Thursday, 29 October 2009

I GROW OLD...I GROW OLD...I SHALL WEAR THE BOTTOMS OF MY TROUSERS ROLLED

I can no longer pretend to be young. I celebrate my birthday in tacit agreement that no one will be so ill-mannered to enquire as to the particular anniversary, and Mr Trefusis has kindly taught Trefusis Minor to tell everyone that I'm thirty-five. But then, as Oscar Wilde once wrote, 'no woman should ever be quite accurate about her age. It looks so calculating'.

I've been gazing at my aging navel lately. Time slips through my fingers, yet winds itself around the body. I find I can no longer defy the signs of aging, despite the exortations to do so from the Olay adverts. Some of it is insidious, like the slow contagion of reading glasses amongst my closest friends: our book group has been meeting for more than fifteen years, yet in the last six months, I've noticed that as soon as we start talking about the latest book, seven pairs of spectacles are simultaneously repositioned on noses. Some of it is merely the inevitable triumph of comfort over style: no one my age ever bothers to try and walk anywhere in taxi shoes - we simply adopt a large enough handbag in which to hide the spare flats, and hop back into the heels round the corner from the destination. The list of aging evidence is seemingly endless. Oh, God - everything - modern music is just TOO LOUD, particularly in clothes shops, and I wore all the fashions the first time round. I even found myself looking longingly at a KitchenAid mixer in the John Lewis catalogue - the last time I looked longingly at anything in region of four hundred quid, it was a pair of killingly high raspberry-glacé Louboutins. Actually, I'm not dead yet: they're much nicer than a KitchenAid, and just as inaccessibly priced.

Until shamefully recently, I was rabidly anxious about getting older: I loathed the creeping lines on my face, and my white, skinny, Ancient Mariner hands. I hated myself for both being absurdly perked up by a shout of 'Oy! Darlin'!' from White-Van-Man and for resenting the fact that I was no longer the woman at the party the men wanted to talk to. I felt the missed opportunities of youth too keenly: I longed to get back the time when life was all potential, when it was still a rehearsal. I wanted to smash something when Kazuo Ishiguro said that it dawned on him that most of the literary masterpieces had been written by people under forty. So I pretended to myself that it wasn't happening: I grew my hair defiantly long. I had vats of botox pumped into my forehead. The effects were superficial: I was still the same person inside.

But lately, there has been rather a change. I am, for the first time in my life, genuinely bien dans ma peau.

What happened? Well, on the vanity front, money got tighter and so I gave up Botox. My self-esteem didn't fall the same distance as my brow and it made me ponder a while on the current vogue for a one-size-fits-all ideal of grown-up beauty (yes, Nicole Kidman, Madonna, Kylie Minogue et al, I'm talking about you), particularly after visiting an eminent cosmetic dermatologist for work and hearing about an experimental rejuvenating treatment involving sucking out your own fat, harvesting the stem cells from it and then reinjecting it into your face at a cost of nearly eight thousand pounds. Is it just me, or does that sound really quite horrid? It sent me scuttling into google to look at images of beautiful ancients. Lauren Bacall (above) is no stranger to sun and cigarettes, yet still manages to look rather fabulous. The face I want at seventy is one which reflects the wisdom and character that time has built, rather than the skill of a cosmetic surgeon.

Yet, it's not just about conquering my besetting sin: I think the revolution about the way I feel about myself has had an awful lot to do with the therapeutic qualities of writing this blog (and lovely twitter, to which I'm still addicted). It's not only that it's given me an identity outside the - admittedly lovely - ones I already occupy as wife, mother, career-kind-of-person, but it's also introduced me to the whole glorious world of the internets - the burgeoning blog-roll down the side of Mrs Trefusis is testament to the quantity and quality of fascinating minds out there in the ether.

And most of all, I hear the words of Virginia Woolf echo in my head - 'One of the signs of passing youth is the birth of a sense of fellowship with other human beings as we take our place among them.' - and feel reconciled and content.

30 comments:

London Heathrow airport taxis said...

Nice post, its an excellent blog post,

Wildernesschic said...

Fabulous post .. You have captured exactly how it feel to be 40 something. I am afraid that is the time it dawns on you. That it is all heading South and there is no stopping it . Even as you say with superficial treatments they help but you are still older and its shows in other areas. I think if you Botox your eyes, you wrinkle elsewhere. My husband hates may Botox, says I smile like a rat. Yet I do it for me ??
It can be an almost depressing time. I think learning to embrace it must be wonderful.. haven't quite got there yet, and the bigger number looms with great haste.
I also think that Madonna and Nicole etc look great in photos but I would hate to see Madonna's scars. I thought her first face lift was great, natural "Confessions on a Dance floor" era. But as many do she has gone too far and done too much.
Thanks for the tip of the shoes in the handbag .. now I know how you city girls do it !! Here I am tottering around Harvey Nic's in agony, always buying new shoes when I come to London,and they are always for comfort.

Helena Halme said...

You are so right Mrs T, about embracing yourself as you are, about being more than just a face & body. Lovely post.

