Embracing The Menopause Belly

I caught up with an old friend recently and when the conversation turned to the inevitable topic of menopause and weight gain, I was surprised to see her stroke her belly and proudly flaunt it in my direction.

Close up of a woman's belly

She told me she’s decided to embrace the menopause belly – a brave choice, I thought, in a society that chooses to celebrate youth and beauty over experience and wisdom, and the reason many of us struggle to adapt to the mental and physical changes caused by this stage of life.

And I’m not talking necessarily about the well-documented changes caused by menopause, such as hot flushes and brain fog. I mean the symptoms that not even women are comfortable discussing until we’re halfway down a bottle of Chardonnay and someone blurts out they’re incontinent.

Not to mention the increase in facial hair, the decrease in libido, the thinning of the hair on our head, joint pain, and for some of us, the impact on our digestive system.

I thought hot flushes during meetings were bad, until menopause attacked my digestive system

A short time ago, (and in spite of a healthy diet), there was a period when I could have powered myself to work, such was the intensity of my intestines’ reaction to certain foods I’d previously eaten without any problem. Fortunately, I managed to reduce my mortifying excess emissions by switching to a Low-FODMAP diet, but I haven’t been quite as lucky solving my memo-pot.

In spite of eating less, dosing up on turmeric, and exercising like Jane Fonda on Speed, my belly still looks like a five-month gestation

I understand our metabolism slows down in middle age – although, recent scientific research suggests that increased weight gain has more to do with a reduction in our activity patterns rather than chocolate, because as Erin Brodwin points out in an article she wrote about the problem, “As we age, we also get less active while sticking to roughly the same diet.”

And I’m also fortunate that Facebook reminds me daily about my problem area with its clever promotions of the latest pills and exercises to combat bloating. And yet, in spite of trying just about everything to tighten up those loose folds of skin left by two pregnancies – short of a tummy tuck – nothing gives.

Why do I care so much, I hear you ask?

Well, if I’m honest, I care because the media tells me I should care. Apparently, women are expected to have a flat stomach – even though the majority of men my age walk around proudly with bellies the size of small beer kegs, and the average woman’s clothing size in Australia is a size 16.

And when I struggled to find an image of a “mummy tummy” for this post, it became even more apparent to me why women struggle with body image issues.

Last Christmas, I experienced this type of gender inequality firsthand at a drinks party, when a male friend of ours greeted me with, ‘You’re looking nice and slim, Lou.”

I’m still not certain if the implication of his words was that I was a bit porky the previous time we met, or if I was finally meeting expectation, but I suspect he thought he was being polite. Whatever his reasons, I can’t imagine ever greeting a man like that.

But life’s too short for crunches, pills that make you constipated, and wearing Spanx each time you want to wear a dress

And fortunately, one of the benefits of ageing is the wisdom that comes with it, which helps us appreciate the privilege of wrinkles. And so, instead of sacrificing the last chapter of my life to the knife or the gym to get back into my size 12 jeans, I choose to be a bit more circumspect about my priorities.

I choose to carry on eating good food and drinking good wine with good people

I don’t need to fit into a bikini again. EVER. I am actually really enjoying my middle-aged invisibility at the pub and on the beach. And I’m grateful for the extra time (I used to waste on the most minimal amount of pampering) to keep challenging my degenerating brain.

That’s not to say if I woke up one morning with a flat stomach I’d demand the old one back. But there’s an old quote about controlling the things you can control, and that’s where I’ve drawn the line with my belly. Like my friend, I’ve decided to embrace its wholesomeness in celebration of my age and maturity, its awesomeness in nurturing my two babies, and its visual presentation of a middle-aged woman’s right to be who the fuck she wants to be.

Photo by Monika Kozub on Unsplash

Who Is The Perfect Middle-Aged Woman?

There was a point when I was going to name my manuscript, Grave Expectations – a wordplay on the title of the Dickens novel – that, initially, I thought was really clever. You see, one of the main themes of my story is the impossibility of living up to expectation – the expectation on the mother to be the glue of the family, the expectation on the father to be the breadwinner, and the expectation on the children – on the son to toe the line of convention, and on the daughter to compensate for her brother’s challenging behaviour.

Photo from Matheus Ferraro on Unsplash.com

The difficulties of trying to live up to expectation feel particularly poignant right now. Middle age has given me a clearer insight of the way that society measures “success” and its distorted values. I can see now why so many of us end up in jobs or relationships that don’t suit us, or in a permanent fug caused by a sense of failure.

Looking back, I spent my twenties trying to carve out the life my parents wanted me to have, and my thirties and forties trying to be a perfect parent. It’s only since I reached my fifties that I’m actually making decisions for ME, doing what I want to do – and only because I’m privileged enough to have the financial security to change my course.

I find it strange how we associate men with the midlife crisis – caused by the realisation that this is the last chance to make changes – when, in my experience, women experience a similar mental shift, spurred on by the same awareness of time running out.

That’s why divorce is so common in middle age. Women reach a point when they are exhausted by the pressure to be everything for everyone else. It’s not only career expectations we have to worry about. We live in a society that expects us to stay young and beautiful, to be perfect mothers, lovers and carers, and somewhere in that mix we are also expected to make a mark in our career.

The expectation to remain sex sirens – beyond our reproductive years – is the most ridiculous one to me. I don’t think I’m imagining the pressure on some women to remain available for their (more highly sexually driven) men at all times. Nor the trope of the stereotypical middle-aged woman as a moody, dried-up shrew, whose decision to batten down the hatches provides men with the perfect excuse to hunt elsewhere.

Conversely, middle-aged men are portrayed as George Clooney types – silver foxes who are still rampantly sexually active and attractive to women half their age, rather than the needy, pot-bellied, miserable gits that most of us know and love.

Very little is said about the men who lose their sex drive in middle age.

