When I woke up this morning to see that a friend of mine had sent me Tom Junod’s essay, “In Praise of 42 Year Old Women,” I felt a lot of things. First of all, I felt happy. I mean, I had been following Junod’s career for many years, and so I’ve watched him begin so many articles with the word “You.” And this piece began with “Let’s face it,” which was obviously progress. So yeah, I felt good, the kind of good you feel when you see a kid who always walks in Little League get a hit, or when your dog is choking on a piece of rawhide and then just suddenly stops. Except with a dog you were thinking you might have to reach down its throat at some point, and I have never gotten to the point where I thought about reaching down Junod’s throat to extract something other than the pronoun “you.” And now, I don’t have to!
The next thing I felt was relief: Tom Junod still wanted to have sex with me, and more importantly, laugh over hamburgers afterward, as he admired me in a stunning shift. Because according to Junod, I’m still hot — not like 42-year-old women used to be, back when they were super gross, like Anne Bancroft in The Graduate. And according to Junod what makes me hot isn’t just being hot, it’s that, unlike other women who just haven’t had all this time, I also finally figured out how to be sort of interesting.
Because — to borrow a phrase — let’s face it. Young women may still be perfect physical specimens. They can put on a bustier and high heels and arrange their legs, as 42-year-old Sofia Vergara has here, in a pose that’s not quite open and not quite closed, but they just don’t have, according to Junod, my “toughness, humor, and smarts.” He doesn’t come out and say that they don’t, but he definitely doesn’t say here, “Oh, the reason 42-year-old women are hot is because of what they look like.” No, it’s because we have a certain gravitas combined with what remains of our beauty. Young women don’t have that gravitas. So we sort of have the best of femininity.
I guess this is supposed to make me feel good. I guess it’s supposed to make me feel good that at a party in a summer dress, I am “the most unclothed woman in the room.”
Or, well, I want that to make me feel good, but first I have to figure out what “most unclothed” means. According to Junod, I’m “the most unclothed” because “you know exactly what she looks like, without knowing exactly who she is.” (We couldn’t escape that second person singular for long!) I’m trying to figure out this idea of not knowing who I am? As opposed to the younger women at the party? Is it easy to know who they are, because at this point, they’re just body parts? Is 42 years how long it takes for the female brain to develop, and then, there’s, like, this sweet spot where a woman has brains and a body? And you (the universal male you, of course, otherwise known as Tom Junod’s BFF) want to just crawl up in that “lust with laughs” sweet spot and have a blast?
OK, Tom. To borrow another phrase, “Are you trying to seduce me?” I am actually 44, so I hope my collagen-intelligence ratio is still in your ballpark. Oh, I just looked you up on Wikipedia and I see that you’re 55. Oh, yeah! That is such a hot age. It’s like, you’re still alive, but only for about 30 more years.
Art by Jia Tolentino.