Op-Ed: Sunny Sweeney on Finally Owning Her Age and Celebrating Her Birthday

Written by Sunny Sweeney

Videos by American Songwriter

I’ve spent the last 45 years trying to not let people know I was getting older, even though that’s what life is. Each day we are all as young as we’ll ever be again.

I’ve tried to explain to people that love me and celebrate me why I don’t want them to write about my birthday on social media or why I don’t want to celebrate my birthday at a big dinner. I always make up some bullshit excuse about why I hate my birthday and end up sulking at home alone.

The answer is “I don’t know why I have done this.” I have wasted many December 7th’s sitting in my house crying because I didn’t think celebrating my life was worthy of a party or a post. That’s basically me saying I don’t think I’m worthy of a celebration. Truth is. I think I am very worthy of a celebration. I’ve been a full-time musician for 20 years. The tenacity and persistence that takes is something worth celebrating. The fact that I’ve continued to stay afloat in a male-dominated industry through tough record deals and also being an Indie artist clawing my way through years of having no money for the better part of my adult life is quite astounding. Will I ever sell out an arena? No, most likely not, but that doesn’t determine my significance. What determines my worth is the fact that I get to make music for a living. I have spent my life thus far making music that will live on way longer than I do. We can only hope what we leave behind will make some sort of impact.

I think part of my problem with aging is that, if I am getting older, so are my parents…so are my friends and family members… and the older everyone around me gets, the closer we are to leaving this world. I guess it’s that I don’t look forward to a time when they are no longer here. Morbid, maybe, but it’s how my mind works. I don’t trust many people, so the ones in my circle that I do trust, I can’t imagine being here without.

My sweet mom, who is more proud of me than she knows what to do with, can’t even write “happy birthday” to me publicly and she’s the one that brought me into this world. She, of all people, should be able to celebrate what she says is her biggest accomplishment. 

What an a-hole I’ve been.

The holidays always depress me for whatever reason. Seasonal depression is a real thing. Unfortunately, my birth date is December 7th, so it happens to fall between thanksgiving and Christmas, so maybe that’s it. Maybe I was predisposed to hate this day just, due to the fact, that I get seasonally depressed anyway…Who knows.

Do I think aging is harder for women? Yes. Women do not age gracefully. They wrinkle. Their bodies change. Their worth is questioned as they age. A friend told me the other day “women become invisible as they age, men wear it as power”… that struck me. Ask any actress. They all say, “Now, I’m just cast as an aging woman, never the heroine anymore…” Truth be told, the aging woman IS THE HEROINE! She made it… She made the cut!  She has lived!  She has survived!  I am making a conscious choice here to change that thought process in my mind. I will use my age and knowledge to mentor young girls and teach them what NOT to do…teach them how to navigate the pool of self-proclaimed gatekeepers, who think they determine our worth. Men wrinkle and get more handsome with age. We, women, spend more money on anti-aging products and Botox than we care to admit. P.S. I’ll never stop getting Botox…I digress. This business puts such an unrealistic stress on women to stay young, stay sexy. Well, I may not look as good as I did in my 20’s, but I damn sure make better choices and have a better head on my shoulders.

My time spent on major record labels definitely secured my insecurity of aging. When I got dropped from a record label in 2012, I thought life was over. One week prior to this life-altering event, the head of the label had pranced me about like a show pony at a Nascar race as if nothing was wrong, then dropped a bomb six days later that I wasn’t “selling enough.” Well, that’s because I make country music. We all know that story too well. I’m ok with this now, as it’s taken me many years of walking the line of bitterness and grace to realize that this opportunity I was presented was equivalent to having been drafted for the NFL. How many people can say that?

I’ve spent the last 19 years preparing me for what’s ahead. I make more wise decisions now than I’ve ever made. Truth is I wouldn’t go back to being 20-something now, even if you paid me. I’m surprised I’ve even made it this long on this earth, considering some of the choices I made in my twenties.  This business is based on youth and beauty and what sells… You’re not young enough… you’re not skinny enough…. You’re too old…in my case, “You’re too country”… well, times are changing, and older people (my contemporaries) are getting successful all the time all around me. It took me this long to figure out exactly what I even want to do with my life. If I would have had worldwide success in my 20’s, I most likely would have pissed it away anyway.

Do I feel like I should have more to show for being 46? Yes. I may not own a house or tour in a bus or have children, but I get to travel the world making damn fine music for damn fine fans who pay their hard-earned money to come and see me be me.

Am I grateful for what I do have? Yes. I’ve been all over the world simply because one day, I decided to pick up a guitar and attempt to write a song. I try to let that sink in. I have made some of the best friends one could ever hope for in this business. Ones that understand me. Ones that get why I have certain insecurities. Ones who understand why I choose to live out of a suitcase.

I’m old enough now to know all the family secrets. I’ve finally gotten to an age where I can establish boundaries and stick to them. I have lived enough life in my 45 years for multiple people. I am grateful for being here. I am grateful for the people I know in my life. I am grateful for the experiences I have been awarded.

I want to be an example for my nieces and nephews and my friends’ kids, so that they know it’s never too late to do something. Age is ultimately a number. That’s it. A number. You’re the one that must decide what your number will do. 

After this whole thing, you still may not understand where I’m coming from, and frankly, I don’t care. It’s basically an apology to everyone who has wanted to celebrate me being alive in the past and I didn’t allow it. Currently, I also have more in the pipeline, business wise, than I ever have. There are some cool things about to happen. I feel the tides turning.

I’m so proud of where I am. I’m proud of who I am. I’m proud of every line on my face. Those are the road maps showing where I’ve been…. And I’m proud of the footprint I’ll leave when I’m long gone.

Cheers to my next trip around the sun. This is 46?

Photo Credit: Lyza Renee / Ivpr

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