Botox Babes – would you go plastic?

I had dinner the other night with three feisty, successful, attractive women in their early forties.   Think Surrey Sex in the City.  Two of them (let’s say Samantha and Miranda) were discussing which fillers they will have as they get nearer 50 – both laughingly certain they will fill in the lines demarcating their cheeks from nose/mouth area and probably some kind of double chin eliminator too (assuming they get one). (Picture courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Not if, not why, just what and when.

Really?  Two of the most intelligent, attractive, independent, articulate and confident women I know and respect want to have cosmetic work done?  For themselves too, I might add, not for a man.  And there was I with a (relatively uninformed) world view that women who indulged in it were bonkers publicity-junkies, women with very low self-esteem, and those in the public eye unable to resist our society’s gender and ageing stereotypes. Oh, and the women who have it for very understandable reasons, where medical issues or accidents mean it can genuinely change their lives through their own and other’s perceptions of them.

I was shocked, naively, perhaps. These women’s, this type of woman’s, choice left me wondering whether I’ve come to a considered enough opinion.

Why does cosmetic surgery feel an order of magnitude different to wearing make-up, dying grey hair or using skin pigmentation-reduction face creams?  Particularly now we have short-term, less invasive treatments like Botox – the so-called ‘lunchtime’ treatments.  Yet it still feels like a big line to cross.

Analysing my feelings, I struggle to justify why it seems so different to these accepted age-defying measures that virtually every woman engages in, in some way, as they get older.  It is more expensive, yes.  It is going under the skin, so feels a more serious decision, yes.  Infection or other problems might be more likely, yes.  But is it any more vain or less acceptable?

Personally, I do believe it is still less socially acceptable, a bit of a taboo.

Although cosmetic surgery is often in the media, I think it is mostly as an object of ridicule, or indulging our fascination with celebrity appearance.

That is counterbalanced somewhat by ageism debate and commentary such as that about the pressures on female TV presenters to look younger than their male counterparts (see here, here or here), or indeed this article about increasing numbers of professional men getting Botox to get ahead.

Whatever the media profile, ageing is a difficult concept to embrace given it is a constant reminder of the diminishing time to do the things with your life your youthful self so animatedly set out to do.  And our society’s obsession with youth makes us feel further and further from that ideal once grey hair and wrinkles force themselves on us.

I do also wonder what message cosmetic treatment sends to our children.  A woman’s body is not ok unless it looks youthful.  Feeling under-confident? Not getting ahead in the workplace? Get a shot of Botox and all will be better. 

If an idea or image is presented often enough, in enough guises, it starts to feel like a truth, an accepted belief or norm.  I think that’s a bit scary for my daughter’s generation.  Or indeed, my son’s.

One of the commenters on my last post said if you teach your kids discernment they can work it out themselves”.  I think that applies here, too.  All we can do as parents is help our children build a strong base of belief in themselves and who they are, and teach them to think for themselves.  Even with my kids so young, they often ask questions for which the honest answers are uncomfortable – “Mummy, why do you wear make-up?”  for example.  I can choose whether I answer or not, or how truthfully, but, as is the case so often, children hold the mirror up to our / our world’s uncomfortable truths in all their glory.

I can’t think of an answer I would be happy with myself giving to my daughter if I had cosmetic work done. Either I’m too vain or too weak to resist societal norms of appearance.  But, to be honest, the same could be said for most of the appearance-changing things I do to myself.  So I’m not judging my friends for their choice – who’s to say I won’t feel the same way as my own lines deepen – I’ve certainly found greying hair enough of a trauma, and there’s nothing like an absolute statement of principle to make you look silly a few years later.

It’s more that I’m interested to understand whether there is a growing cohort of intelligent, thinking, confident women in their prime thinking like this.

What’s your view?

PS As a slightly silly footnote, while discovering that breast augmentation is the top British plastic surgery procedure, I also discovered that one of the industry bodies is called baaps.  He he he.

Girls will be girls…or will they?

I’m a rule follower.  I’ve often wanted not to be – it’s far more exciting and cool to be someone who naturally breaks or makes their own rules.  But I think I can accept I’m not one of them, not as my first instinctive reaction anyway.

But today, I heard something in a workshop that got me ready to snap a rule in half.   So much so, I instantly wrote, underlined, boxed and marked with a big A for Action my passionate desire to do so.

