that I wasn’t so depressed, I could get out of bed and bear to do all the things.

Courtesy of Cat Woods

It wasn’t until my early 30s that I read a book by Donna Farhi on the real meaning of yoga and how to actually live it, not just twist yourself into human pretzel dough. I recognised that I am not alone. Something in Donna’s words and message switched a light on in me that hasn’t, and won’t, ever go out even if it gets dim sometimes. I realised what a rare thing it is to be alive, and how small I am in this huge universe, and how sacred it is to actually be alive at all. I finally sat in front of a psychiatrist and said, “I’m tired of this. If I gain a kilo or ten, I’ll just deal with it.”

And from that day, seven years ago, I just ate meals. I stopped forcing myself to get on cardio machines before work and I stopped buying ‘diet’ food. I ceased spending time with people who thought it was actually interesting to talk about protein and carb cycling. Would I do my twenties again? Fuck no. But, in retrospect, if I hadn’t almost been responsible for my own death, I wouldn’t have been forced to recognise how much I want to live.

I’m also fortunate that many of the women I love and respect the most in the world are in their mid 40s through 60s. Women who don’t fit a mould of what women were meant to be in the 1950s, or what some suburban, myopic morons still think women should be. Women who didn’t marry, or married and divorced, or had a child or a few, or didn’t, and who found something they loved to do and pursued it at the expense of fitting cultural and societal conventions purely for the sake of pleasing some imaginary ideal. My most beloved woman is a yoga teacher I met in Bali who is 57, tattooed from collarbones to ankles, teaching yoga around the world, raising a teenage son on her own, and living with a dog she rescued in Bali. A woman who volunteers her time to those who are incarcerated, does handstands for over 20 minutes at a time for fun, and was raised by a Sikh guru.

At 37, I’ve travelled and gained qualifications as a writer, a yoga, pilates and barre teacher, a fitness professional and even trained as a Raw Food Chef. I’ve been heartbroken, I’ve moved from one apartment to the next countless times (though somewhere around 10 in the last 10 years!) and discovered that women break rules and live stories of every description. Money doesn’t define your worth, nor does having a mortgage and a safe job and a “nice enough” partner and procreating between the ages of 25 and 35.

“At 37, all those insecurities, fears and desperate need for reassurance and validation become quieter”

What I’ve discovered at 37 is that all those insecurities and fears and the desperate need for reassurance and validation from everyone around you, and all your social media followers too, become quieter. You’ve shed the toxic people you needed to. You’ve discovered what you’re really good at, or just what you really love doing, and you find a way to make this your life. So that, when you fear you won’t pay all your bills, it’s worth it to know you’ve kept your integrity and that eventually another job and another opportunity will arise. That’s how things go when you’re confident enough in your skills and you wield over a decade of experience in your profession. That sort of confidence doesn’t get forged in your twenties. It takes this long.

What you need to know about 37 is that it’s way better than your twenties. Don’t worry about some creases and a couple of grey hairs. There’s cosmetic nurses and hairdressers for that stuff. What you gain in terms of wisdom, physical and mental resilience and confidence far outweighs the value of a creaseless forehead.

And also? I didn’t master headstand, forearm stand or a full backbend until I was in my mid-30s. If you stick to your yoga classes now, by 40 you’ll be standing on your hands for hours. If that’s not something to look forward to, I can’t imagine what is.

Cat Woods is a writer and pilates, barre and yoga instructor

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