It is October. And this is my October blog.
It’s a big month, people. In this month I turned 60 years of age.
I never cared about getting older. Never cared up till now. I was always relieved, frankly, to turn to another decade.
So when 30, 40, 50 came along, it was all with joy. Yes, let me be THAT. That decade makes more sense to me. I already feel older than I am, so let me just be living in another decade. I wanted to be older.
But … 60. Whoa. A different feeling.
To be honest, I feel sad that I felt the way I did about getting older. I should’ve been more upset about getting older! I think this is mostly due to my insecurity about how I looked. More on that in a moment.
I spent a bit of time thinking about what, exactly, I wanted to do on my birthday. It couldn’t be left to chance. I have vivid memories of at least certain moments of each birthday in which I moved into a new decade.
When I was 10, I remember my dad saying, “Wow, you’re a decade old.” I said, “What is a decade?” And he explained. We were in the dining room and he was sitting at the table reading the paper. It’s a sweet memory. I felt weighty and substantial in that moment, as if by living to this number, 10, I had achieved some stature. A decade.
When I was 20, I was a Junior at the University of Washington. I don’t remember this birthday very well, except that I celebrated it with a lunch with Aunt Bonnie (she lives in Seattle and became a second mother to me) and dinner with Jim Emerson and John Kohl, who were in the offices next to me. I had just been elected Student Body Vice President and they ran the student offices of Film and Concerts. They have remained friends to this day.
When I was 30, I was at Saturday Night Live, only I had lied about my age and they all thought I was 28. Why did I fib? Well, when the call had gone out looking for cast, my agent told me they were looking for girls under the age of 30 and guys from age 40 and under. (I’m sure they couldn’t get away with this now.) I was so scared to be 29, so close to the cutoff age. So I lied by two years so I seemed more “in my twenties.” This created a math problem for me constantly. I was skittish when I talked about my hometown and my high school, knowing I had to talk around what year I graduated. I remember there being some acknowledgment of my birthday as I stood at the edge of the big table in the main writers’ room. I remember thinking, “I am actually turning 30, but I have to pretend I’m just turning 28.”
When I turned 40, I treated myself to a far-away journey, to Bhutan — and not just Bhutan, but a remote northern part of it. It was a Backroads trip and I didn’t know anyone else in the group. I remember looking out of my hut in the wee hours of the morning of my birthday, over the undulating hills striped with crops, the distinctive Bhutanese houses, and thinking, “I’m 40.” I know, I know. Very profound thought. I’d just finished all the paperwork necessary to adopt a baby from China and was waiting for a baby assignment — which wasn’t to come for another year and a half. But I was pretty sure that somewhere out there was a baby that was going to be my daughter. In fact, my daughter wasn’t born yet, wouldn’t be born until around November 2 (her specific birthdate is unknown). But she was about to be born.
My 50th birthday found me living in Wilmette, Illinois, with a new husband and my daughter, Mulan, who was 9 by then. I had a job that day, speaking at a conference. The organizer figured out it was my birthday and ordered a cake. A group of strangers sang “Happy Birthday” to me. I can’t even remember the theme of the conference, but here’s the part I do remember: I left the conference, which was in downtown Chicago, and went over to The Art Institute, my favorite museum in the world. I wandered around, visited my favorite pieces. Then I treated myself to lunch at their fancy restaurant, Terzo Piano. I had couple of glasses of wine … then dessert. I was totally happy. I took the train home to Wilmette and celebrated again: pizza and TV and cake with Michael and Mulan.
On my 60th birthday I got up very early, around 5 a.m., and drove out to Point Magu, north of Malibu. It took about an hour and a quarter to get there. I went on a long hike, 6 or 7 miles, starting in the dark, through the back hills and then up to the point, where there was a flag. It was a hard hike for me, but lovely. In a few parts I was actually a little scared; there was a sign warning about mountain lions and advising not to hike alone. There were parts where the brush was so thick over the trail, I had to just walk into it not being able to see well on either side of me, or even above me. I encountered few people. Bout 11 a.m. I finished and drove down Highway 1 toward Santa Monica, the ocean brilliant blue, the sun high in the sky. I went to Huckleberries in Santa Monica for breakfast, happy as a clam. I went home and had a long, luxurious nap. That night Michael and I went to Providence, a very VERY schmancy restaurant a few blocks from our house. We had sixteen courses with wine pairings and stumbled home, amazed we were capable of eating so much. A perfect day.
So, I wanted to say something about my looks. Ha. That was a funny sentence to type. Anyway, specifically, my weight. And a birthday present I gave myself.
