In your 20s, the bathroom was a place to pre-party while applying body glitter to your décolletage. In your 40s, it’s where you go to inspect your grays or hide from your kids while reading Twitter. At least that’s what pop culture would have you believe: That women in their 40s basically have one (bunioned) foot in the grave and the other balanced on a Bosu ball attempting to hold onto their rapidly deteriorating muscle mass.
The truth is that while some things certainly become different four decades into life, many of those shifts are for the better—and they’re certainly not universal. One 40-something might stop dyeing her hair, while another finally gets the platinum blond shag of her dreams, maintenance be damned. One may have a higher tolerance for pain thanks to childbirth, and one may have a lower tolerance for emotional vampires. Here’s what 16 women had to say about the pivots they made, the products they started buying, and the changes they experienced—or didn’t—after turning 40.
I chilled out.
I created an offline room—puzzles, vinyl records, books, etc.—because I was craving more solitude and quiet space. And I bought more hair-thickening products than ever before, spending ridiculously on Olaplex and Ouai. I never would have panicked about my hair thinning or falling out a few years ago. —Rupal P., Westchester, NY
I slowed down.
Turning 40 made me allergic to complicated schedules and feeling rushed. My time and serenity feel more precious than ever. I politely decline more invitations, take my time, and apologize less for my intentional slower pace. —Morgan R., San Diego
I let that shit go.
I stopped giving a shit about things I didn’t give a shit about. —Katie R., Portland, OR
My “milestone” birthday wasn’t actually a big deal.
I honestly feel like absolutely nothing changed. I was pregnant when I was 40 with my second kid in the middle of a pandemic. Normally we would have done a big trip for my birthday; instead we had a party in a park with some friends, and it did not feel momentous. On the plus side, I still feel so young, it didn’t depress me. —Alice O., Chicago
I prioritized sex.
After letting my sex life take a back seat for a long time, I finally switched around some anti-anxiety meds that I suspected were giving me libido woes. I also stopped caring about my abs: I have a very floppy and quite pooch-y stomach, and I always will. And I stopped following anyone—even pals—whose Instagram accounts made me feel bad. —Elizabeth K., New York City
I quit dating fixer-uppers.
I finely found mature love with someone I never would have been with in my 20s or 30s. I used to look for excitement in my relationships, and I was always falling for men I had to take care of or who needed something from me. Now I’m dating someone super stable, evolved through life experience—dare I say “square”—and I feel much more at ease. —Summer W., Sacramento, CA
I got over my knees.
I am way more into makeup, not because I’m trying to cover myself up, but because I’m paying attention to myself and how I want to present to others in a different way. I enjoy eyeshadow far more now than I did when I was 16! Also, I finally—after years and years of hiding my “chubby” knees under long shorts and pants in the summer—wore cutoffs for the first time at age 40, and it felt amazing. —Whitney G., PA
My life stayed mine.
I remain blissfully unencumbered by children or men. —Sara H., Sacramento, CA
I stopped drinking.
About eight years ago, I was diagnosed with ADHD. Then I had a baby. Then the pandemic happened. My solution was to have a couple of glasses of wine every night. But between the ADHD, the stress, and the alcohol, my brain just stopped functioning. Then I got a very senior job in a very high-performing culture, and I knew that something had to give. So I cut out alcohol. Without it, I could embrace grace in all its forms: as a sense of stillness, as creative inspiration, and, most importantly, as forgiveness—for the ways in which my brain works differently, being a working mother is hard, and failure is sometimes inevitable. —Jess G., San Francisco
I had my kind of wedding.
I got married for the first time at 49 after 26 years of dating my now-husband. We did it fully our way—a small private ceremony with 10 of our closest friends at an inn in Vermont, followed by an eight-course private chef’s meal—and it was glorious. —Noelle W., New York City
I had to ease up on greasy food.
I started noticing that I can’t eat whatever I want, especially fried food, otherwise I get nasty stomach pains! —Kelly D., Appleton, WI
My perspective shifted.
I have enough lived experience to realize that everyone walks a tough path in life, and replacing judgment with kindness—toward others and myself—goes a long way. I have a much greater capacity for empathy, and it truly has made my life better. —Jennifer J., New York City
I let go of body BS.
It didn’t happen overnight, but after turning 40, I learned to value my body for the way it allows me to experience being alive in the world rather than measuring it against some shallow and arbitrary yardstick of desirability. I was seeing how age was affecting my mom’s physical health, and it was like looking into a crystal ball. I realized that someday I’d look back and wish for the body I have now. —Danielle C., Portland, OR
I put myself first.
It was always hard for me to decipher between self-care and being selfish. Now I know that caring for yourself is never selfish. I’m much better at prioritizing myself—getting more sleep, setting boundaries, knowing it’s okay to say no—and the people who are really important to me than I used to be. I feel like I’m far less self-conscious in my 40s too, which is one reason I started taking ballet again for the first time since college. —Lynne G., Lake Arrowhead, CA
I didn’t become a stereotype.
I had my fourth child at 42—while working as a partner in a law firm—and “bounced back” just fine. So many of those after-40 stereotypes are BS. Two years later, I do feel the pressure to do something about wrinkles and grays, but I’m also, like, fuck it, I’m a lawyer, it’s not my job to be beautiful every single day! I bought Frownies and retinol cream, but I forget to use them. —Elizabeth M., Allentown, PA
I moved to Paris.
Forty felt like the ultimate deadline to get married and have kids. And when I hit that milestone still single and the world hadn’t ended, I got the chance to rewrite my future. That summer I went on a road trip through the west with my dog. And that fall I moved to Paris, satisfying a desire that had been growing for the past several years. Turning 40 really helped me start living my life for me, not based on societal implications. —Jessica C., Tulsa, OK
More life advice for—and from—women in the ’40s: