What do I do when my body tells me I’m old?

ageing clockI had a lot of fun turning 40 last year.  I reckon it’s a good age – young enough to feel time is still on your side, but old enough for experience to (mostly) have your back too.

Trouble is, my body seems to be telling me something different.  I do a slightly faster or longer run than normal and I get shin splints.  I move a pile of logs and put my back out.  I choose booze, biscuits and late nights and I get spots a teenager would cringe at and black eyes a panda would kill for.

What’s a girl to do – it’s either grab the gin and head for the oven; do a Gwyneth and go all juice, gym and jimjams by 9; or ignore it all and go hell for leather, life’s short so who cares.

I say there’s another way.

No longer can we rely on ‘use and abuse’ (so 20s).  The ‘I’m just too exhausted by kids/work/life’ doesn’t cut it (so 30s).  We need a new mantra for our 40s:  Suck it up, take the dull on the chin.  Care to live.  Insert your own version as you wish.

Whereas in my 20s I scoffed at the dentist preaching to me about flossing habits, now I both floss and visit the hygienist religiously – better that than massive dental bills or falsies gnashing in a bedside glass by 50.  I don’t want old lady dribble issues, so those pelvic floors will just have to fit into my daily life.   I do my best to resist the siren call of the daily post bedtime glass of wine and chocolate (yeah, that one might need some more work), and I’ve finally signed up to a weekly pilates class – by all accounts  the best (if boring) way to strengthen my body in ways that help as I get older.  I take make-up off every night, I’m finally paying more attention to sitting properly at my desk, I exercise regularly, etc, etc.

Yes, our bodies get old.  I say, deal with it.  We weren’t designed to live so long and evolution will take a damn long time to catch up.  Accept it, take the boring self-care routines on the chin and get on with enjoying the precarious and precious life we are lucky to have.

That said, I’m keeping the gin and oven close at hand.  Much as she glows, the Gwyneth route is far too dull, and ignoring it all just makes my head hurt.   So if my resolve fails, you know where to find me…

Advertisements

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.

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…

A tale of unanticipated consequences

A proud school mum shows off her tandem skydive photo, a tick on her 40th year to do list.   I think: “what a good idea, a 40th year to do list.” I turn and ask a dad-friend if he’s ever fancied having a go at triathlon.

While slightly hysterically laughing about sudden triathlon suggestion, an intensely active, just-done-a-marathon dad expresses interest in joining in.

One week later

Wife of marathon man tells me he is pestering her to find out which triathlon.  Gulp.

Two weeks later

Little H and I attend Olympics.  I get fired up about sport, trying new things, the reward of effort, leading by example.  Manage to commit to triathlon goal on blog (see here if you missed post ‘I don’t want to be in Olympics’).  Now public. Double gulp.

Two weeks later

Arrive on holiday to discover French gite hosts are triathletes, indeed one is a coach and ex-pro, no less.  Watch them disappear off for daily bike rides, swims, runs.  Feel a teensy bit envious of lifestyle, bodies.

One week later

Husband asks casually over wine and cheese if I’m serious about triathlon.  I (deep breath, big glug) nod yes.  Husband calls my bluff. Offers early Christmas present of coaching by ex-pro triathlete.  Gulps so big just manage not to choke on wine.

Spend hour with pro talking goals, training plans, races, kit.  Express concern re swimming – never learnt front crawl. Bravado surfaces – maybe I could do or watch a race this season to get a feel for it.  Shopping list grows; from goggles to road bike to gym membership to swim lessons.  Realisation of extent of challenge deepens.  Feel excited, apprehensive, a bit gung-ho.

Last night of holiday

Have swimming lesson in small gite pool. Have to stop, gasping for breath after one length of 5 metres. All bravado deflated to fear.  The reality of racing a 400m swim hits.  Coach suggests how exciting it is to be starting right at the beginning.  Decoded: Wow, she really wasn’t joking when she said she couldn’t do front crawl.

Kit list gets longer.  Many swim aids required, starting with swimsuit.  Coach, husband and I agree halter neck, boy short tankini not really appropriate.

Two days later

On return home, training time negotiations and kit shopping begin.  Whenever brain idle, thoughts turn to triathlon.  Mix of excitement (Cool – a new, difficult challenge! A chance to be properly fit! Professional help to do my best and not just ‘enjoy the experience and not embarrass myself’!), nerves (Can I conquer front crawl – being forced to control breathing when working hard in particular. Will I have the mental strength for proper training that hurts and takes sustained commitment) and wondering about all the unknowns (How does it feel to swim with loads of other people? Will I ride and run in a swim/wetsuit? How much will it hurt not to have crotch padding for a 20km bike ride?  Is the transition from bike to run as hard as everyone says?  Will this take over my life completely or just mostly? Will I want to do another one?  Will all this cost and effort and using up of husband support points be worth it?).

5.40am Monday morning after holiday

Out for a run before Mr H off to work.   And so the journey begins.