Now that I am 64, nearly 65, I think I am pretty good looking. I regularly congratulate myself (privately of course, because I do not wish to come over as arrogant) on the accident of genes that means my face, despite having been assaulted by a few too many UV rays in its time, has fewer lines than one might expect, for a woman of my age.
The picture above was taken in a photoshoot I bought for my daughter and me, when she was visiting in September 2014. I was 62. I didn’t realise at the time, that I was showing quite so much of my cleavage. However, when I saw the photo I confess I quite liked it. I still do.
So why am I telling you all of this, and risking the accusation that I might just be a little conceited, or still worse deluded? Well, it is this. As a young woman I, like so many of the young women I see in my practice as a psychotherapist and dance movement psychotherapist, did not like the way I looked. How about that for irony? When I was truly gorgeous, I did not know it. I spent hours looking in the mirror, not to congratulate myself but to literally pick at bits of my head face, whether to pluck brows, assault spots, apply blemish concealer, or swear at my hair. It was too fine, too straight, too … well, you get the picture! And, of course, I did not stop at my face. My thighs were too fat, you could see rolls of fat on my back (I became an expert contortionist, in order to appraise this), my belly was never as flat as it should be – you know, with the hip bones poking up above it as you lay down. And, as for my lady bits – Eeuuuwwwwww! How could anyone ever think they were appealing? It was all so embarrassing!
They say that youth is wasted on the young. Well no, it isn’t, but if I could meet my seventeen-year-old self (above) and make her listen, I would tell her how gorgeous she really was. Not because I think I was any better than any of my friends, but because I was convinced at the time that they were all pretty, and I was not.
I feel so much for those many young women who are suffering right now just as I did, for decades. When I look at the photo of myself in my sixties, alongside the one of me at 17, I see such a difference. At seventeen, I was tight in my body, constricted with the embarrassment of being photographed, whereas in my sixties my whole body seems to be saying ‘I am comfortable in my skin, now, thank you very much.’
One of the turning points for me came in my forties. I had my youngest son at 42, and when he was about five, idly playing with the flappy skin on the underside of my upper arm, he thoughtfully remarked: ‘I wish I had skin like yours, Mummy. Yours is nice and loose. I think my skin is too tight for me.’ He sounded genuinely concerned about his own fate, bless him, but I am not sure how good a job I did to console him, because I was too gobsmacked at the realisation that we can see beauty in anything we choose to! He was not socialised, yet, to think that women have to look a certain way, or to think that age is something to be feared and resisted, like King Canute with the tides. He loved his mama, and to him she was the most beautiful person in the whole wide world. That illusion didn’t last, of course, but in that moment he spoke a kind of truth. My young son challenged my own illusions about beauty, and about age.