The Lion King at 20: Reject Cougar, Choose Lioness


In the circle of life, it’s the wheel of fortune. -Elton John (Tim Rice)

The circle of life is a wheel that gets stuck in a rut. -David Wax Museum

On a rainy day, Robin and I picked through the kids’ movies at the library. Nothing good on the shelves, aside from Nick Parks claymation. I wanted a movie to lose myself in.

Enter a 20-something library employee with a stack of returns. I rushed him, and he held out spines of his stack for inspection. “The Lion King! I’ve never seen this.”

Robin groaned. Neither had he. “It’s part of the canon,” I told him.

“It is the canon,” the library aide smiled. “Can you believe that movie is 20 years old this year?”

“Wow,” I answered, more to myself, but aloud. “I could drink legally when The Lion King came out.” (Sigh.)

And there you have it: The Circle of Life.

When I heard Elton John belt those lyrics, um, 20 years ago, I rolled my eyes. Always cynical of public swells of emotion, I was unmoved by this idea, this circle of life. Vanna White was in her prime, turning letters on Wheel of Fortune and all I could think of was the absurdity of game shows and the uncritical stupidity of a nation.

So I was surprised to enjoy the movie so much. It resonates as I consider my own aging, the generations, and mortality. I couldn’t have fully appreciated its themes when I was finishing college. Now, I find its message of responsibility and succession profoundly moving.

As I face middle age, things like legacy matter to me. I am over 40 now. How did this happen?

I think about the conversation with the library aide. Did my remark sound tawdry? I was 21 when the film was released. Now I am an aging woman with a young kid.

I want to be OK with my advancing age. To wear it honestly and embrace it. Even without Robin in tow, I am often mistaken for younger.

The first time I dropped the 40 Bomb was inadvertent. I chatted with the carpenter who repaired our porch rails. When he admitted to being a Luddite, I told him “I didn’t really start using Facebook until I turned 40.” His jaw dropped. Literally.

It’s better when I get the look of shock from someone younger than me, like a bouncer at a bar. I don’t want to love these moments as much as I do.

I have almost no gray hair, though I would likely dye it if I did. I don’t wear make-up, though I marvel at how my face looks more like my father’s with each passing year. My glasses hide bags and crow’s feet.

I hesitate to wear certain things, even when they still flatter me. The C word lurks in the back of my mind. I want to look and feel attractive, but I never want to look like I am trying too hard. I won’t be mistaken for what some asshole would call a cougar.

I hate that word. Absolutely. Hate. It.

I hate people who use it. I hate the idea of it. I hate its sexism and implore everyone, especially women, to not use it. Not even in jest.

There is so much to embrace in this stage of life. All the hard work and pleasures of family. The challenges and accomplishments of a developed career. The wisdom that comes with making mistakes, living mindfully, thinking critically, and forging a life.

It’s been 20 years, and I’ve made the most of them. I’ve lived in 3 cities and traveled to 11 countries on 4 continents. I’ve also reached some common but profound milestones: marriage, home ownership, childbirth. I have ridden waves of excitement and boredom along the way, and my sense of self has evolved.

I want to think big. Forget concerns about a sagging chin and consider legacy. What am I teaching my child? What kind of world will I leave him, and what tools will I give him to navigate it?

What does he see when he looks at me? A strong woman who is comfortable in her own skin?

As I watch animated scenes of Africa, I marvel at the strength of The Lion King’s heroines. All hail the lioness! She hunts. She protects. She cares and provides for her pride even and especially as she ages. She is mighty. Regal. Powerful.

I am a middle aged woman. I am not immune to vanity and pride, but it is a small part of who I am and what I do. I have learned much on my journey of life. I am beautiful. Wise. Strong. I provide for my family and raise my young. I am a feminist who reluctantly likes Disney movies.

And I implore my peers: Embrace the Circle of Life and enjoy your aging.

Reject cougar. Choose lioness.

1 thought on “The Lion King at 20: Reject Cougar, Choose Lioness”

  1. Once again, beautifully crafted. I can easily see you as lioness….it’s the middle aged thing I am trying to wrap my brain around.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s