The Secret of Eternal Youth
On a warm, summer evening some years ago, I was sitting opposite my eight-years-my-junior ex-boyfriend in a bar, when he suddenly leaned across the table and tenderly cupped my face in his hands. For a very brief moment, I was touched by this rare and open display of affection from a guy who wouldn’t normally express his love for me in public.
A split second later, however, he squashed my cheeks together, causing the skin around my eyes to fold into deep crevices and my mouth to assume the appearance of a beak. This action came from a guy who always referred to women as “birds”.
“I’m just trying to see what you’ll look like in ten years time,” he jested, although I strongly suspect he was trying to calculate how much his street cred would decline if he were seen with someone who looked substantially older than twelve.
I had always looked considerably younger than my years, but, from that moment on, I became intensely aware of every enlarged pore, every new freckle that could be regarded as an age spot and every sag, bag and wrinkle. I regularly checked my body for cellulite, like you do, by contorting my body into unnatural positions whilst attempting to view my rear end and backs of my thighs in the mirror. The alternative to this is using a hand mirror for closer inspection of any offending areas.
I began to observe my body profile to monitor how far in the wrong direction my buttocks and breasts had travelled. I already knew that I had the ability to hold several pencils securely beneath my naked breasts, a test that I had conducted about ten years previously after reading an ageing article in a magazine. Mind you, with a 40E chest size, gravity had dragged my boobs southwards before I’d even hit twenty. They also travel in the direction of east and west when lying down and have to be hoisted from beneath my armpits.
Should I swap my thongs for Harvest Festival underwear, (all is safely gathered in), I wondered, lest I be mistaken for a Sumo wrestler? Should I replace my birth control pills with hormone replacement therapy? And should I exchange my black stockings for 100 denier, American Tan support tights, which crumple at the ankles?
In the privacy of my bathroom, I practised variations on the “grin” theme in the mirror to identify which expressions minimised the laughter lines. Anyone who’s ever done this will know exactly what I mean. You know, opening your eyes as wise as possible and bearing your teeth in a kind of psychopathic manner to prevent your cheeks from being pushed upwards, thereby avoiding the creasing, carrier bag effect around your sockets.
I began flossing, exfoliating, pummelling, body brushing and exercising, to fool my body into thinking it had only been on this earth thirteen years instead of thirty. I tried to avoid standing beneath unflattering lights. I would send friends to buy the drinks in pubs to avoid my creases being highlighted in the cruel glare of the bar illuminations.
I became obsessed with those anti-ageing cream advertisements that claimed to give you a five year old’s skin texture within two weeks. But then I would read an article that dispelled this myth immediately, saying that plain old Vaseline was just as effective and twenty times cheaper.
I opted for the Vaseline, but ended up with the shiniest face this side of the Atlantic and a nice crop of spots to boot.
I was spellbound by those dewy-eyed models that gazed out at me from the pages of glossies and wondered whether it was make-up or trick photography that made their skin appear like a six-month-old baby’s. Or maybe they really were that perfect.
I once read that you could tell how your skin was ageing by placing a mirror down on a flat surface and looking down it to it. I tried this just once and it was alarming. My skin seemed to collapse into the centre of my face, so that all I could see were a few half concealed features peering out from beneath a pile of baggy flesh.
If you want to know how your skin will age, just take a look at your mother, advised another article. Now this one was horrifying. When I looked at my mother, I knew that, from about fifty onwards, the only way I would be able to avoid looking as though I needed ironing, would be to have cosmetic surgery.
I used to envy those American actresses who could afford to go under the knife and have all their unwanted bits removed and have other, more desirable bits added. However, I don’t think that I would ever wish to be the butt of jokes such as, “She’s had so many face lifts, she’s got a beard,” or “Those aren’t bags under her eyes, they’re her breasts,” or “That’s not a hump on her back, it’s her arse”, and so on.
The most frightening type of mirror in which you can view yourself, is the type they have in communal changing rooms. I’m sure that retailers must purchase these mirrors from the same manufacturers who provide funfairs with their hall of joke mirrors. I’ve never once come across a communal changing room mirror that doesn’t add fifty inches to your waist and remove ten inches from your height. Great if you’re auditioning for the part of a dwarf in Snow White, but rather unfortunate otherwise.
I began scrutinising other women in public and mentally ageing them according to how well worn their skin appeared. However, what I discovered was that when I looked beyond the quality of their skin and viewed the person as a whole, the age that they appeared to be bore little relation to the number of wrinkles that they had. In fact a lot of the women with visible laughter lines appeared a lot younger than those who had perfect, peach-like faces.
They say that laughter keeps you young and I certainly find people with laughter lines a lot more approachable than those surly, wrinkle-free types who don’t appear as though they have the ability to enjoy life.
Despite the wrinkles, my mother doesn’t look old and she certainly doesn’t fritter away her time sitting in an easy chair, knitting or watching TV. No, she doesn’t have time to engage in granny pursuits. She belongs to a rock-climbing club and spends the weekends scaling the heights of some craggy mountainside in Scotland or Wales, with her 16 years younger boyfriend. She goes on cycling holidays around remote places like the Shetland Islands off the North of Scotland and, last summer, spent three weeks white water rafting in Colorado. She also still works full-time. All this at 64 years of age.
Four and a half years ago, I ditched my charming ex-boyfriend for a younger model, a man 12 years my junior, but a lot more mature and a lot less superficial. And in November 1999, at the age of 40, I gave birth to our gorgeous, baby daughter, Lauren.
My partner thinks I am beautiful, wrinkles, lumps, bumps and all, and I have never felt so adored in my life. As he said, “Beauty radiates from within and makes you attractive on the surface.”
He even loves my stretchmarks. “They’re a sign that you’re complete as a woman, because you’ve had children and they’re also a sign that you’ve borne me the most perfect daughter in the world.”
The other day, as I pressed my daughter’s face against mine and looked in the mirror I realised that my skin looked like a peach too. One that’s been sat on a windowsill in strong sunlight for a few weeks, that is.
However, instead of cringing at my reflection in the mirror each morning, I now view my lines as a sign that I have lived and that I have laughed. And although I turned 41 in June this year, I’m still trying to decide what I’m going to be when I grow up……..