As I step into the the threshold of my 40s along with most of my friends and FB acquaintances I've noticed a distinctive trend: People moving into this next stage of their lives either rediscover religion or running, and both with equal zealousness. Or there's the rest of us who like posting a lot of funny memes about how we find salvation in the bottom of a wine glass. I click 'like' and post my lols along with everyone else, but inwardly the truth of it concerns me somewhat: Is life so disappointing, have I become so jaded, that the only way to deal with it is to mildly numb myself at the end of each day? Did I mention a lot of these posts involve the necessity of drinking wine when you have children? OK, well, that does in fact make perfect sense. Ignore me.
Then there's the worrying and insecurity aspect of ageing, which may have something to do with the Jesus thing, and the excessive exercising thing that people have going. Personally I don't subscribe to either of these religions, however I have starting reading 'Waking up: A guide to Spirituality without Religion' by Sam Harris, and like everyone else I aware of the significant health benefits of entering into middle age being fit and not carrying extra weight. For the record I am not fit and I am carrying extra weight.
And then there's vanity. On a recent shopping trip to a department store (to purchase a tablecloth) I remembered I needed some face cream. The word need when it comes to cosmetics is a very relative term, especially given the amount of available space or lack thereof, in my vanity cupboard. But I digress. I approached the somewhat overly made up sales person in her late 40s at one of those formidable looking makeup counters.
Her (with a genuine smile): Hi how can I help?
(Phew, thank god, this woman is friendly. Sometimes these ladies can be terrifyingly aloof)
Me: Hi I'd like to get some of the x face cream. My husband got me a little pot for my birthday and it was genuinely amazing
Her: Oh, that's really lovely stuff isn't it? Would you like the cream or the lotion?
Me: What's the difference?
Her (guiding me over to the display area where there are dozens of different creams, lotions and potions) and waving her beautifully manicured hand over it lavishly: Well, the cream is thicker you see, and you might prefer something a bit lighter in summer. So maybe the lotion?
Me: Does it have an SPF?
Her: No, no, because that would thicken it. But we do an absolutely brilliant separate SPF
Me: And how do you apply that - after the lotion?
Her (wide eyed): No no, before, always before
Me: Hmmm, well, I'm not sure. I've still got a good cream with an SPF I need to finish off
Her: I'll tell you what, I'll give you a couple of samples of the SPF and see how you get on. Is there anything else? What about a concealer?
Me: Well I currently use a really good correcting serum from Stila that I like. And it's light weight and it evens out redness and gives me a good glow
Her: Oh you have to try our stuff - it's so light weight - and it blends in with your own complexion. It's gorgeous.
Me: Hmmm, well
Her: I tell you what, I'll give you a sample and you see how it goes. Is there anything else?
Me: Well, come to mention it, I do need an eye cream, I've run out
Her: Ah, fantastic, do you want the large one or the small one, the price difference isn't that much. (The price difference would buy a meal and a glass of wine in a not too shabby restaurant).
Me: I think the small one would be fine, thank you
Her: And have you seen our new makeup range? It's literally just come in today. What about those lipsticks huh?
Me (never one to walk past a perfectly good makeup display without at least admiring the colours): Hmm, that's a nice one
Her: Oh it's gorgeous, and on you, with your colouring, it would be beautiful. Here, let's try a bit on. See? Wow, that looks amazing on you!
Throughout this entire exchange I am 100% aware of the fact that I am getting the hard sell and that she is appealing to my vanity. And yet there is also a part of me that is buying in to it. You know in that way you think that if you get the new mascara or nail polish, you too will be like the girl in the ad: Enviably young, a fantastic mane of hair, legs that go on forever, fabulous gravity-defying boobs, and driving around Paris in a convertible wearing short shorts and high heels. Only to get home and realise that actually the mascara is OK, not amazing, just OK, despite what you paid for it. And you are still 5-10 kgs overweight, the kids don't eat the fish fingers for dinner despite asking for them, and you have a ton of laundry to get through.
We ring up my three purchases - remember how I said I was only going in for one thing?
Me: Wow, that's quite a total. And there was me coming in to buy only the one thing
Her: Awww, now, don't feel bad. You deserve it. You're looking after your skin
Me (remembering something my friend told me recently about how you should spend more money on your skincare than on your clothes): Yup, I suppose you're right. These days it takes longer and longer to get that fresh faced look in the morning. You know?
Her: Oh I know, and my eyes, well they've fallen slightly, and barring surgery, there's nothing I can do about it. Nothing
We both sigh simultaneously, taking a moment to commiserate with each other about the unfair and inevitable evils of ageing. And it is at this point that I realise this woman is a great sales person precisely for this reason: She is as brainwashed by the beauty industry as the rest of us. Her self worth is directly related to her features and her ability to defy ageing by spending a good deal of her salary on expensive products. This is not indulgence, this is necessity. I mean, would you feel guilty about buying toothpaste or washing up liquid? Of course not. She believes purely and absolutely like a Novice nun. And what better way to spread the word (and make a good commission) than coming from a place of absolute conviction right?
And then there are clothes, and I didn't even bother to go and look for any of those. It's kind of sad for me - not sad as in world hunger sad I appreciate, but in terms of something I used to get excited about and enjoy in a creative mix and match and self expression way. But in recent months I've lost my pleasure in clothes shopping. For years I could make clothes work - even the really inexpensive and cool ones I'd pick up at flea markets and second hand shops. Or at least I thought I did. I look at some old photos and there were some questionable ensembles. But as I get older I find myself trying on things and noticing a bad cut or a poor fabric and it bothers me. I'll get a couple of things, try them on at home, and take almost all of it back. I'd much rather have just one well tailored jacket in my cupboard than a half a dozen ill fitting ones, and those are hard to find unless you are willing to cough up. And so I just don't shop that much. Good for our household income, bad for the economy.
Then there's the fact that I went shopping earlier this year with a friend whose family have a silk fabric company in Italy. She'll eye something, feel the fabric between her fingers, turn it over and scrutinise the stitching: "For that price? Forget it," she shakes her head despairingly as if to say: What do these people think I am? An idiot? And I stand by thinking, oh my god, I've bought from this place before, that makes me an idiot. And now I do the same - I really look at these things before buying, and what's genuinely astounding is just how much badly made clothes with cheap fabric blends cost.
I'd by lying if I said my disinterest in clothes shopping also wasn't influenced by the fact that I've gained weight in the last couple of years, and I genuinely don't think anything looks good on me. When you are slender and if you have a good eye, you can make a hessian sack look chic, but when you are carrying extra weight, it takes a good cut to flatter the good bits and hide the rest in order to get a pleasing silhouette. At least according to those of us with a well instilled sense of self loathing and body dysmorphia that is. I ask my mother (who has become my go-to person on ageing questions) and she concurs wistfully: "Oh yes, certainly as you get older and your figure fills out a bit, it's all about a good cut. Finding things that fit on the shoulders, and also across the chest, for example. Or having a bigger chest and a smaller waist. Store clothes never fit as they should. Now if you can get your clothes made for you - even better." And then we talk about a seamstress that was referred to me by my middle aged dentist (as she added fluoride to my kids teeth). "You should see the shirts she made for me - as good as those by Theory. And she's not expensive either. OK, now spit and try and get it in the little bowl this time, not on the floor. There's a good boy." I nod, make a note of the address, and then go over and dab up the pool of fluoridey water my son has produced on the floor.