Getting old is getting old

“Look at that amazing middle-aged woman. I can’t wait until I have those gorgeous expression lines on my face. That’s so sexy.” 

Said no 20-something, ever. 

I’ve been wondering why people approaching 30 seem to worry that they they are old. Old!! Women today have an average life expectancy of reaching our 80s, yet before we are out of our 20s we already think we’re past our prime, and start to wish we were (or at least could look) younger. 

What the hell are we teaching each other? 

I started thinking about it when my little boy innocently asked me “why do people always want to look younger” after watching a TV advert for women’s skin care. It was a shock because, although I know somewhere deep inside me that it’s ridiculous, it’s also so fucking normal that somewhere along the way I stopped even noticing. 

Even from a very young age I remember the phrase ‘you never ask a woman her age’, and wondering, why? My gran would sing, “Keep young and beautiful, if you want to be loved”. Sigh. And we all know by now that it’s taken decades for celebrities to be allowed to get older, unless they take to the knife or needle or chemicals, to cut and stretch or fill their skin with age-reversing magic. 

When we are children we can’t wait to grow up to be old enough to do whatever our current age restricts (watch the best films, ride the best rollercoasters, drink all the booze). Then we hit about 25 and realise we’re heading towards 30… it’s all downhill from here. So there’s a period of about 5 – 7 years where we think we’re in our prime, and then what? Re start trying to stay young, to reverse ‘growing up’. 

Why do we value youth so much, when age means we continue to grow – in knowledge, experience and an understanding of what’s actually important to us?

We only seem to value people getting older when the numbers get much bigger. Then people start telling you their age all the time. “I’m 83 you know!”  They are proud, and we are impressed because they have made it to a ripe old age, and perhaps they are still showing us that they can have enormous fun. 

Let me give you an example, of dancing in public :

  • Age 5 = cute
  • 25 = sexy
  • 35 – 55 = embarrassing
  • 65 – 95 = Go Grandma!!! 

We just love seeing an obvious pensioner mixing it up with the kids at a festival or dancing in the street. They show us that pure joy is what’s important at any age. They also show us that they give no fucks what so ever. 

I’m 44 And apparently I have a life expectancy of 89. I’m not even half way! It is a fact that I am younger than the average person (just) and perhaps in the absolute peak period of my life. 

My body may not be as flexible as it was when I was an 11 year old gymnast, but I no longer care about which of my friends can do the best standing back-flip. I have other things I need my body to do. My tits may not point in the same direction as they did when I was 22, but that’s because they have been a life source for another human. They can point whichever twatting way they want to after that. 

But I tell you what, mentally I’ve never been healthier. I know what’s important to me and what’s not, and that helps me to realise that I’ll never again waste my energy worrying about how many candles there are on my cake each year, unless they start to cause a fire hazard. 

Every age I have been has been my favourite so far. We need to start talking about THAT. We need to help the teenagers, the 20-somethings and people at every number of candles understand that their age right now can be celebrated – just like the kids showing off their age on a birthday badge; just like the woman who is proud of being 83; we have made it through another year. We have learned more, experienced more, grown more as a person. 

I’m still growing, and I don’t mean my waist line (that’s a given). 

In my 20s – I had a ball, drinking and dancing in noisy, smelly, disgusting clubs, making new friends, shopping for shoes and  flirting with boys. (Maybe more than flirting sometimes)

In my 30s – I had a ball, going to pubs where I could get a nicer glass of wine, a seat and good conversation. There was theatre, gigs, and cinema with a solid group of friends and I ‘settled down’, got married and became a mum’. Life was even better. 

In my 40s – I’m having a ball, going to great restaurants, festivals, museums, holidays with my family, afternoon tea with my friends. Life is even better. 

I look back in younger days with massively fond memories, but do I want to go back to smelly clubs with sticky floors, shit wine and questionable men? No, I don’t. Except, if I do want to go, I will go.  I will be one of those ‘old women’ that my 20-something self would have sneered at because they were embarrassing themselves, drinking too much and taking over the dancefloor, and turning ‘our club’ into a grab a granny night’. How dare they?! 

I’ll tell you how dare they…. because I’m learning it now – middle-aged women have learned the best life lesson there is – they have learned about what’s import to worry about and what’s not. That’s what age is wonderful at giving us – a depleting number of fucks to give. It’s really quite liberating!

If we want to go out and get shitfaced on a better class of cocktail, we will. If we want to wear a more sensible heel, we will. And if we want to stay at home watching a box set, and only drinking tea, we fucking well will and we don’t care if that’s boring. We earned the right to do whatever we want by drinking a decades-worth of cheap, warm cider and alco-pops then staggering home on blister-bleeding feet. 

So I’m not scared of getting older, because experience tells me that life only gets better. And if that experience shows as lines on my face then that’s just fucking dandy. (Marketing people take note – I’ll still buy face cream, but to make my skin feel nice.)

Let it be known that I am 44, and 44 is brilliant. If you’re not there yet, you’ve got a lot to look forward to. Honestly. And if you’re older, please tell me what else I can look forward to. 

Or have I already lost the plot because I’m so old and passed it? 

Embrace

If I asked you to describe your body, what’s the first thing you’d think of?

I’ve just been to the cinema to watch a documentary called ‘Embrace’ where people were asked that same question, and their responses were… fat; disgusting; not perfect; I need to lose weight. It was a bit shocking. People of all shapes and sizes all responded in the same way.

Then the film maker, Taryn Brumfitt, points out that almost everyone she asked made a negative comment about the way their body looked, but no-one comments on what their body allows them to do. Her statement is “This body of mine, it’s not an ornament, it’s a vehicle.”

It makes you think doesn’t it?

Our bodies are amazing. They are so clever, and they allow us to get to places, have life’s adventures and perhaps even create new life. How come we take all that for granted but criticise if they are not the ‘perfect shape’ to LOOK at?

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Now I’m not a person who spends that much time thinking about what I look like. I’m really not that bothered most of the time. Let me give you an example…

I once met a friend of a friend who does cosmetic treatments. Within an hour of meeting her she had focused in on a frown line above my nose (not prompted by me) and told me, “I could easily remove that for you”. If she could have read my mind she would have heard two things: First my desire to twat her square in the face, and second a very sarcastic tone which said, “I’m about three stone over weight love, do you think a care about a little line on my forehead?”

But I just smiled and said, “Oh it doesn’t really bother me”. Now to be fair, she was a lovely lady and she was talking with a very positive intension – she meets women every day who obsess about they way they look and she has a way to make them feel better and more confident. What’s wrong with that?

But, let me be honest, even though I don’t care about that line on my face enough to want to remove it , tit’s still the first thing I notice every time I see a photo of my face. Let me be REALLY honest, even though I’m not bothered enough to diet, I still delete the pictures where I think I look like a total heffer, and share the ones where someone else is standing in front of me and taking focus away from my size.

It seems it’s part of our wiring to care about how we look and how others judge our appearance. Because they do. We do. I do! And now I’m questioning why. If I know it’s wrong, why do I care? Why do I judge others?

The answer, according to Taryn, is everywhere. We all know about the ‘bad’ magazines, and the photo-shopping and the adverts for diets  and beauty products that don’t work. God-damn money making twats, selling the impossible.

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Yes, of course. But it’s not just ‘them’. She pointed out some of the ways we talk to each-other…

“Oh you’ve lost weight, you look amazing.”

“I daren’t have a cake, I don’t want to get fat.”

“I’ve got to get back to the gym, my thighs are like tree trunks”

Holy fuck. We say this in front of our kids, and then wonder why they start using appearance comments as insults.

The real standout of the film for me was a lady who had been badly injured in a fire and was scarred across her face and body. She received supposedly well-meaning comments that she was lucky to have such a good husband who stayed with her. Which made her question – Is that all I was before? A pretty face?  Was there not more to me than how I looked? She ended with the killer line… “Actually I am pretty awesome.”

I’m not ashamed to say that I cried.

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Thought-provoking, heart-breaking, hope-inspiring. And a whole lot of fun too. I laughed out loud several times, not least when Taryn visited a surgeon who told her what ‘normal breasts’ look like. She has even better self-restraint than me!

Please, PLEASE find a way to see this film.

Watch the Embrace trailer.


Here’s how you can see Embrace

There are screenings across the UK now. But you wont find this film as a normal cinema listing. It’s an independent, crowd-funded film, being promoted via Demand Films, and Taryn herself is in the UK hosting some of the events. (She is a-may-zing. I heart her.)

The idea is that people like me, who feel passionate about sharing this story with more people, will create demand for more screenings, and host our own events. And hopefully that will create demand for more and more screenings. You see?

Find a screening near you

Or host your own event.

There’s no financial outlay. Demand films help you set everything up at your local cinema and help you promote it to your friends and local community. If enough people buy a ticket the show goes ahead. If not enough tickets are sold, it is cancelled and no money is taken from people’s payment cards.

Frankly my dear….

I did a Step class today and I was terrible. Really terrible. Out of time, sweaty, noisy breathing, a mess. But do you know what, I didn’t care. I genuinely didn’t give a toss if people looked at me, laughed at me or felt sorry for me. It made me realise that I have grown a confidence, a tougher skin that allows me to do things I want, whether I’m good at them or not. 

I’ve always said that as a mother, my one wish for my child is confidence. I want him to feel that he can have a go at anything he wants, and not be held back by fear of what others think. So I suppose I need to make sure he has at least one role model for that. 

I’ve wanted to do a Step class again for a long time, but as it’s been 20 years since I last did one (are they now classed as Vintage aerobics classes?), I was a little worried about my ability. This week I finally bit the bullet and booked in. 

Everyone had their place, and I was the new girl so I was placed in the only gap – right at the front of the class, and it felt like my white T-shirt was the brightest thing in the room. Not for long though, that quickly became my face. 

But I had a weird sort of muscle memory that told me ‘you can do this, you’ve got the beat and it’s fun. Do the hard versions, add the jumps… yes girl, pump up the actual jam!!’. 

My confidence was growing. 

However muscle memory soon became muscle screams when my calves remembered that they haven’t been pulled like this for two decades, and you know, what the fuck was I thinking?

My lungs and heart also joined in, telling me in no uncertain terms, “You’re over 40, you’ve done practically nothing since you got your dizzy disease, I think we might die!”

Brain: “Erm yes, hello! Dizzy brain here, wondering if you’re even contemplating those weird jumpy spins the teacher is adding in. Just a thought… if you do that I’m telling knees to give way and your sizable arse will soon be crashing right through that step. Understand?”

My confidence was dropping dramatically. 

Teachers always tell you that you can stick with the ‘easy version’ if you want to, but 30 minutes in and I was struggling with even that. This is the moment I remembered that I can do what I want. I don’t have to keep up with the group, it doesn’t matter if I’m on top of my step with my arms in the air, when everyone else is doing a complicated squat/ twist combo on the floor. I’m here to enjoy myself. And so I did. 

Who cares if I’m at the front? Who cares if everyone is looking in my direction and I’m clearly shit at this? Who cares if my tits and other wobbly bits are having their own disco? The music was great, I was pleased to be taking part and I was filled with memories of being young and fit and loving life. 

When I stopped giving a damn I had such a great time. I smiled, I sang along to Rihanna and I made up my own moves. And afterwards I told the teacher that I loved it and will be back next week, and she looked pleased. I think. 

Not giving a damn is brilliant. Enjoying something you’re not good at is still possible. Perhaps I’ll get better, perhaps I won’t. Perhaps I’ll be known as ‘that woman who can’t really do it but always laughs’. Perhaps I’ll be in agony tomorrow and regret ever going. 

I’m not going to worry about it. Right now I’m still smiling. 

Windows to the soul

“Eyes are the window of the soul”
My soul must be frigging knackered.

So why doesn’t this soul get some more sleep?
Because it owns an Unbalanced brain that won’t shut the fuck up about all the things it really needs to do today.

Brain: You’ve not read all those papers for that meeting tomorrow…
You really need to sort out selling your car before the MOT runs out…
Those pictures you bought 3 weeks ago are still leaning against the window…
Actually this whole house is a shit hole…
And you’ve not done any washing…
Do you realise you’ve not hit your 10,000 steps or 5 a day once this week. You’d better get outside at some point…
And buy fruit…
And you’d better do something nice with your child today because you’re going to London for 2 days and won’t see him….
And the cats need fleaing…

Soul: Fuck off brain. Give me a break. Can’t you see how busy I am carrying these bags under my eyes?

Brain: Oh yes I most certainly can. You’d better go shopping and buy some Touche Eclat. You can’t go to London looking like THAT.

Soul: f$•% *@wg~s

(My soul also has a foul mouth.)

Am I past my prime?

A few things have happened recently that have made me realise I’m getting older. See if you recognise any of these too….

Signs you may be Past Your Prime:

1. People more than a decade younger than you complain that they are getting old.

2. You get excited when you realise you have absolutely no plans for the next weekend.

3. You have to put your glasses on to pluck a hair out… of your chin!

4. People remake your favourite TV shows, films and music (and you are sure they are not as good you the original)

5. You make clothing decisions insisting, this is comfy AND stylish.

6. You talk to colleagues about really famous bands from your party days and they say ‘who’s that?’.

7. You wonder why someone asks “Are you OK?” when you stand up, and realise you groaned and put your hand on your back. But you’re not even in pain.

8. Someone suggests you get involved in a roller blading party for kids, and you mentally scan your calendar to think what you’d miss if you ended up in plaster (or if a broken limb could be the perfect way to get out of something you don’t want to do).

9. You have finally learned that you have a drinking limit, and it’s possible to stop before you get totally shit-faced. (Who knew?)

10. Within an hour of getting up you’re already thinking about what time you can go to bed.

Binge Friend-ing

Just like drinking, these days I don’t see my friends as often as I used to, but when I do, I do it ‘properly’.

Like many women of a certain age, I felt like I grew up with Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda. The Sex and the City ladies were a bit older than me and so watching them, I was guided into a lovely security that my own circle of friends would easily be able to stay close, meeting for dinner or drinks or even a posh breakfast at least once a week. Forever.

As the series and their lives progressed that never waivered. They welcomed their kids into the four-some’s social engagements, but that never distracted from the conversation about relationships, sex (once sensitively renamed ‘colouring’) and other intimate details of their glamorous existences. They even strolled down streets together afterwards, in their posh shoes, to complete any unfinished conversations. Such, I assumed, would be the reality of my long standing friendships with MY girls in my thirties and forties.

Let’s re-examine that… Getting my group of girls together in the same place, at the same time, ideally without children, is like trying to reunite the actual cast and crew of SATC.

There are text messages spanning about two weeks as we first try to find a Saturday night when everyone is free. When we’ve moved three months through our diaries we typically declare it a ridiculous state of affairs and try for a Friday (less ideal due to the number of Saturday morning clubs that require an early morning chauffeur).

Recently, we moved through Saturdays, Fridays and Thursdays, Sunday lunches and Saturday brunches, before finally landing on a Wednesday for a curry, in six weeks time.

I mean, to coin a regularly used phrase, for fucks sake. A frigging Wednesday! But that, it seems, is the life of Unbalanced Women who may work late, who have Unbalanced Men who work late or who have children who have clubs and commitments that turn us into their P.A., chauffeur and late night chef.

Of course I see some friends one at a time for a quick brew or even one of those coveted posh breakfasts (they’re actually my favourite). Even better than that is seeing friends who live far away, and you travel to get together for 24 hours or more. Now that is a full-on friendship binge.

In preparation for such an indulgent appointment I find myself making a mental agenda of things I need to ask them about. Who am I kidding? I sometimes write an actual agenda of topics. I never wear Carrie-style posh heels, but I do add a bit of lippy because it feels like a special ‘date’.