Caitlin Moran mentions the reality of middle-aged sex in her latest book “More Than A Woman”, and her description of what she calls the “maintenance shag” – the shag many couples (who have been married FOREVER) force themselves to endure to meet society’s expectation of a healthy relationship – is, frankly, hilarious. While her comments about anal sex made me a little uncomfortable, her dissection of the planning involved to get the weekly/monthly/annual/Christmas maintenance shag over and done with to prove to ourselves we’ve still got it – is something I can definitely identify with.

I feel that pressure to maintain a level of intimacy with my husband, that goes beyond him flashing his penis at me in the kitchen at every opportunity, or dry-humping me each time I bend down in front of the dishwasher. But the truth is, after more than thirty years together, I get more turned on by a Marion Grasby cooking video than the sight of my husband’s drooping balls.

And why should we feel bad about not shagging as much as the next couple?

Obviously, social media doesn’t help with the guilt. Images of women in their fifties who continue to look fabulous – and I don’t just mean young – pile on the pressure. As does advertising that blatantly targets our insecurities. Beauty companies are relentless in their quest to make middle-aged women question if they are living up to their responsibilities as perfect older women.

Personally, I refuse to believe that the majority of those middle-aged women, who have spent more than half their lives with the same partner, are really rooting like rabbits.

And in case you need reminding, there is absolutely nothing wrong with contentment. Sometimes, a marathon session on Netflix is far more fulfilling than a quick poke and associated muscle strains the following morning. And if the only intimacy you share with your partner is holding hands on the beach, that’s okay too. I suspect it’s way more intimacy than many couples experience.

No one leads a charmed life – you only have to look at what celebrities Chrissie and John Legend have gone through recently to realise that.

And on the subject of Caitlin’s sage advice, another piece that resonated with me in her book was “don’t marry a cunt”. Suffice it to say, there is no perfect man either – which is the most important nugget of wisdom we women should share with our daughters, after the truth about childbirth. Fortunately for me, I had a father who thought with his penis and I learned early on that serial Romeos can rarely be tamed. Hence, if I’ve done one thing right in my life, it has been to marry a good man.

Not a perfect man, but a good one.

Life is about making choices. If I really wanted to have hot sex every night of the week, I could probably find someone to deliver the goods – although, admittedly, I might have to pay for it. But would he be a world authority, i.e professional mansplainer about pretty much everything I need to know in life?

More importantly, would he have been there for me all those times I’ve fallen?

Middle age fucks with our bodies and our minds. It throws up all sorts of questions we stuffed away in the too hard box during those crazy years of young adulthood and parenting. And yet, it also opens the door to self-reflection. We can’t change the past, but we can make meaningful choices about our future. Self-evaluation is the path to that freedom. More time to think about what I want has given me freedom from toxic relationships, unnecessary anxiety, and the constraints of the ridiculous beauty standards demanded of women.

Slowly, I am silencing my inner judge that used to tell me I wasn’t good enough. At fifty-five, I can be who I want to be, and I’m enjoying the experiment. I don’t aspire to look forty, but neither am I ready for fluffy slippers and herbal teas. Right now, I want to be different things on different days, so long as I am me.

Are you meeting society’s expectations of the perfect middle-aged woman?

5 Wardrobe Essentials Every Middle-Aged Women Should Own

Woman sitting in jumper and skinny jeans eating popcorn.
Photo from Unsplash

When I wore a cropped hoodie to work one morning recently, one of the kids suggested I should dress my age.

As you can imagine, I was so enraged I demanded she tell me why I should kowtow to society’s construct of the way middle-aged women are expected to dress.

And needless to say, she looked back at me blankly

Why are women over-fifty expected to dress in a certain way?

Why, when the best part about the recent COVID lockdowns has been the permission to wear activewear 24/7, aren’t we allowed to experience the same fashion freedom as everyone else?

And the sad truth is, it’s not only our choice of activewear that is seen as inappropriate clothing for middle-aged women in certain circles of modern society – and yes, I did say modern. A similar judgment applies to short skirts, sleeveless tops, tight trousers, stiletto heels…

So, what can we wear, ladies?

WHAT THE F*CK WE WANT! However, if I had to choose a few items that (in my personal and not very expert opinion) cross the age ranges, here’s my list:

1. Skinny jeans – Personally, I believe that ANYONE, whatever your size, can wear skinny jeans – especially now they come in a wide range of stretchy fabrics. Dress them up with heels and a blazer, or down with with a tee-shirt and sneakers, and for those of you who aren’t confident about your tummy area (like me), hide it with an oversized or longer top. The skinnies from Zara are affordable and fit my body shape well, but I also like the “Riley” style from Decjuba. Recently, I found a pair in Country Road that are also surprisingly flattering. I was a bit nervous about the high-waist at first – although it is rather handy for tucking in my muffin top – but I really like the ankle bone length.

2. White Sneakers – I have no idea why I avoided this trend for so long, but when I spotted a pair in the Sportsgirl sale for only $40, I couldn’t resist. Needless to say, I’ve worn them to death. The great thing about these shoes is their neutral colour – which means you can dress them up or down, depending on the occasion and your mood. Read Elle’s guide to the best white sneakers.

3. The denim jacket is another classic that, somehow, managed to escape my radar over the past fifty years, even though it’s a wardrobe staple for most of my friends in the UK. For some reason, I decided I was too old for a denim jacket until I spotted the one below at Katie’s , which was 50% off. What I love about denim is its versatility, and because the denim on denim trend is back, you could pull off a Justin/Britney moment if you and your partner are up for it. Don’t worry if you’re not brave enough, this jacket is the perfect compliment to Boho skirts and culottes as we move into spring.

4. Culottes – Love em or hate ’em (and I BLOODY LOVE them), culottes are here to stay. I’m not sure why they seem to be as contentious as the Vegemite/Marmite war, because I think they flatter most body shapes. I own a range of culottes in different fabrics and colours, but I’ve worn my neutral ones to death. I haven’t made a decision about the longer 30s-style version to recently hit the stores, but I’m sure we’ll be wearing this style of pant for a lot longer. (The culottes below are from MinkPink).