Helena xx

PS. I do still feel almost adolescently happy if I get a whistle when passing a building site, whereas before I used think it was demeaning. Ah, some things you just cannot ever give up, I guess.

The Divorcee said...

I really love this post, it encapsulates my dawning realisations to a t. You write so beautifully and I couldn't agree more about the solidarity and inspiration to be drawn from the blogosphere.

I am learning to like the way the web of lines fanning out across my increasingly haggard self are joining up, despite my narcissistic grumblings to the contrary. The best is yet to come surely.

Bonne journée x

Mrs Jones said...

You are SO right, Mrs T, and most assuredly not alone in this. Although, I have to say, that I've not quite learned to embrace my natural hair colour and can't quite pluck up the courage to grow out the purple just yet. But I have learned to love the fact that being just a bit overweight has its benefits in that I have no lines on my face due to the natural layer of fat underneath! Yay!

Razorkitty said...

My problem is, in my head I'm so much younger and so any looking in the mirror comes as something of a shock. If I miss anything, it is the casual affirmation of one's attractiveness; the "Oy, blondie!" from the chaps on the building site; the obvious appraisal of my looks as I walk past a guy in a bar; it's not that it never happens now, it's that it doesn't happen very often. Still, I try to look on the bright side of getting older. Eventually, I shall be content to wear nothing but elasticated velour and grow a moustache.

shayma (exromana) said...

gorgeous post, Mrs T. I love the bit where you write, "I longed to get back the time when life was all potential, when it was still a rehearsal." But I know you, MrsT, and have been to many a party with you- heads still turn. xx

nappy valley girl said...

I too would so much rather grow old like Lauren Bacall than Madonna (those horrible sinewy muscles). And, not to be morbid, but I always try to remind myself that I might get run over by a bus tomorrow, so I might as well eat, drink and enjoy myself rather than worrying about wrinkles and spending a fortune on Creme de la Mer. You write about it beautifully.

Christina Lindsay said...

Thank you for another wonderful, and beautifully written post. I'm too frightened to try Botox. Lashings of Protect and Perfect Intense is working very well for me at the moment. Here's to growing old gracefully! xx

Layla said...

Wonderful post. I feel exactly the same way. There is a great deal to be said for quiet acceptance of ageing, and gratitude that one has not suffered the only alternative. I know so many people who have died young; as I see my face growing older in the mirror, I remind myself that they didn't get the chance.

It is impossible to recapture the glowing, shiny freshness of extreme youth once it has gone, and trying to do so often ends up as an obscene caricature of youth, rather than a facsimile.

Yes, there is pain in relinquishing some of the attributes of youth, but there also many compensations to being older and wiser.

I was wishing the other day that someone would write a paean to growing old gracefully, and now you have..thank you.

littlebrownbird said...

What a wonderful post and so timely.

Having found my first grey hair this week, I contemplated the need to start dyeing my hair and promptly dismissed it.

Here's to high heels and big handbags

LBB x

Miss Whistle said...

How beautifully you write. And you speak for so many of us. Brava! This has absolutely cheered up my day.

Love,

Miss W xx

Angela Montague said...

I really enjoyed this post, thank you.

I'm taking a final drag on my 30s and want to hit 40 with laughter lines proudly on display.

It's heartening to know I'm not the only one with these thoughts.

Top Bird @ Wee Birdy said...

Hear, hear beautiful post. I'm in my mid-30s and that anxiety about growing old is just starting to take hold. I swear I looked like a different person four years ago. Four freakin' years!

p.s. Love the fact that you've been meeting with the same book club for 15 years.

Mrs L. said...

Brilliant! Thank you!

Lorraine said...

“I longed to get back the time when life was all potential.” I love this sentiment—and this post that beautifully expresses les temps perdu.

My dear Mrs. T, you are exquisite as is. I'm sure you're mistaken in thinking you’re “no longer the woman at the party the men wanted to talk to.”

Surely people are drawn to your keen intelligence and droll wit as well as your outward beauty.

Whenever I consider having "work" done, I can't stop thinking about starving children in Nicaragua.

On the chance that the Almighty will have a few Judgment Day questions about my life's choices, I defer...

mothership said...

ah, so beautiful and resonant. I felt absurdly thrilled to be asked for my ID when I bought a six-pack of beer today along with the groceries when shopping with Two (was the cashier BLIND?) but at the same time there is something to be said for gracefully letting go of the easy, unearned wins of youth and beauty and instead valuing oneself for more intrinsic and deeper qualities. I am struggling in the shallows as the tide of time drags me out to sea. I hope to join you on a deeper basis xo

Jill said...

Thank you for writing so beautifully about the bittersweet emotions of ageing. It must be harder to face the passing of time if you’ve been the girl who made everyone look twice. What a shame we live in a world where youth is celebrated above wisdom or kindness. I have mixed emotions about getting older as a result of having lived far longer than I have any right to with a congenital heart defect. I’m thankful for the days but fear the inevitable physical effects of age. And simple vanity gets me too. But we should not forget that to breathe brings life and possibilities. The alternative is nothing and none.

Trashers Mum said...