The workshop was about getting children’s books published, hosted by Kate Wilson, owner of Nosy Crow, a children’s book publisher.  Kate made the point that following accepted conventions will help get you published.  One aspect of publishing is the indisputable gender divide.  Books are quite clearly signposted in style and content to boys or girls.  The Grunts or Rescue Princesses.  Mr Gum or Rainbow Fairies.  Diggers or magic ponies.

I find this infuriating.  Are we so determined to stereotype our girls and boys so early in their lives?

As an avid early reader, my daughter has virtually no choice but to reach for the vapid and badly written Rainbow Fairies, or a.n.other book about ballet, fairies, jewels, princesses, magic animals, or possibly gymnastics.  Some of these do, to be fair, include adventure, but it’s so proscribed by these core ‘girl’ themes, it’s seriously depressing.

Don’t get me wrong, Little H enjoys many of these books, and at this tender age of first forays into independent reading, the most important thing is that kids find books they  want to read.  But the books that have got her totally immersed in story and suspense are ones like the Famous Five, Swallows and Amazons, The Faraway Tree series, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and other Roald Dahl classics, Mr Gum, Horrid Henry, Pippi Longstocking.

None of those books, old or new, fall into the ‘girl’ category, I don’t believe, and for that I’m eternally grateful.  I know I sound a bit militant – books about princesses, fairies and the like exist because girls like reading about those things.  But how much of that is conditioning?  If shops weren’t full of pink things for girls, blue for boys, would so many choose it that way?

Surely this is a time for rule-breaking.  There MUST be room for girls to enjoy adventure stories, where female characters aren’t princesses, home-makers like the Famous Five’s Anne  or pseudo-boys like George, nor indeed tomboys uncomfortable in dresses like the Amazons.  Can’t they like fairies AND making dens, dressing up AND muddy jeans, fairytales AND riding bikes?  Does it always have to be rescuing poorly animals or using jewels?

Where are these stories?  Please, tell me if you know some.   Kate Wilson also talked about trends.  Quirky is popular right now, space is on the up.  Disney have put out Brave, their first animated film featuring a female lead character.  Perhaps that is a sign of a trend towards strong, feminine female characters and adventure stories for young readers.  Perhaps publishers have a load of books on their lists that will hit that mark (I can only hope – The Rescue Princesses look like they go some of the way at least so I’ll give those a go).    Perhaps I’m in too much of a minority.  Perhaps I’m denying the reality of what girls want to read.  Perhaps I’d better stop writing this and get down to the library to do some proper research and then get my ideas hat on…

Me and my mate Coffee

Me and my mate Coffee go way back.  We met in my teens, but we didn’t become best buddies until my thirties.  Till then I had other friends to hang out with and make me feel good – I could easily go a day without seeing her and not feel bad, often even longer.

When I reached the big 3-0, things seemed to change.  Our friendship really grew, the buzz when we met intensified.  As we’ve got closer, I’ve realised if I can’t have the real Coffee, I prefer to have none – instant friendships just don’t hit the mark.

When I fell pregnant with Little H, we didn’t get along so well for those first few months.  Inbetween retching I mourned the loss of a dear friend.  Luckily Coffee had some tricks up her sleeve, and came back to me in the third trimester without quite the same buzz but just as much character as ever.

Since having the kids our friendship has really blossomed.  I can’t get enough of her. Every morning I look forward to seeing her.  I really notice when we don’t have time to meet.  So do my family and other friends.  Lunchtime is just too late, and I’ve learned through the years together that seeing her in the afternoon leaves me sleepless from all the excitement.  Perhaps that’s her play to make me even more desperate for her company the following morning.

Occasionally I try to wean myself off our friendship – I mean, surely me being such a needy friend can’t be a good thing, can it?  But it’s proved too hard.  She lures me back into our old habits and I think “Why not? What’s so wrong with Coffee anyway?”  People say she’s not good for me, but I’m not so sure.  Some days, nurturing our friendship is all that keeps me going.

The great thing is we love all the same haunts.  She’s a great lover of café culture. She really comes into her own in the best establishments – strong and full of character.  We avoid the places where the real Coffee isn’t appreciated, hiding behind the pale shadows of her instant relatives.

Our conversations are at their best when they’re accompanied by a big wedge of home-made cake, although sometimes we just sit together and read the paper.  I think our friendship will last a lifetime.  There’s just no-one else who makes me feel the same way.

 

 

Love ya, Coffee.  What would I do without you…

Re-finding the mojo magic

It’s a funny thing, mojo.  I think having kids mutates it.  The moments that fill my ‘I love my life’ mojo cup have changed.  Or so I thought.  But this week I’ve asked myself, have they really, or is that the illusion I hold onto to love my life rather than wish it were different?