5. High-neck jumpers and tops – Whatever season you’re in right now, the roll-neck is back for some vintage comfort and style. If you’re in winter, you’ll love the long-sleeved, chunky polo version, but for those of us in the southern hemisphere, there are plenty of short-sleeved options. Polo-necks, (as I was brought up to call them), are classy in the same way as the twin set. They remind me of “Mad Men” in a good way. I think they send out the message that you are a thinking, sexy woman, although I’m not sure the same can be said about them on men – unless they happen to be Idris Elba, a Russian spy, or a sexy, young professor. Personally, I’ve always loved high-necked jumpers for their ability to conceal my eight chins, one of the reasons I fell in love with the top from Seed below.

Are there any other essentials you would like to share with us?

Photo credits: 1. Top from Seed | 2. Sneakers from Sportsgirl | 3. Culottes from MinkPink | Skinnies from Decjuba | 5. Denim jacket from Katies

COVID-19 Is All Fun And Games Until You Start To Look Like Your Grandmother

I’m sitting at home, dressed to the nines with nowhere to go.

Dressed to the nines during COVID-19 (?), I hear you ask.

Image of old woman with grey hair and moustache.
Thanks to Far Kew for this wonderfully appropriate image

Well…yes. But I do have two very good reasons for such crazy behaviour: The first is that like many of you, I imagine, the highlight of my week since social-distancing started has become my trip to the supermarket – and… standards. The second is because in recent days more than a handful of old people have allowed ME TO PASS BY THEM in aforementioned supermarket raids or during my “essential” exercise.

I may be paranoid, but I thought it was the over-seventies we were trying to protect (and I’m 54). So…looks like I’m not winning any “how to look great without make-up” competitions anytime soon.

COVID-19 is all fun and games until you start looking like your grandmother.

Admittedly, I’ve looked better. I’ve probably taken this short-term permission to live like a slob that step too far. Added to which, I’ve been suffering from a nasty attack of Rosacea that I’m praying hasn’t been triggered by the vast quantities of pink Gin I’m drinking for my anxiety.

But I suppose there was a certain inevitability about ageing prematurely during this pandemic, when you’re locked up in the house with your husband 24/7. After all, there’s only so much ice-chewing, golf-swinging, and farting you can witness before your body starts to revolt – as I alluded to at the bottom of my last post here.

I’m fortunate to have a son who consistently reminds me that anyone over thirty-five is ANCIENT, but I’ll be honest with you, I thought I looked okay for my age – hence my decision to drop any sort of beauty regime at the first opportunity which turned out to be this virus.

It’s not like I truly believed I was a walking advertisement for how to look good with no make-up, but I thought this new “surviving a pandemic” natural look gave me a Byron vibe. That was until the old man commented on how nice I looked the other day – the day I wore mascara for my last trip to Woollies.

‘What do you mean,’ I turned on him defensively.

‘I don’t know,’ he replied nervously. ‘You’ve got some nice colour to your cheeks.”

‘That would be my Rosacea,” I confirmed with a death stare.

Of course, NC would laugh out loud at my suggestion that I have any sort of beauty regime. If you call putting body lotion on your face at night a BEAUTY REGIME, I can hear her say. My daughter has always been appalled by my complete disregard for “products” and she still hasn’t stopped laughing about the time I used a brow pen as an eyeliner.

I miss my girl.

And in my defence, it doesn’t help that I can’t actually see the massive whiskers hanging from the corners of my mouth, the overgrown hedges over my eyes, and those orange blotches of rogue foundation that I can normally rely on her to wipe away in shame.

I won’t deny that my beauty standards have slipped to “Kathy Bates in Misery” level of late, which is why I’ve called Kurt in to my rescue. He keeps moaning about how we never do anything, so I thought I’d ramp up his Friday night and book him in for a plucking session in the bathroom tonight. I’m ignoring the fact that his latest experiment with his own mop is a Mohican that he’s threatening to dye platinum – mainly because it’s hard to care about anything very much right now other than the path of this bloody virus.

But if I do turn out looking like Lady Gaga in that scene from A Star Is Born when Bradley pulls off her stick-on brows, I promise to post a photo.

Middle Age: Time To Stop Worrying About Our Bodies And Start Focusing On Our Brains

I’ve had a mixed reaction in my circle about my decision to shed a few kilos. There are those friends who have been supportive – in that they understand the need to manage my weight gain through menopause, if possible. Then there is the other “life’s too short to be miserable” camp, who don’t believe I should worry about a few extra rolls at this stage of my life.

Photo by Jairo Alzate on Unsplash

Truth be told, I’m not so vain that a few extra kilos worry me, but I am conscious that carrying extra weight at my age is no good thing. I had also reached that point where I was climbing the dress size mountain a little faster than I wanted and was starting to feel the effects – physically and psychologically. There were several nights over Christmas when I had a ‘nothing to wear’ crisis, because nothing fitted.

Middle-age is hard enough when it comes to style, but it’s that much harder when you are heavier than you want to be.

However, I do believe that it’s important to put your health goals into perspective. It comes down to that balance thing that’s so hard to get right in life, which is why it saddens me so much when my girlfriends admit that they hate parts of their bodies. Because while none of us are immune to the ridiculous pressures of perfectionism created by women’s magazines and reality tv shows, I do feel that at some point we have a right (and it is healthier) to age and accept our age, along with the inevitable leaks and creaks that go with that.

I’ve mentioned before the glorious sense of liberation I have taken from the invisibility that has come with middle-age. I feel much freer when I go out without makeup, when I’m not wearing a bra, or can happily swan around the house in my pjs – and I’m loving the fact that I can get on public transport late at night without having to worry about being harassed.