I have been aware that it was better to be thin my whole life — in a deep, visceral way. My mother’s greatest fear was to be heavy, and for her, it was the greatest sin for any woman. I would say my mother has been primarily concerned about her weight above all else for her entire life, and of course this transferred to me. I’m not critical of this, this was part of her culture and her world. She was so afraid I might be heavy. I learned how to count by learning to count calories. My mother would have me add up the calories on a plate of food as a party trick for her friends when I was very young. I was basically thin until I hit puberty and then gained a lot of weight. My mother was apoplectic about it, and I remember her once taping a newspaper article to the door of my bedroom about some airline stewardesses who had been fired for weighing… 127 pounds. I had recently gone in for a physical and I was… 127 pounds. It was humiliating. I remember fighting with my mother about it afterwards, and her saying, “What kind of job are you ever going to get if you are fat?” And I said, “I could be fat and be a lawyer.” God, that’s hard to type. But I remember that so vividly. I could be fat and be a lawyer. And my mother said, “Why do you think that?” I said, “Because if you’re a lawyer it doesn’t matter how you look.” And I remember her laughing, cackling actually, at how ridiculous that thought was. “Oh, you don’t think it matters how you look if you’re a lawyer?” That was apparently the funniest thing in the world.
What is funny is that I became an actress and moved to Hollywood. I guess you could say my mother prepared me well for an industry which was as obsessed with weight and looks as I had been trained to find acceptable.
There is so much more to tell. And I want to write about it someday in more depth. For this quick blog entry, I just want to touch on this lifelong legacy of pain around looks and weight. The reason I bring it up in this particular blog entry is that the gift I gave myself for my 60th birthday is that I will never go on a diet again. I will never monitor my eating again. Goodbye to all that. I just wish I had done it sooner.
After a couple of years of dabbling in the fasting diet – intermittent eating, timed eating, etc, I have come to the conclusion that the only regret I have had about my whole life is that I ever went on any kind of a diet. (And I could chronicle for you a lifetime of diets. I think I have joined Weight Watchers about 400 times.)
Here’s the thing: I am pretty certain that if I had never gone on a diet I would be thinner today. I cannot prove that, but I think it’s true. I think the constant dieting, and constantly thinking about eating in terms of whether I was on a diet or not, caused me to develop what is called, “disordered eating.”
I listen to this terrific podcast called Trumpcast. One of the hosts is a wonderful woman named Virginia Heffernan. I really like her so much. During one of the podcasts she mentioned that she was listening to another podcast called Food Psych. It’s an anti-diet, health-at-every-size kind of show. I’ve been listening to this podcast for about a year now (It’s fantastic, I cannot recommend it enough) and I’m doing the “Intuitive Eating” program that Christy Harrison has developed. Harrison is the creator of this podcast. Anyway, I am convinced that the best thing I could do for myself is to just let it all go.
I recently got cast on this show, American Gods. And when I went in to a costume fitting, it was one of the first times I was completely and totally free from anxiety about being measured and fitted. It was a thrill. I feel perfectly comfortable in my skin. I felt happier about being an actress than I ever had. I felt free.
You could say now I’m older and so it doesn’t matter anymore. And that is true. But my message to anyone reading this who is younger is for you to take a moment and consider whether the dieting itself is what might be making you gain weight.
When it comes to exercise, I happen to like it. I try to get do some high intensity treadmilling in about twice a week. I like to swim. I like to walk. I love yoga. All that won’t change. I’m doing it because I enjoy doing it.
But I believe my dieting years are behind me. And it is really something to go through. It’s intense. Part of what you go through letting go of dieting is giving up the dream of the ideal figure that you’re going to have, to give up the advertising you have been exposing yourself to, your own internal advertising about how you’re going to look someday. It’s hard to let that go. I’m in the process of that now. It’s like a death in itself. I’m going through the five stages of acceptance like with a real death. It’s hard work, actually. It’s painful. I can’t believe I was so mean to myself for so many years. I feel awful that women do this to themselves and then keep other women in line by judging them in this regard. The whole thing is a tragedy in my opinion. I mean here we are, women who live in a modern age with all of it’s emancipation and opportunity, and we imprison ourselves with this paradigm of how we are supposed to look which we export into judgment about each other. We have “good days” and “bad days.” We ARE good and bad. Well, I’m trying very hard to let go of that thinking. It’s exhilarating. And it’s excruciating.
So, there you go. This is my 60th birthday month blog post. Until next month people!