Take my new sparkly shoes.  Aren’t they GORGEOUS?

And check out the lovely posh make up in front, all new and full of the promise of nights out, especially when coupled with sparkly feet.

Add a hairdresser trip to sort out my wild-lion-on-a-bad-day look…

…And a soupcon of London cool (‘scuse the sex shop photo, but it’s actually the front of La Bodega Negra, an uber-cool Mexican taqueria in the heart of Soho, inside below, complete with gimp suit behind the restaurant reception desk!)

And voila, my twenties mojo resurfaces.  You know, that mojo that lives in the city, knows where the cool hangouts are, stays out late drinking fabulous cocktails (bugger the hangover) and having conversations not about kids or domestic life or hardworking husbands or schools or the mother’s juggling act, and then goes dancing.  Mojo that ends with pictures like this:

 We used to have loads of these – us on a night out, looking a bit rosy in the cheek.  But, as we realised when asked by the fabulously fun women we were out with, the last time we went out properly like this together was at least seven years ago.  That’s a loooooonnnnng time.  Plenty of nights out separately, but together and in the big smoke – that’s a whole different babysitter ballgame.

And do you know what, it felt brilliant.  My sister-in-law asked me if the evening made me feel old.  Quite the opposite – it made me feel young – young, alive and happy.  I wasn’t a mother, I was me.  The me that loves letting my hair down and going a bit mad, especially with Mr H. Not the comfortably middle class domestic me who stays local, has an allotment, mostly socialises with gorgeous but pretty similar / similar lifestage people, and chooses the cultural or physical options like opera or ballet or hiking or biking for any time Mr H and I get together sans enfants.  Now, I’m all excited about using up some grandparent looking-after-the-kids points to go up to London and go out clubbing and stay with our new friends without rushing back for sitters or horribly early bouncing children.

Funnily enough though, re-finding that mojo hasn’t diminished the joy of its family and domestic life mutations.  Nor has it made me resent where my life is now. I love my life – I have a gorgeous husband, two beautiful children (even if they do wind me up immensely too often to think about), a nice enough house in a good town, a load of amazing friends and right now, some pretty exciting personal projects on the go, whether finding my voice through writing, learning to swim freestyle for my first triathlon or exploring a potential business opportunity with a dear friend.  Do I wish I were a young Londoner myself again?  Not really.  Way more angst, sore heads and shopping than I can be bothered with, let alone haemorrhaging money every weekend (ahem, let’s just ignore the haemorrhaging children represent…).

But last weekend did teach me something.  It taught me it’s important to indulge the old mojo every so often, even more so to do it with Mr H, and, when possible, up in the thick of life, in the big smoke.  Not to play it too safe, not to always take the more sensible options.  Not to forget we’re still young, the big 4-0 on the horizon or not.  There’s life in the old girl yet…

An Ode to Poo

Although poo is just nature’s way,

A lesser part I wish it could play

In life at home with kids all day,

Where nothing keeps the stuff at bay.

 

In baby years poo made me wince,

Then nappies went, and ever since

I wonder why I made a fuss,

Such harmless, easy, fragrant stuff.

Now, I’m bent over toilet bowl,

Gassed by odour, fresh and foul.

 

A friendship’s really sealed for me,

When their child tells me it’s not just wee.

I feel quite stoic, really kind,

When wiping their child’s soiled behind.

I never thought I’d get to know,

The pong of other kids strain-and-go.

 

As for disasters, don’t get me started,

In pubs or parks or good friend’s parties.

We’ve all been there – the sudden runs,

The not-quite-made-the toilet ones,

Wondering where we can begin,

When poo presents from toe to chin.

 

And then there’s walking to our school,

Cursing dog-owners, thoughtless and cruel,

Leaving turds right in the path

For shoes and scooters to splat in half.

Really, people, don’t you know

How long it takes that pong to go?

How deeply poo gets in the sole,

And brings us mothers up to boil?

We’ve HAD ENOUGH thanks very much,

As if beating the bell weren’t hard enough.

 

Now that our kids are five and three,

It’s nearly time for some relief.

We’re fast approaching the longed-for point

When poo is personal, no longer joint.

Just one more year of wiping bums,

And then we’re into things like worms.

Perhaps by then I’ll get to crap

All on my own, door closed, no chat.

 

But now, of course, all smells are noticed,

Commented on in broadcast voices.

Is there no end to poo-filled days?

I fear not, I’m sad to say.