In general, I feel much more confident in who I am.

However, there is no denying that we are the product of the expectations placed on our gender by the media. And many women have been victims of men who take their best years, use them as a vessel for their children, and then discard them during their mid-life crises for a younger model, thereby diminishing their confidence.

My body is a physical map of my life, that bears the scars of childbirth amongst other experiences. I am not ashamed of the physical evidence of that miracle of life or the way the intensity of my love has cracked the skin on my face. But I would point out that when it comes to ageing, there is no gender divide, and the old man’s body bears the same ravages of time as mine.

But imagine if women left men when they started to lose their hair?

I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t like to fit back into a size 10 and have the choice of high street fashion, or that I wouldn’t like my teeth to be whiter or my jowls to be less like my dog’s – BUT WHY? I’m fifty-four, not twenty-three.

And for the record, I wouldn’t want to be twenty-three again.

So does it really matter if the skin under our arms swings with the wind or if our faces looked like crumpled paper? I’m satisfied that I made the most of the beauty of my youth, and I wouldn’t choose to turn back time. But now is the time for my brain to shine.

Let’s Stop Judging Ourselves By Our Bodies

I went on a girls night to the city last Friday night.

I’m ashamed to admit that it took me longer to get ready than usual because the outfit I had put together in my head that week looked crap when I put it on and I had a confidence crisis, which meant I had to go through every other outfit in my wardrobe until I came back to the original one.

Seriously, I thought that by this age I wouldn’t care how I look, but apparently, I’m not alone – all four of us “girls” that night had our own personal what-to-wear crisis before we met up.

Comments about fat thighs and dog jowls were bandied about, and sadly they’re not unusual. Honestly, anyone listening in on our conversation would have thought we were teenagers on the pull, not a group of middle-aged women praying we’d be home in bed by 10pm at the latest.

Who has done this to us? Who or what has driven a giant bulldozer through the confidence of women when it comes to their bodies? Because you’d think that by your fifties we’d have accepted ourselves for who and what we are, wouldn’t you? And that when we tell our daughters that it’s what’s inside that counts, we’d really mean it?

Sadly, our problem is pretty universal. Check out The Bikini Rant below:

I need to take her advice. I mean it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever wear a bikini again in public, but why do I still care so much about how my body looks at this stage of my life? Who do I want to impress? I should be proud of it. It’s been a reliable vessel to two children, a ton of junk food and a veritable Tardis when it comes to Chardonnay.

And it’s not like the old man ever worries about what his bum looks like.

This week I listened to one of Yumi Stynes fantastic podcasts from her Ladies, We Need To Talk series – during which she discussed this very issue.

Yumi mentions the importance of us having some self-compassion when we think about our bodies. She asks if we would say to our friends what we say to ourselves when we look in the mirror?

Like ‘Shit, Lou! You’d be quite pretty if you didn’t have those three chins!’

But of course, we wouldn’t, because a) It would be rude and hurtful, b) It doesn’t matter, and c) there’s probably nothing that I can do about them even if I really cared.

So, whose standards of beauty are we trying to live up to and judging ourselves by – because they’re not universal standards. Countries such as Mauritania, Tonga and even Fiji embrace a little extra weight in women.

No, they are magazine and social media standards – hello, Instagram – that push men and women to to attain impossible standards of perfection. In the same way that porn influences men to believe that women should be hairless down below, some of them now see a women’s size 6 as the norm.

Kim Kardashian has launched a new range of shapewear called “Solutionware” – a name which has the ‘built-in implication that there is a problem’, according to India Knight of The Times. And Kim’s range isn’t targeting mid-lifers like my friends and I, who are showing the normal wear and tear signs of ageing, they are aimed at our daughters.

Which is why we have to demand better role models for women and our girls. We don’t want our kids fawning over Love Island and Bachelor wannabees; we want them inspired by “real” women – true heroines, whose success isn’t derived from their looks, but from their magnanimity, their intellect and talents. Women such as Ashleigh Barty, Nakkia Lui, Malala Yousafzai, Lady Gaga, Jacinda Ardern or Tiera Guinn, to name but a few.

Historically, women have been prized for their looks and ‘valued for their sexuality’ (Darcy Steinke), because we used to live in a man’s world. But not any more. However, if we are to be taken seriously as equals, we need to value ourselves so much more.

Are Old Dudes Getting Hotter Or Am I Simply Getting Older?

I suspect that the main reasons behind my increasing attraction to old dudes are my age and my deteriorating eyesight. You see, these days, any woeful stirring in my loins is caused far more often by images of distinguished old dudes on Instagram, than the hairless, chiseled chests of men half their age.

I like to think that this change of direction in sexual attraction is a rare kindness bestowed on me by a creator who was obviously male – a necessary evolutionary shift, perhaps, to stop old women such as myself from running off with younger men, thereby driving procreation to a devastating halt?

Doubtful, though…

Attractive older man with grey hair and beard.
Photo by Donald Teel on Unsplash

Nevertheless, it is a strange phenomenon. You see, not that long ago, I would have gagged at the idea of pashing a silver fox – rather like my twenty-four-year-old daughter. My head has always been turned by the younger cubs, for whom (in my prime) I would gladly sacrifice quality for quantity for the promise of a firm chest and as little post-coital conversation as possible.

I was also one of the doubting Thomas’ that shuddered at the idea of Catherine Zeta-Jones’ and Michael Douglas, and Di and Prince Charles. Albeit that the Welsh actress has had the last laugh. Evidently, she had the foresight to appreciate that a twenty-eight-year gap between her and her husband guaranteed that he was never really likely to look better than her.

Although, admittedly, it’s a close call. Michael isn’t looking that bad for his age if his appearance on “The Kominsky Method” is anything to go by. And neither did Robert Redford in “The Old Man And The Gun” and Clint Eastwood in the trailer for “The Mule”. In fact, I struggled to follow the plot in Redford’s movie, so mesmerized was I by the wrinkled tesselations on his face.

