It was my birthday this week which has prompted me to write a little thing about age. I was trying to explain to my glorious children what it feels like getting older. That you still feel twenty-five inside just with worse eye-sight. Although that isn’t strictly true. As a woman, I have definitely internalised all those messages about being over the hill, left to live out the rest of my life in an arid wasteland of stretch marks, saggy boobs, turkey wattle neck (Must-read: I feel bad about my neck by Nora Ephron), dry, oestrogen-lacking skin and no sex.
I used to work with someone who told us constantly how women past forty must resign themselves to being mothers/grandmothers. “Your beauty has served you well.” In other words, you were decent enough looking to hook a man and produce a few children, just accept that you are no longer a sexual being and live quietly in that little box that society has assigned to you.
Fuck that, I say.
And no, I will not apologise for my language, I’ve earned the right to swear when I feel like it. Helen Mirren said when she turned 70 that she wished she had used the words ‘fuck off’ a lot more frequently.
Me too, Helen, me too.
And I would’ve started with the little shit who said that women over forty are past it. I’m sure I probably did give him hell at the time, but the problem was I internalised the message. I know there’s a nasty voice in my head that says things like “What’s the point? You’re over fifty now.” And I have to give the little voice a talking to. Sometimes out loud.
- My family: Erm, who are you speaking to?
- Me *airily*: The voices in my head.
It’s probably something about my strict convent school education, but if there is a rule, I don’t necessarily want to break it, but I do want to test it. About seven or eight years ago, I decided to go grey. My hair grows very quickly, I was having to dye it every three to four weeks to avoid the dreaded skunk stripe, it felt – and looked like straw – plus it was expensive and boring having to sit for all those hours getting my hair dyed. I broke the news to my hairdresser who needed extensive therapy but finally came around.
I cut my hair very short and we used blonde highlights for the transition. The short hair was not a hit with my daughter who didn’t speak to me for a few days. After that I decided to grow my hair. Which is breaking the other rule of keeping your hair short over a certain age – and long, grey hair? God forbid! Well, my hair is long and grey now and let me tell you, it’s been a win during lockdown when going to the hairdresser was verboten.
There are all these rules about what women may or may not do over a certain age (if you don’t believe me, Google is your friend).
One of those is wearing a bikini. I’ve seen various versions of this – some say thirty-five, others forty but the accepted limit is forty-five. Sorry, did not get the memo in time, I will probably wear a bikini until I can no longer swim. You have a body, you put a bikini on it, you have a bikini body. I will also wear a burkini on the beach should I so wish. It is my body and I will dress it however I please. PSA: do not wear a bikini when attempting to swim in Devil’s Pool in Victoria Falls. The devil will keep your bikini top and you will flash your boobs at ten startled American tourists.
Make-up. I don’t know about you but I’ve worn make-up perhaps three times during lockdown and boy have I missed it. There used to be a thing back in the day that SERIOUS feminists should not wear make-up. Bollocks to that. The point of being a feminist is that you can wear whatever the hell you want. I really miss wearing lippy. Especially my red lippy.
Trying new things.
There is a certain freedom that comes with getting older that you know what you enjoy and you don’t have to pretend that you adore motor racing just to please the person you’re trying to impress. Also, I’ve learned to stop putting down my choices regarding movies I enjoy or books I like. “Oh it’s just a romcom.” “You won’t enjoy it, it’s chicklit”.
Yes, those words have come out of my mouth and most embarrassingly about my own books where my idea of marketing my books was “I’ve written a book but I don’t think you’ll like it”. It was a bit of wake-up call for me when my first book was commissioned by a man who enjoyed it enough to publish it and yes – it was chicklit (shout-out to the fab Louis Greenberg). Luckily, I have a very woke daughter who corrects me when I say anything that sounds remotely like I’m putting myself down.
- Me: My ass looks huge in this.
- Daughter: your ass looks AMAZING. It’s cool to be thic (that is indeed how it is spelled. Who knew?) People pay money to get asses like that these days.
So it’s lovely not feeling the pressure to do something you don’t want to do, but it’s tiresome when you DO want to try something and the nasty voice in your head starts saying “What’s the point? You’re too old.” When the nasty voice starts up, I go and Google all the people who have achieved great things in their later years and that always cheers me up. It’s also a fantastic way to procrastinate when you should be writing.
Menopause. The symptoms of menopause are not fun and are not talked about enough.
But all that hullaballoo about you suddenly turning into an old crone is nonsense. I went through menopause about four years ago and I’ve never felt better. Do not miss PMT or period pains or buying tampax AT ALL. Emotionally I feel on a much more even keel. In fact, I feel pretty badass.
Something I’ve realised as I’ve grown older is that I, in fact know very little. When I was younger, I used to be so keen to wade in with my opinion, now I’m happy to listen to what people have to say (and write the dialogue down in my little book for later use). One of my favourite phrases is “We’ll have to agree to differ”. We are not going to agree about everything, we are also not all going to like the same books. And that’s okay.
Movie recommendation for this week: Extraction. Violent as hell but I enjoyed it. Sort of Man on Fire vibe.
Book recommendation: Dear Child by Romy Hausmann. Am currently battling to read thrillers but I found this one fresh and unputdownable.
Also, happy 5th birthday to the fabulous Blackbird Books! They have a wonderful special on for Women’s Month.
Final thought: The Husband and the daughter kept asking me what I wanted for my birthday. Problem was that the things I want cannot be wrapped up and put in a present bag. I want to be able to see my friends again, I want the economy to open up, I would love politicians to be held accountable, I desperately want Zimbabwe to have a REAL new dawn, I would like there to be actual book launches not Zoom ones, I want to be able to go away and visit my family, and most of all I want a vaccine for this damn disease. Birthday fairies I hope you’re listening.
Stay safe, everyone and Happy Women’s Day! xxx