For don’t forget there’s teenage jokes,

And god knows what else they’ll think of, folks.

 

Yes, I fear that scats are here to stay,

Following me right through the day.

Best gird my loins and peg my nose,

And focus on some other woes.

Yes, I fear that scats are here to stay,

Oh happy, happy, happy days.

Books-ilicious

Some girls have shoes…

…others have handbags.

I have books.  I love them.  I love reading them, I love buying them, I love owning them.

A book-buying spree gives me a massive rush – I love knowing I have a pile of neatly stacked new reads waiting for me.  I never get out of a bookshop with fewer than three books, so I have to give myself a stern talking to if I feel the itch – woebetide a need to shop on Amazon, it’s a killer.

When I set this blog up I thought it would be a big outlet for my passion for books, but, weirdly, that hasn’t happened. The wonders of everyday life with kids have got in the way.  So this post is overdue. I want to break the drought and release my inner bookworm.

For me, three things about books get me going. Firstly, the thrill of a juicy review or passionate recommendation – all that potential enjoyment just waiting for me to get online or down to the bookshop.  Secondly, the exhilarating rush of the ‘ooo, I’m going to LOVE this’ feeling I get when a first page hooks me, line and sinker. And lastly, savouring the end, a friend I don’t want to leave, re-reading the back cover, the reviews and feeling uplifted.  Bliss.

So, I think I’d like to share my favourite reads of the year so far, for me and with the kids, plus my most anticipated to-reads.  In return, I would love to hear yours, and I might just do this again every so often to keep my bookish juices flowing.

For me then, of the books I’ve read this year, three stand out (see Goodreads in the sidebar for all the books I’ve read this year):

In third place comes The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Anne Barrows.  I asked my book group girls about the books they read before I joined their wine-merry band, and indulged my favourite bad habit of going straight onto Amazon and ordering the lot.  Retail therapy at its absolute best.  This was my hands-down favourite for beautifully written, light enjoyment.  Deliciously quirky characters, a lovely central love story and an all-round feel good movie waiting to happen.

In second place, I put Barack Obama’s Dreams of my Father.  I noticed it forgotten, gathering dust, on my bookshelf, so I took it on holiday for a try.  It was great – had he written it recently I would have been quite sceptical of its authenticity.  But given he wrote it before he went into politics, let alone ran for President, I found its honest, lyrical, grounded exploration of identity, race and faith fascinating.  The trip to Kenya lost the observational element of the first half but I still found it an engaging story of roots, family, tradition.  I only wish I’d read it when I bought it, as I would have followed his Presidency much more closely.  Maybe I’ll get a chance with his second run.

But in first place by a country mile is Caitlin Moran’s roaringly funny call to arms for women everywhere, How To Be A Woman.  I’ve only previously heard the *f* word used so freely in all its guises in team meetings with the video games developers I worked with a few years back. As a communications person used to the corporate tone of banks, that was certainly an eye-opener, and Ms Moran’s style was just as much fun.   Content-wise, it wasn’t so much that her views were new to me, it was more that she articulated views I’d had a vague sense of disquiet about but never consciously put together – like her views on porn or body hair.  I’ve never laughed so hard, with such horror, as at her first pube story.  I don’t think I would have survived her family life, I can tell you that much.

For the kids, joint favourites between all three of us (me, Little H (nearly 6) and Littlest H (3.5)) are all a bit silly, but, hey, if you can’t have a bit of silliness in kids books, what’s life for?

In third place, Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Really Dreadful Spell, by Kristina Stephenson.  We borrowed this from the library this week, and it’s silly, silly, silly. I’m in admiration of Ms Stephenson’s imagination, and the stinkiness went down well, particularly with Little H (probably a little bit too sophisticated for Littlest H to get quite as much from it).

In second place, Mrs Armitage On Wheels by Quentin Blake. I love this book.  I love Quentin Blake’s illustrations.  The kids LOVE the silliness of it and we all shout PAHEEURGH at top volume, every time.  A classic.

In first place has to be Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants, by Giles Andreae.  Hilarious, and I love Korky Paul’s illustrations.  It’s my mum’s favourite too, and none of us have tired of it since Littlest H got it for his birthday in April.

Finally, my to-read shelf.  It’s a bit bursting after a browse in Foyles and fateful reading of the weekend paper review section, but top of the list are: Men and Gods (Myths and Legends of the Ancient Greeks) by Rex Warner (yes, that was a Foyles one – I was entranced by the intellectual styling of a stand of New York Book Review books); The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (I’m excited by this one); Swimming Home by Deborah Levy and Memoirs of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge (yes, another Foyles).