Or maybe I’m simply getting old…?

No. There’s definitely something very attractive about a man with a grey beard, who obviously went to Specsavers. Indeed, the only shame of my newfound appreciation is that mature women aren’t branded in the same positive light as our “distinguished” older men such as George Clooney and Richard Gere.

“Vixen” has yet to match the connotations of “fox”.

And while I despise the trope of middle-aged women as sour-faced and sexless, I’m glad that the ageism tide in Hollywood has turned for men at least. No one is immune to the passage of time, and there is much for our younger generations to learn from the wisdom of the old – especially now that family communities are so divided. And the lines of time and experience add a realistic dimension to characters – a fact that, sadly, Hollywood has chosen to ignore up until now.

Nevertheless, the treatment of women in cinema still has a way to go. While I hold fast to the notion that some men MUST find women their age attractive – a tricky presumption, admittedly, based on our visibility in the media – it is impossible not to notice how many of the female partners (of the actors above) were still in nappies when their leading men were in high school. The gap might be narrowing, but Sissy Spacek is 69 and Robert Redford is 82; Michael Douglas is 74 and Nancy Travis is 57.

I suppose I should be grateful that at least the aging process is somewhat of a leveler – one that provides us with a better understanding of “visibility” once the covers of our books begin to deteriorate. No more pretense; no more rushed, awkward conversations as the eyes of the man you’re talking to wander to your gorgeous best friend.

There will always be evergreen, “visible” beauties such as Kylie Minogue and Helen Mirren – some with young hotties firmly attached to their arm. And good luck to them! I’m comfortable now with the springy grey hairs in my parting and a beauty that is defined by my brain, my spirit, and my convictions.

Dig a little deeper, men, for you may strike gold. And above all, don’t believe the hype. Once our biological clocks stop ticking, we women can afford to be choosy, and what we want at this next stage of our lives is “substance”. We won’t settle for anything less. And “substance” is about the man who values us – not as a trophy, but as an equal partner, in intellect, passion, and curiosity.

What’s Your Biggest Fear? Mine Is The Dental Hygienist

If you read this blog regularly, you will know by now that because I suffer from anxiety, I am scared of pretty much everything. (Spiders, anyone?) That’s why, quite frankly, picking my biggest fear for this post left me pretty spoilt for choice.

More obvious choices included ScoMo getting back into power at the next election, or Trump getting approval to build his damn wall. But I can honestly say that it neither of those horrible things is my biggest fear.

I will reserve that award for the dental hygienist. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that I would happily endure a nightly rendition from primary-aged school children learning how to play the recorder than an annual visit to my hygienist.

Since I started taking proper care of my teeth – a wobbly tooth will do that – I have suffered fewer cavities. However, poor gums (and what a friend of mine delicately calls “old bird teeth”) – another gene defect to blame my parents for rather than my copious consumption of cigarettes and sugar – means that every six months or so, I require the special care of a “deep clean” with the dental hygienist.

Sounds like something nice, doesn’t it? The term evokes the kind of pleasure you associate with a “deep” massage, or someone with “deep” pockets… or other “deep” things.

But trust me, it’s not nice at all. The “deep clean” is a form of torture stolen from Guantanamo Bay by the dental industry – who rejected it for being inhumane. It is an optional part of the service that I recommend you don’t mess with unless a) you are a sadist, b) your teeth are falling out, c) the tartar build-up around your teeth is affecting your speech or d) the foulness of your breath (rather than your personality) is losing you friends.

No matter how affable your dental hygienist appears – and they do have an uncanny ability to pretend they are your new best friend – be prepared for a psychopath. Indeed, if an urge to inflict pain without suffering the emotional consequences of that behavior, is not the reason behind their choice of profession, I have to commend them. For there are few jobs that cause quite as much human suffering – legally – other than in government.

I imagine that hygienists get a similar sense of satisfaction as coal-miners or those sickos, (Cough *my husband), who like pimple-popping videos on youtube – whilst anxious patients like myself lie at their mercy in the chair, terrified of flying tartar, or publicly peeing myself.

My irrational fear is mainly linked to THAT drilling sound made by the hygienist’s excavating tools. It is the reason I pay an absurd amount of money to get drugged up, dropped off and picked up at my visits; why I listen to “Weightless” during the procedure, and why I select the quieter pick-ax as my hygienist’s choice of weapon.

However, none of these strategies truly disguises the fact that a stranger – who may be having a period, or an overreaction to an innovative and empowering advertisement by a razor company – is hacking away at my aging teeth.

No pain, no gain, I suppose, and in all honesty, I’d love to be able to say that the experience is worth it. However, the joy factor, (thank you Marie Kondo), to be extracted from a minimum $200 spend with a hygienist, simply cannot compare to a trip to the hairdresser or your massage therapist, say, for the equivalent amount of dollars.

You never know, I might change my mind. When I can still bite the old man in our aged care home.

What’s your biggest fear?

I’m Not Quite Ready To Wear A Leopard-Print Kaftan This Christmas

Full-Length Kaftan by MollyKaftans

How’s everyone faring in the depressing search for the perfect dress for Christmas parties and, ultimately, the big day?

I’m going to admit that – having trailed all the stores to the north of Sydney and exhausted the seemingly limitless stocks of The Iconic (and the patience of the very crabby lady at our local post office who handles my returns) – I’ve decided to opt for pants this year.

You see, I’ve reached the conclusion that there isn’t a dress waistband sturdy or stretchy enough to cope with the number of Pigs-In-Blankets and Christmas pud I intend to put in my belly this year.

I’ve also reached a level of post-winter, middle-aged lardiness where shift dresses in size 14 make me look like I’m wearing a tent – albeit that I haven’t quite reached the point of no return that is the Kaftan.

