How did we get here?

How did we get here?

I went to the theatre with some friends recently and the conversation revolved around exercises you can do to keep yourself from falling over when you are going about your daily business. They recommended standing on one leg like a flamingo and spinning around in a circle with your eyes closed to make sure you can keep your balance when the lighting is poor.

“How did we get here?” I thought to myself.

I still cannot believe that I’m old. Not ancient, but definitely grey-haired, a bit creaky and wrinkly enough to be deemed an old lady by the rest of the world.

After the show I complemented my friend on her new hairstyle. After several years of dying her hair, she’s allowed it to turn back to its natural grey colour. She went grey years ago (way before it was fashionable) and I thought it looked fabulous. She kept it like that for three years and then suddenly dyed it brown again. I was so disappointed. It looked much more striking when she was grey. Last week she confessed that she started dying it again after an incident where she was standing at the bar and the barman started taking orders from the (younger) women behind her, ignoring her completely.

It was the last straw in a series of events that made her feel old and invisible, so she went home and changed her hair colour back to one which society thought was more acceptable for a woman in her early fifties. She said that as soon as she re-dyed her hair, she found a new romantic partner, so it was worth it. Now she’s in her late sixties and she no longer cares about what other people think.

We are used to these stories of older women feeling invisible, but to be honest, it’s not something I have experienced as part of being older because I’ve always felt a bit invisible. As an introvert, I’ve been okay with that because I certainly don’t enjoy being the centre of attention, but I also don’t appreciate being ignored because someone thinks I’m irrelevant.

Like most women, I’ve always attempted to do the best I could with what was available, but I’m not very vain, so I didn’t expect to be bothered this much by the signs of ageing. To be honest, it’s caught me unawares. I can cope with reduced flexibility and the propensity to huff when I bend over, but the wrinkles and looking worn out all the time are starting to annoy me.

I tell myself that I just need a good night’s sleep or that the lighting is bad, but I know I’m just getting old. I wonder if I should have invested in some decent night cream about forty years ago. Is it too late to moisturise now?

I’m relatively healthy and able to do nearly everything I could do when I was younger (albeit a bit more slowly), but I still feel bad when I look in the mirror. And then I feel guilty about feeling bad.

Writer Nora Ephron said that it’s your neck that ages you the most.

You can put makeup on your face and concealer under your eyes and dye on your hair, you can shoot collagen and Botox and Restylane into your wrinkles and creases, but short of surgery, there’s not a damn thing you can do about a neck. The neck is a dead giveaway. Our faces are lies, and our necks are the truth.

Nora Ephron

Nora, who wrote the screenplays for When Harry Met Sally, Silkwood and Sleepless in Seattle, wrote a collection of essays called I Feel Bad About My Neck when she was in her mid-sixties. She suggests the following strategy.

If I pass a mirror, I avert my eyes. If I must look into it, I begin by squinting, so that if anything terrible is looking back at me, I am already halfway to closing my eyes to ward off the sight. And if the light is good (which I hope it’s not), I often do what so many women my age do when stuck in front of a mirror: I gently pull the skin of my neck back and stare wistfully at a younger version of myself.

Nora Ephron

I’m not sad about being older, but I feel wistful for my younger self, who doubted herself so much and tried so hard to please other people. Mostly, I’m sad that I didn’t appreciate myself more. I could have worn prettier dresses, higher heels, brighter lipstick. I guess that wasn’t me, but I suspect I could have had a lot more fun and been kinder to myself.

Shortly after Ephron’s essay collection was published, she was diagnosed with leukemia and died at seventy-one, ending a brilliant career. Reading this reminded me that life is short and if you’re lucky enough to be growing older, go out dancing while you still can. Or learn an instrument. Or walk amongst the trees. Love your wrinkly old body and buy yourself some good moisturiser because it’s never too late until it’s too late.

Is grey the new black?

Is grey the new black?

Like many women of my age, my hair is rapidly becoming greyer by the day. I was looking at some old photos recently and noticed that over the past eight years both my husband and I have gone from having brown hair (or black in his case), to having significant amounts of grey.

Unlike most of the women of my age, I have resisted colouring my hair for a few different reasons.

I’m too lazy

Having to ‘touch up my roots’ every few weeks is tedious. Once you go beyond having a little bit of grey at your temples, you really need to keep on top of the grey roots down the entire length of your part. One of my friends calls this ‘controlling the skunk’. Personally, I’ve got better things to do.

It’s the real me

Another reason I haven’t dyed my hair is because I think it encourages other women to embrace who they are and not be afraid of showing their true selves to the world. I don’t think of myself as some kind of feminist role model, but I do often have women say they wish they were brave enough to just be who they are, grey hair and all.

The downside

The unfortunate part of going grey is that the lack of hair colour really drains you and can make you look rather drab.

If you’ve been dying your hair for a long time, it’s quite hard let your it revert to its natural colour, be that brown, grey, or a salt and pepper mixture of the two. It takes at least six months to grow out the colour, during which you can look pretty dreadful.

Reframe your thinking

I am only too well aware that my grey hair makes me look quite a lot older than my colleagues of the same age, but a friend once told me that in Thailand grey hair is regarded as a symbol of wisdom and the more grey you are, the more you are revered. I don’t need to be revered, but it was a pleasant reminder that being older (and maybe wiser) is not necessarily a bad thing.

Put some colour in your life

If you are thinking about letting your hair go grey, it’s worthwhile thinking about other ways you can add colour to your life. A touch of lipstick, a colourful scarf and some bright earrings can add a bit of zing and be very effective.