Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Signs of ageing

Research by Olay has shown that there are seven main signs of facial ageing that concern us most. These are lines and wrinkles, uneven texture, uneven tone, a dull appearance, age spots and blotches, visible pores and an overall increase in dryness.

No offence to the funsters at Olay, but I’ve come up with my own seven signs of ageing:

1. unwillingness to tolerate bullshit
2. feeling happy in increasingly long intervals
3. swearing wildly and with gusto**
4. making large hand gestures while talking, in the manner of an Italian mystery-woman (well, yes, I’m deluded)
5. alternating between not wanting to waste time, and wanting to take all the time in the world
6. understanding what it means to say that life doesn’t last forever
7. looking in a mirror and seeing wrinkles, sagging skin, facial hair, spider veins, grey hair, bad teeth, and sun spots.

It’s the last of these signs that I want to discuss: appearance.

The bathroom where I live has only a tiny window. The room remains in gloom even when the light is turned on. Looking in the smallish mirror I can see only my darkness-filtered face, and not much else. So at Christmas, when I stayed at my parents’ ritzy new house and showered in the airy bathroom with the huge mirrors and lights blazing from every direction, perfectly positioned to highlight every imperfection across my entire body, it was a damn shock. “What the hell?” I thought. “What the hell??” I looked at least 500 years old. Which would be fine if I was 500 years old, but I’m 41. I had to put my horror to one side though, not wanting to frighten my dear parents with howls of anguish and despair.

But it returned, this horror, today. I looked in a little hand mirror this morning in good light, and nearly keeled over again. Oh good God, people, the horror, the horror!! The outside of me is ageing without letting the rest of me know. I feel betrayed. And this is just the start. It goes on from here, goes on and on until... you know.

What frightened me most in that little mirror was my mouth, and the wrinkles radiating out from it. It looks like I’ve been sucking on a cigarette all my life, and no, I bloody haven’t. Nor have I been tut-tutting in the fashion of nay-saying stereotypes everywhere, portrayed in cartoons with a cats-bum mouth. My mouth, now! A cats-bum mouth! I can’t believe it. I don’t know how it happened. It’s suddenly here, that’s all I know, and I don’t want it. If you’re familiar with the expression, “Eventually you get the face you deserve,” you’ll appreciate my vehemence in replying, “Well, no! You bloody don’t!”

And all my life I’ve thought that people who complained about getting older were idiots. At least I got that right.


I know there are more important things to worry about, I know there’s no justice in the world and I’m one of the lucky ones, I know the alternative to ageing is death, I know all that. I know this isn’t a big deal in the big scheme of things, but I don’t live in the big scheme of things, do I? And neither do you, I’m guessing. Nobody does; only their heads go there. I live here, in this body, in this life, in this set of circumstances, with this stupid mouth. It’s a fucking tragedy. Small, yes; insignificant to anyone else, yes; trivial in the overall stretch of my life, yes. But real nonetheless.

I’m going to mourn the loss of the smooth-skinned girl I was, and know I'm becoming someone else now, someone who looks different, lives better, and hopefully worries less about what people think. This is worth any grief in the universe, I suggest, but comes at the cost of feeling sad for a bit. A step - one more - in a life that feels real.

**My New Year’s Resolution this year was to start swearing like a sailor, and it’s a skill I’m mastering with indecent ease. But I don’t want to offend you, and if you don’t like bad language please just let me know and I’ll stop.