Am I ageing wrong? I contemplated this as I sat alone at a restaurant waiting for four of my close friends. (I was 10 minutes late, but they were even later. Middle-aged women are less punctual than teens.) I flicked through my phone looking at pictures of “our Nic” canoodling up to her spunky husband at some Hollywood function. Th ere she was, all plump lips and smooth forehead and perfectly toned arms. And here I was, with my frown lines and reading glasses, with no one but a spunky waiter to keep me company.
I’m the same age as Nic, yet we look like we were born on different planets some 20 years apart. She’s taut and porcelain, and I’m lived-in and crumply, with creases in surprising places. (Seriously, my décolletage is developing wrinkles these days. And it’s not like I frown with my chest!).
There has always been pressure on young women to look a certain way, but now there’s also a “right” way to be old. And as I sat there, scrolling through photos of 50-something celebrities with their unlined faces and rock-hard abs, I couldn’t help but feel inadequate.
Then my friends arrived in a rush of noise and apologies, and I forgot to feel anything but pleasure. We talked about our kids (fabulous/problematic/crazy), our men (annoying/non-existent/crazy) and our work (busy/slow/crazy), then the conversation turned to health.
My friends and I are healthy but we’re also middle-aged, so we have our aches and pains. A couple of us have gut problems, a couple of us have arthritis, and a couple of us are moving towards the dreaded menopause. And then, of course, there are the ubiquitous back problems. You don’t give birth to three kids and live nearly 50 years without doing yourself an injury at some point along the line.
As we ate and swapped names of masseurs and doctors, I imagined one of the celebrities joining us at the table. They’d probably fi t in perfectly well because middle-aged is middle-aged, no matter how wealthy or famous you are. A celeb might have better skin, and a startlingly perfect body, but her insides would be exactly the same.
“My back is killing me,” Cate Blanchett would announce to the group, tucking into her kale soup. “It’s never been the same since the third kid.”
“Mine, too,” Halle Berry would agree, sipping her white wine spritzer without smearing her lippy. “I sleep with a heat pad every night. You should try it!” “I can’t use heat pads,” Nicole Kidman would say sadly, indicating to the waiter to refill her water glass. “It exacerbates my hormonal itch.”
“The itch!” Sandra Bullock would exclaim. She’d lower her voice, glancing around the restaurant. “Since I went through menopause I haven’t stopped itching! And the night sweats!”
“Oh yes, the night sweats!” we’d all chorus. “They’re the worst!”
“Oh, shut up!” Judi Dench would say. “You girls are all spring chickens. I can barely remember what I ate for breakfast this morning, let alone memorise the lines for this film I’m making.”
And that’s the thing about ageing. Despite what the magazines would have us believe, it really is the great equaliser. Yes, celebrities look fabulous in photos. Yes, they have fi rmer thighs and wider eyes and thicker hair. And why shouldn’t they? There’s a lot you can achieve with the right personal trainer, make-up artist, chef, facialist and surgeon.
But beneath the pristine exterior, they age just like us. Th ey get tired and cranky and sore and sweaty, and their backs and knees creak when they stand.
They forget where they put their keys, they get puffy eyes when they’re tired, and they find hairs growing out of strange places. It helps to remember that when you look at photos of women who are ageing well. We really are all the same on the inside and no money or fame can stop the progress of time. Our Nic and her friends are welcome at my girls’ dinners anytime. I suspect we’d have a lot in common. And if Halle could teach me how to drink my wine without smearing my lipstick, that would be great. I may be ageing, but it’s never too late to learn.