So what are your fave reads at the moment?  Do help me feed my habit with some recommendations.  I could do with a(nother) good reason to go mad on Amazon (shh, don’t tell Mr H).  And in the meantime, happy reading!

#lostinthisworld

I’m not much of a one for exploring my technology – I just use gadgets for the things I know I want to do – but still…is there no end to this brave new world of social media?

Every time I venture onto Twitter or into WordPress’ admin area, I find yet another thing I have never come across before. Take today.  I went onto Twitter to say thank you to a new follower (I’ve noticed this is a lovely etiquette on both blogs and Twitter, which makes me feel good about human nature and reciprocity), and while browsing her blog, I noticed references to ‘Instagram’ pictures.  Deep, weary sigh. Oh no, what have I missed this time.   Instagram joins hashtags, Pinterest, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, Reddit and all those other sharing sites, not to mention a plethora of time-saving, funny or just plain cool apps I no doubt should have on my iphone or ipad.

What is it I’m not doing that means I miss out on all these developments, or indeed missed the gene that means I absorb them by osmosis? Am I blinkered or just not looking in the right places?  I will admit to not being brilliant with sources of up to date popular culture type things – I mostly listen to BBC Radio 4 or Classic FM, with the occasional lunchtime foray into Radio 1 for Littlest H and I to bop along to something a bit more lively over our marmite sandwiches and soup.  I don’t buy girlie mags or watch trashy TV (X factor excepted), and even if I do, I forward the ads.  I’m not working, so I don’t commute past ads either, and for whatever reason the conversations with my female friends (which, let’s be honest, as a stay at home mum with a hard-working husband, is pretty much the only type of conversation I have nowadays, if you discount those of the how was school today, no mummy can’t make a lifesize elephant before supper darling, will you JUST GO to the loo variety) tend not to cover much about cool new social media goings on. It’s all we can do to connect on Facebook to be quite frank.

Just how do people have the time for all this knowledge gathering, let alone all the sharing, updating, reading, commenting and exploring?  I’m going to have to get the nanny back just so I have time to manage it all.

I am enjoying it though, all this discovering.  It feels a bit of an adventure, albeit quite a lazy one.  I will admit (again) to an initial rolling of eyes and twinge of distaste about engaging with the ‘mummy blog’ community.  I have a thing about being labelled as a mother and then put in a box as a result – yes, I am a female who has kids, but that doesn’t define who I am or what I think, and the ‘mummy blog’ moniker smacks of stereotyping to me. Luckily, I managed to get over myself and realised I found the good ones hilarious, heartwarming, reassuring and even useful.  And by then I was sinking a good two or three evenings a week into this new-found world, incurring the wrath of a tired husband as I eeked out the minutes till bedtime.

And that there is the challenge, isn’t it, with all this online adventuring.  What happens to real world relationships and adventures?  Do they get sidelined for more comfortable sofa-based exploration, or is the latter fitted into the downtime?

Personally, I mostly do blog / twitter stuff in the evening when the kids are in bed and Mr H is still at work.  But it’s so easy to slip into bad habits.  I’ve had a couple of moments absorbed in a new post / tweet on my ipad, when the volume winds up, behaviour goes downhill and my kids basically tell me to stop getting distracted and focus on them.  I certainly don’t want them to think that is ok, that the online world is more important than the real world we inhabit, and, goodness, wouldn’t that be an easy trap to slide into?

I haven’t experienced this with my children directly as yet – they are still very much in the real world of scraped knees, today’s best friends and deliciously messy play (delicious at school or nursery, mind you, torturous at home).  Who knows where communication technology will be when they are deeply immersed teenagers.  Maybe teenage Little H will message her friends direct from her brain via chips in her hairclips, with a webcam in groovy spectacles to video chat with mates as she walks along.

But hopefully, fundamentally, at that point she and Littlest H and their friends will still remember they are real people leading real lives in the real world, and that interacting with other humans face to face is by far the most fulfilling way to have relationships. Yes, building an online community is a wonderful privilege, but it’s real world friends and family who give you a hug when you need one, take your kids off you when you need a break, make you laugh when you might otherwise cry and go out and get thoroughly plastered with you, quietly sharing each other’s pain the next morning.

On which note, best I get back to those mummy blogs. Kids are in bed, no friends being ditched, no husband to talk to, a pile of admin best ignored, so no angst necessary 🙂