Time always flies as I try to tick off my agenda as we tangent off to a million topics eventually returning to the original thread after musing “…why are we talking about fridges anyway?”. And we’re usually both clock-watching to make sure we’re not getting dangerously close to missing our next allotted commitment, which we can of course still get to on time if the waiter brings the bill and the card machine RIGHT NOW.

But seeing my Girl Gang is important to me, and that’s why I Binge Friend when we eventually meet. I want to drink in as much as I can and soak up their stories and the wonderful flow of easy conversation, jokey insults and safe judgement of others.

And the added beauty of Binge Friending is that, just like binge drinking, there are usually lots more messages the morning after, to thank everyone for a lovely evening and to comment on our favourite memories and funny stories. But there’s never anyone saying ‘never again’. Unless of course that Clare was in charge of pouring the wine!

Saturday night out: a 20 minute countdown

I had a shocking realisation the other day, that I no longer listen to music when I’m getting ready for a night out. I dismissed it fairly quickly as we don’t have a radio / music player in our bedroom. But then I thought about it some more. It wasn’t just an absence of music – my routine for ‘getting ready’ has evolved almost beyond recognition.

Back in the day, and I’m talking at least a decade ago, getting ready was part of the fun of a night out. It would shape my whole Saturday. I might head into town to buy a new top, or eyeliner, or nail varnish. It was not uncommon for me to make sure I was home for a nap around 4pm so that I could have an hour or two in bed before having another hour or two to get ready.

As I wrote that I just stopped in my tracks and realised that I used to feel the need for a nap even then. And I would have one! Not to catch up on precious, lost sleep, but to pre-charge my dancing batteries.

Batteries fully charged I would start a new phase: getting ready to get ready. Before actually getting ready, I’d decide which CD to listen to, test out a choice of outfits and shoes, decide if I would I have wine or vodka later. All that is assuming I was alone. There would be additional elements if any girlfriends were coming round to get ready with me. Then we’d be treating the CD player like a juke box while comparing latest make-up, perfume and trying to make different sized feet fit into each others shoes.

Getting ready was an event in itself.

No longer. Now I reckon I can do it in 20 minutes. It goes like this…

Preparation: I will have washed my hair in the morning, because my hair is just as unbalanced as I am and requires at least two hours to calm down after being washed. A ruffle and a bit of frizz-calming wax is all the attention it gets.

T-20 mins: Quick shower, avoiding getting my head wet. In the unlikely event that I have worn make-up during the day, I might wash it off. But if I’m super lazy, (and I’m a little ashamed to admit this) I will just put a bit more over the top.

T-15: Make-up. As I wear exactly the same make-up all the time, it’s a pretty straight forward routine and I could do it in my sleep. A recent purchase has got me excited though – glittery eye power I can put over my plain beige eye-shadow, and voila… I have achieved that day-to-night transition that apparently every woman dreams of. I am a Disco Diva, no matter that there are no discos any more.

T-8: Get dressed. Choose one of the sets of still-quite-nice underwear from my drawer (easy as I only have two). Skim passed the dress choices – its not anyone’s birthday. So it’s either The Good Jeans or The Black Trousers and one of three tops that haven’t yet been down-graded to work wear. I spend 10 seconds wondering what I wore last time I saw whoever I’m meeting, and then remember that unless it’s a yellow, polkadot, bat-wing dress, no-one actually remembers.

T-3: Ask my husband if I should wear the black shoes or the black boots. I like to involve him. He does the same for me. Neither of us listen and we make our own choices anyway.

T-1: Coat on, and THEN, realise that my nail varnish is appalling and quickly paint another coat over the top.

Time to go.

T+1: Taxi is waiting as I try to load all my make-up into my handbag, without smudging my nails (knowing this is a pointless exercise as once I’ve had that first glass I’m past caring. I’m too lazy to even take my bag to the toilets, never mind actually reapply any make-up).

My ‘happy’ at the end of all this though is that I’m out. That’s the point. Whether I’m out with my husband, friends or a few random strangers, I’m confident enough to know that my sparkling conversation and wit can outshine my new eye-shadow. And if I’ve got that wrong, there’s always the wine and my best friend… Jack Daniels.