So this year, I figured that a smart pair of natural-colored culottes – neutrals are currently the rage in that center of fashion excellence commonly known as the Northern Beaches of Sydney – with the diamante-encrusted top I forage from the wardrobe every December, will do the trick. 

To be honest, I’m not fretting about my decision, not when to “dress up” in Australia can simply mean the choice of a pair of sandals over a pair of thongs. 

Unlike London, where the refusal to dress appropriately for an occasion is almost as disrespectful as not ordering the roast in the pub on Sunday – a cultural difference that I miss. Albeit that there few rules over there (and certainly no apologies) when it comes to daytime fashion – making it easier for middle-aged women stuck in that impasse of whether to dress for their age or wear what they bloody well want – there are rules about evening wear. Particularly at Christmas, when you wouldn’t be seen dead out at night in anything less sparkly than the Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square.

And while their climate provides the mature woman with the perfect excuse to drown sagging boobs in voluminous jumpers and tuck escapee paunches into thick woolly tights – and trust me, it is possible to look stylish in winter woollies with such a vast range of jumpers and sturdy winter coats available in the shops – the British take fashion up a few notches at night. Unlike Sydney, where due to the climate or the laid-back culture – I’m not sure which – you’d struggle to spot a sequinned cocktail dress at the ballet.

But understandably, many British fashions simply wouldn’t work over here – and that’s not just because our seasons are out of kilter. Brits embrace color and elements of fun and quirkiness in their style – undoubtedly a concession to the climate – but that could be a terrifying prospect to the breed of middle-aged women who adhere to the motto that “black is the new black”. 

So, while in Britain, the little black dress has been ousted in favor of metallics, luxurious textures in deep reds, purples, and orange, and this year’s print of choice, the animal print – a design that I have avoided like the plague since I hit my fifties…because, cougars – I may have to place my leopard-print kaftan on hold until I reach the true zenith of not-giving-a-fuckery, (which I imagine will be closer to my sixtieth year). Although, admittedly, that time is starting to feel reassuringly closer.

Have you reached the point of no return?

The Best Skinny Jeans For Women That Aren’t Skinny

Not sponsored.

8757PWDE_BLACK_3_largeNothing gives a middle-aged woman more pleasure than great customer service. Perhaps, because we’ve been through the mill of life, getting hurt, feeling under-appreciated and losing friends we once believed to be loyal, given the right treatment, we are about as loyal as a royal Corgi.

And in my opinion, overall, customer service is improving in terms of the quality of staff and that horrid small print about our rights as consumers that we only seem to know about once we’ve lost our receipt.

However, when I returned a pair of new trousers this morning – that I’d worn over the weekend and for which I had thrown away the receipt – I’ll admit that I thought my chances of a credit note for them were as high as an apology from Trump for existing his speech yesterday.

With my trip to the UK at the forefront of my mind at the moment and my concern about Game Of Thrones-style Westeros weather, I’ve wasted a fair amount of time fretting about the limitations of my wardrobe. Here in Sydney, for most of the year we get by with layering – no layers for three seasons of the year and a couple of light layers in winter – but if memory serves me right, “layering” holds little sway in the northern hemisphere and its icy winds, unless they’re made from mammoth fur. Added to which, the weight I have gained this year from eating too much menopause, means that most of my trousers no longer fit.

So last weekend, I ditched my lifelong lie of ditching some weight before I buy new clothes – the lie I’ve told myself since I first discovered beer at university – and I bought myself what I thought was a sensible, safe new pair of cargo-style trousers, with an elastic waist.

E.L.A.S.T.I.C W.A.I.S.T… Sounds so good, doesn’t it? Almost sexual. Almost as good as “early night” or “more wine?”

And, understandably, I was excited to wear them, because nothing says “comfort” or “eat as much as you like,” like an elastic waist. So I did, for most of yesterday, until I discovered that “elastic waists” are not quite as efficient when their flexibility means that they don’t hold your trousers up, and after a day spent yanking them up in awkward places and generally fretting about them, I decided to take them back.

I’m lying, it was NC who convinced me to take them back – which is easy when you’re not the one trying to negotiate a credit on the basis of a design fault that may actually have much more to do with the bizarre shape of your body and which is guaranteed to leave the junior members of staff in your local shop, hating on you.

However, credit where credit it is due, the wonderful ladies in Decjuba, pretended to believe my story and, long story short, I came away with the most comfortable new sausage casing for my legs, EVAR! And they don’t fall down.

According to the lovely assistant that won the short straw of offering me help and advice (even though I was spending a suspect credit note), the Riley Stretch Skinny is their most popular style of skinny jeans – and she didn’t even add “with fussy, middle-aged woman with nothing better to do than give underpaid retail assistants a hard time.”  And I can understand why. Because, if like me you are forever searching for that elusive jean that makes your legs look skinny and long while absorbing the full wondrousness of your full-blown winter muffin top in comfort, these are the jean for you.

But, obviously… I can never go back to Decjuba.

Is This Year’s “Bachelor” Helping Us Think Beyond The Stereotypes?

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I’ve been sucked into The Bachelor again. No excuse really, other than it’s the perfect wind-down tv that gives me an added connection to NC and something to comment about on Twitter.

While this season has some disconcerting constancies about it – that include Osher’s perfect hair, the gaudiness of the mansion and it’s general “whiteness” – it is much more interesting than the preceding few because the producers have given us a “Bachie” with personality this time.

I’ll admit that it’s refreshing to meet a man who doesn’t rely on his Ken doll looks and sculpted body to attract women; a man who is actually prepared to make an effort to talk to the women and even crack the odd self-deprecating joke; a man whose vocabulary extends beyond ‘I like to go to the gym’ – even when it is quite evident that he does like the gym…praise be.

For those of you that have no intention of watching it, this year’s “Bachelor” is thirty-year-old Nick Cummins, an ex-Wallaby star – which I understand is an Australian rugby union player – also known as The Honey Badger, and for his career modeling boxer shorts. Don’t worry, I fact-checked this on your behalf.