Lovely post and poignant my Ma in Law is sick and one of the leading characters from her favourite radio serial, the Archers, died today (similar age to her). Years, beyond the odd grey hair, when the body fails to do as it is bidden and there are extra, shrunken pockets to wash, the person inside still feels young. Thanks so much.

Rose said...

Fantastic post. I am already fretful about my lines and I'm in my twenties. I tell myself I won't botox but who am I kidding!

It's so so hard that women have to think of all this while men often get more attractive.

By the way from your profile pic- which is admittedly small- you look incredibly chic, grown up and line free to me!

Lewis William said...

You're not 35? I think Lauren will have to watch out!
Any news on Belgium?
X

MissGolightly said...

Bittersweet and beautifully put Mrs T.
My mother has always answered the question of her age with the retort "A lady who tells you her age, will tell you anything". She has been "21" since I've been old enough to remember. Her grandchildren have now made it their mission in life to trick her into telling them - never going to happen.

Madame Arcati said...

To think, a navel was once a thing of obscenity. Now it is crucial.

Insomniac Mummy said...

I love that Virgnia Woolfe quote, so very true.

I've learned to accept the me I am a little more as I've got older. Having said that it doesn't necessarily mean I'm 100% at peace with that me yet.

All this reminds me I really should invest in some eye cream.

LuceKD said...

Great post. I've always felt women to be in their physical prime in their thirties. Confidence, and an awareness of styles which suit them, outweigh the loss of physical perfection that comes with age. But with the ability to compete in the beauty arena comes the anxiety of winning or losing. At some point around the age of forty, most women realise that they cannot possibly compete in that arena any longer and with acceptance of that fact comes enormous relief.
Failure to accept the loss of physical youth/beauty results in the terrible plastic surgery casualties that we see (often in women who believe the beauty arena was the only arena they could ever compete).
Ironically, acceptance of the loss of youthful beauty often results in a different sort of dignified beauty.
Men used to yell at me in the street. I found that excrutiating. Then they stopped. I found that terrifying. Then they started again. It's my daughters they're yelling at now. That makes me smile.

Gastro1 said...

Good for you "girl" great post !

Remember seeing Lauren Bacall in Les Deux Maggots having breakfast with Marcelo Mastorianni - both aged beautifully and were clearly bien dans leur peau well into their 70"s

Steerforth said...

Isn't there a quote that says something along the lines of "One of the hardest things in life is deciding when to be middle aged"?

Perhaps it begins when (against your better judgement) you feel grateful for that wolf whistle from the passing van.

Although my experience is obviously different, the common thread is about becoming invisible to people under a certain age and if a young woman looks twice at me, I feel a pathetic gratitude.

It's silly, because people in their 40s are, potentially, at the height of their powers. The first astronauts were all around 40 because it was felt that they were mature enough to cope with adversity, but hadn't lost their physical prowess.

I'm working on being like David Hunter from Crossroads.

one of 365 said...

Dearest Mrs. T---

Aging has been my greatest fear since I was a teenager. I grew up with an aunt who, at 50, was so frightened of aging, that she instilled in me the desire to embrace every day of my youth since it was the greatest asset I had. As the years passed on, my heart began to thump. I was losing my fountain of youth--my prize. I fear age not just for the aesthetics, but for the imminence of death peering at my door. I know that as long as the clock is ticking I am a walking corpse. Morbid, yes, but the truth: aging is like milk with an expiration date. One day it will go off and it will be thrown away--but in our case....in a deep grave, not a bin. Now, anyone reading this post will be shocked to find out that I am 29 years old. How pathetic, right? But I remember feeling these thoughts when I was 13 years old, ready to have my Bat Mitzvah---and 16 years have passed---my god, a lifetime, and I'm almost 30 and I still feel these thoughts pounding in my head. I wish I possessed the ability to accept aging gracefully. That I could embrace the beauty of women like Lauren Bacall and Sophia Loren. But at the end of the day these women simply look good for their age.....for their age....they are, to me, faded beauties. I will be broken hearted when I will no longer be looked at by men on the street, when I can't wear certain styles in fashion and when I can simply do the best I can with my hair and make-up to look decent. I covet my youth like it is the Hope Diamond. Maybe as I get older and have children and see that there are more important things in life than myself I'll get over this superficiality. But right now aging is something that scares me and that I do not see myself doing gracefully. My mother might be the reason. She was BEAUTIFUL. Really show-stopping. And now she is over-weight in a mom way, with thinning hair that she home dyes, has a permanent frown from her face sagging, a bit of a bulbous nose, a sagging chest and veins in her legs. She terrifies me. Again, to those reading this....please don't judge me. Maybe I'm immature and foolish....but this is how I feel now. Mrs. T, you write a beautiful post. And I am hopeful that one day I can be content with aging. But you must remember that in your post you went through the same stage as me....seeking out the latest craze in anti-aging, seeking the sexiest fashions to enhance your beauty.....I think you just grow into yourself....and hopefully I will one day too because the anxiety and fear of aging is overwhelming. Thanks for this. As always, an excellent a thought-provoking (not to mention flawlessly written) post. xoxoxoxo

silentstoryteller said...

Wonderful post...

eilis boyle said...

Wonderful post...