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August 13, 2009

This Wonderful Life: When in doubt, turn to Oprah

When you turn 50, you get an invitation to join AARP.

When you turn 40, you get a note that says, ``Just shut up now, and do what Oprah tells you.’’

Unlike the AARP invite, this note isn’t a literal piece of mail. It’s more of a pervasive cultural message broadcast from every magazine cover, cosmetics ad and Hollywood plot. Being 40 puts you in a new category — namely, the category of no longer being able to trust your own instincts, particularly where fashion and beauty are concerned.

Your unreliable nature may extend to other things, as well. Your impaired judgment regarding your children’s clothing, music and general habits is so obvious as to hardly bear mentioning. Your children will mention it, however. Often.

Your ineptness may extend even farther, well into territory you thought was safe. For instance, what you thought you knew about success, priorities, wealth, health and even your own inner life is quite possibly completely wrong. It’s okay. Oprah understands.

Oprah has never been there herself, because she is smarter than you (and me, and all of us). But she and the rest of Team Oprah are more than happy to pitch in to help set you straight.

It isn’t just Oprah, of course; it’s nearly a national pastime.

We’re pretty attractive targets, when you stop to think about it.

By age 40, or thereabouts, we’ve grown wise enough to accept that we still have a lot to learn. We may not be suggestible, like we were at 15, but we’re open to suggestion. And maybe you start thinking in a different way about life’s Big Questions.

Why are we here?

What have I contributed to the world?

Am I too old to wear leggings? I call it the Grand Legging Question. And I will admit that I spend more time than I’d like pondering it.

If I wear leggings, will I look like I’m trying to hard to look young? I don’t want that. I don’t even care about being young. I welcome age and every experience that comes with it. And yet, I find myself turning over and over in my mind the Grand Legging Question and following it down unforeseen rabbit holes.

Is there a way to wear them that will look sophisticated and artsy? Or sophisticated and sporty?

How can I make it perfectly clear that I’m not trying to look like a teenager?

What if I spend a lot of money on them, will that help? In my world, this week, it happens to be leggings. But it could be any number of things.

It would be so easy if there were a singular, exhaustive resource to answer all these questions. My grandparents had Emily Post. On my bookshelf, there is a 1940s edition of Vogue’s etiquette manual, which does indeed address dressing. Wear brown or tweed when traveling by train to the countryside, because trains can be dusty.

What I wouldn’t give to be able to open a manual to the section on being both fashion forward and age appropriate.

For us, I guess Oprah is as close as we can get. Elizabeth Trever Buchinger wore leggings the first time they were fashionable, and that might answer her question right there. You can connect with her at www/moremindfulfamily.