Seemingly, from a salt-of-the-earth and genuine Aussie family that doesn’t mince its words and just wants their boy to be happy, Nick is the boy next door – although you do require a dictionary to translate his ockerisms.

To be honest, it’s hard not to like him. He appears to be comfortable in his own skin and exudes a level of confidence in the company of women that never comes close to arrogance. And I want to believe that in spite of his rumored playboy antics on the Northern Beaches, he is ready to settle down. I’m not as sure how well he’d fare as a Trivia Pursuit partner – although, who am I to judge? – but for a rugger bugger, he seems quite tuned into his female side and genuinely interested in finding his soul mate.

Of course, the success of this show relies on the recording of fly-on-the-wall bitching sessions in the house, during which the women are witch-hunted to hoist up the ratings.  And this year’s bunch of beauties don’t disappoint. As each week passes, their resemblance to an undersexed pack of rabid dogs as each of them fights for a piece of Nick’s flesh (or one of his off-the-cuff one-liners – that none of them really get), is becoming more and more uncanny.

I don’t like to knock my own gender, but there are a handful of “Princesses” in the house that are about as suited to Nick as Dutton is to immigration, and who have been carefully selected to keep the entertainment factor of the show pumping. Their role is to rouse the pack to a state of near blood-curdling cannibalism, because the camera loves nothing more than a group of fighting, bitchy women, to the point that sometimes I honestly fear for Nick’s life.

Funny really, because in The Bachelorette series, the men are always portrayed as mild-mannered besties, who would give up their lives for their best bro over the supposed object of their affection; whose main ambition in the competition (it appears) is a prolonged male bonding session at the expense of Ten.

And perhaps there’s an element of truth in that and how differently competition plays out between the genders. Women are (generally) better communicators than men and if you’re brave enough to expose yourself on the dating “Hunger Games”, you’re unlikely to be phased by a few minor confrontations about how much time you spend with your prey.

Men, on the other hand, are often blind to what’s in front of them until it slaps them in the face.  Evolution, toxic masculinity and saving the world have kept them far too busy to develop that much emotional dexterity, and for many of them, a comment such as ‘We need to talk’ can be a peril worse than canal root surgery –  obviously, I’m stereotyping here and that may just be MY husband.

So while it’s refreshing to have a bloke who doesn’t take himself too seriously, let’s not knock these girls – whatever their real reasons for going on the show. Give them their five minutes of fame. Who knows how hard they’ve had to work to look that good in a cocktail dress. After all, men are consistently patted on the back for their ambition, while we’re always accused of not being forthright enough – a no-win situation, in my view. Let’s not shame our gender’s proclivity to dissect, analyze and strategize, but rather embrace their humor and commend them for getting up there to have a go.

The Hidden Link Between Muscle Tone And Weight Gain In Middle Age

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I know I drone on about the unfairness of weight gain in middle age a lot. I don’t want to sound like some narcissistic bitch bemoaning the first-world problem of the loss of my youth, beauty, and self-esteem, (which I am…obviously), but we women of a certain age have a lot to come to terms with.

Almost a year ago, as I began to watch the weight creep on, I decided to try something new. I took up exercise again. I suppose I got caught up in the hype of wanting to look young again – thank you Revitalift – and so I’ve been secretly beavering away at some fitness stuff in an attempt to shed the kilos and keep the old ticker working as it should.

I suppose I thought I’d surprise you. If women’s magazines are anything to go by, many of us struggle with our weight at this age and I thought that one day I would put up my before and after photos and my secret to losing weight on this site and you’d all hate me. I’d sell my story about how I did it, and how simple it really was, because all it really involves is loving yourself, drinking lots of red wine (not white) and walking to the pub instead of catching an Uber. I thought I’d be one of those unrealistic representations of health that you see in photos of beautiful, young people in the gym. Only I’m no longer young and beautiful.

But then, in a moment of sheer madness, I decided to get on the scales – something I haven’t done since the last time I couldn’t do up my jeans – and to my horror, I discovered that I’d gained six kilos. This, after almost killing myself for a year.

And the problem with that is that I’m not the sort that sees the unfairness of life as a challenge. I see the world in black and white – as in I’m the type that receives that kind of devastating news and heads straight to the pantry for a six-pack of Kettle Chips and a bottle of Baileys, in spite of everything I write about accepting myself for who I am.

To be honest, I’m feeling kind of cheated right now about all that time I spent gritting my teeth through the pain in my lungs and the swelling in my knees, and my disappointment isn’t entirely linked to vanity. It’s linked to the unfairness of working so damned hard for fuck-all results. It is linked to the sacrifice and unfairness of losing not only my looks, my hair, and my memory, but of also having to come to terms with how my clothes sit on my new size 14 frame.

We’ve all heard overweight friends say things like, ‘I don’t know why I can’t lose the weight,’ and then we watch them eat and become smugly judgmental. And I will admit to enjoying my food as well. On occasion, I have been known to give in to my body’s natural bent for eating MOST of the pies, and yet, in general, I eat healthily at least five days a week.

And yes, (before The Alcohol Police remind me), I am fully aware of those naughty wine calories, which I had hoped would be compensated by my hour of exercise each day. Two glasses of wine equate to 160 calories, which by my calculations, equates to an hour’s walk. Added to which, I must lose the equivalent amount of liquid in sweat during my jogs around the park.

Cortisol can be another cause of weight gain at this age, and I admit that I have been content in the past to latch onto the excuse of stress as a result of Kurt’s antics and living with the old man. And yet I can’t even blame the boy at the moment, who has been suspiciously tame for a while now.

Which leaves only a couple of possible excuses reasons for this weight gain. 1. The first is that biologically-speaking, many middle-aged women gain weight during menopause – something to do with an extra padding of fat to protect our crumbling bones, which is vital if we want to continue to outlive men and lead the human race. Because seriously…who wants to leave this world on something boring like a fall, unless it’s in a bar, of course? But as I’m not officially in menopause yet, it has to be the second reason.

2. Muscle tone.

Arty-Fartiness And A Celebration Of The Naked Female Form

image4One of the best parts about this stage of life is having the time, finally, to concentrate on what we love doing; the ability to explore new avenues and discover new passions. And if you’re not one of ‘those that can’, it’s just as pleasurable to appreciate the passionate endeavors of others, stand in their shade, and lap up their success.

I was invited to view an art exhibition the other night. Three female artists (Jane Park, Laurie McKern, and Petra Pinn), and one male artist, Evert Ploeg (whose work is represented at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra), get together weekly, on Monday Nights, (hence the name of the exhibition), to paint the naked female form. The exhibition included framed pieces, canvases as well as sketches of their experimentation and exploration of the process.

Those of us that can’t draw or paint stood back and secretly wept with envy at the talent on display by the four artists, who had not only depicted the female form in all its glory and strength but had also created an intimate backdrop for the event, with a distinctly South Amercian flavor. As Jose strummed Spanish music on his guitar in the background and a gorgeous life model lit up a makeshift stage – in top hat and garters, and very little else – it was difficult not to imagine yourself in nineteenth-century Valencia.

Sadly, my purse doesn’t stretch to the price tag of real art (that’s the problem with being married to a tightarse/heathen), yet something else stopped me from my typical impulse buy compulsions, and it bothered me. image2

I identified it as I ummed and ahhed over whether it was appropriate for me to approach the young model to ask for her photo. Stupidly, I worried that she might think I was some seedy older woman about to exploit her, in much the same way how I sensed the old man might feel if any one of the images of strong, semi-naked females appeared on a wall at home.

Like many men, he’s not as comfortable with the naked female form, or indeed femininity, as perhaps he should be for a man of his age.

Many men associate imagery of naked women with sex, porn and desire and some struggle not to objectify it. It is an attitude that we need to change if we are to alter the culture of the abuse of women and domestic violence, and perhaps by making art such as this more accessible, we can change that attitude. Another way – of which I am a staunch supporter – is by getting more penises on the screen and in the media, and ahem, fewer under boardroom tables.

image1As a side note, my friend and I were reassured to spot the preponderance of lush female bush in the depictions of the younger models – a sign (we hope) that this ridiculous concept of shaving everything off down below is finally demode.

‘Perhaps that’s because the models are South American?’ she queried.

‘But isn’t that where the Brazilian originated,’ I asked her, confused.

Of course, shaving off your bush is every woman’s choice and thereby wholeheartedly approved of by feminists such as myself; the only caveat being that women are doing for their own reasons rather than for men who struggle with the distinction between real life and porn.

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This piece, by Jane Park (Instagram page is at Janeparkart.com), was my favorite of the evening – possibly because it reminded me of how I look in the morning – and I seriously contemplated buying it to hang over our bed to terrify the old man. Had I been brave enough, I am certain that it would have forced him into the spare room, once and for all.

Where Were The Boys From Queer Eye When Meghan Needed Them?

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Most Republicans and anti-Royalists would agree that having feigned disinterest in a royal wedding for months, there are only two reasons to surrender our idealism and watch it on the day:

  • The dress/dresses
  • The potential cock-ups

I know I sound bitter, and perhaps my honesty is not what you’d expect from a British citizen – nor one who physically lined up with the rest of Britain in the Mall for the wedding of Charles and Di. Nevertheless, the intolerance linked to ageing has released a niggling discomfort about the privilege, discrimination, hypocrisy, and refusal to move with the times of this family that is representative of the Commonwealth.

Admittedly, this royal wedding offered the greatest hope of making some of the necessary changes to this antiquated regime, and like many have commented before me, no one (who watched Harry follow his mother’s hearse) could wish the young prince anything other than well in his future with Meghan. And from what I’ve read about her, she represents what modern women (and particularly the royal family), need as a new female icon. 

And Britain does do pomp and ceremony spectacularly well – as it should, for it has had lots of practice at the expense of its taxpayers – so yesterday, anyone counting on potential cock-ups from half a congregation of commoners and Hollywood social climbers would have been sorely disappointed. There were few, if any opportunities, to make us all feel a little better about our status as commoners, other than Harry’s nervous comments to William, (translated by lip readers before Meghan arrived), the disrespectful reaction to the preacher by some, and the wonderful yawn of that cute, toothless page boy who stole the show.

And the fashion was SO deliciously British. I always forget how much the Brits love a splash of color – an attempt to counter those grey skies, I suspect. On such a stunning day in May, it was breathtaking to watch such a kaleidoscope of fashion risk, although Amal’s outfit stood out for me. To be honest, it would have been hard for anyone to ignore her confident strut down the path with an attractive man – I believe to be her husband. And Camilla always seems to get it right. That JuJu hat with its matching pink dress – compared by one journalist to a flamingo massacre – was the height of sophistication and style, as was the pistachio green outfit worn by the mother of the bride. Posh looked like she was going to a funeral – not the best advertisement for the head of a successful fashion empire – but then she did have to compete with David’s Botoxed boyish good looks, tats and fake tan.

Don’t hate me, but I have to admit to a twinge of disappointment as Meghan’s dress was unveiled, although I luuuurved her tiara and Stella McCartney evening dress. I’m not sure what she and Givenchy were trying to say by its classic simplicity – all the right things, I think – but it didn’t talk to me. I never expected her to flounce down the aisle in ruffles and crystals – and I’m certain that there was a list of rules of decorum that she had to abide by – but ‘boring’ sprang to my mind as I searched aimlessly for any tiny detail of her voice or personality.

That’s not to say that she didn’t look beautiful, but a small intervention from those boys at Queer Eye might have produced some froth and value for our taxes.