In pursuit of youth

Nora Ephron (American writer and filmmaker, sadly deceased and most famous for writing ‘When Harry Met Sally’) wrote some really enjoyable essays on being a woman and ageing. If you haven’t read them I recommend getting a copy of ‘I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman’. These essays made me smile as they eloquently described some of the struggles and frustrations we all face as we age. The disappointment of looking at our sagging faces in the mirror and not quite believing the ageing process.

To cheer myself up I regularly remind myself, and anyone who will listen, that I am the same age as Kylie Minogue. This gives me some hope that if I put in some effort I could look much much better (although I do not have access to a team of stylists and make up artists….not yet anyhow).

I am reminded of the Nora Ephron book as I take delivery of my latest order of products from Healthspan which I am hoping will propel me backwards into youth. I am a bit of a supplement junkie, always searching for the product that will give me a boost of vitality and beauty.

This time I am trying Soy Isoflavones to replace some of my rapidly declining oestrogen (or estrogen to my lovely readers from the US). I was also hoping for great things from a tube of ‘Instant Skin Perfector’ which is enriched with phytoestrogens and is slightly tinted.

Can’t really comment on the Soy Isoflavones yet, but I am quite pleased with the cream. The effect is very subtle ( I put some on half my face and asked my husband to tell me which half… which he got right. He is a very patient man!) It makes my skin tone more consistent and minimises pores, but does not cover the skin. A good base for make up.

If I feel guilty about treating myself I remind myself of Nora Ephron who always bought her favourite, extravagant lemon bath oil (Dr Hauschka) because..well why shouldn’t she?

What is style?

 

Style is elusive and intangible. What is it really? How can two people wear virtually the same clothes ( such as jeans with a Bretton top) and one looks stylish and the other looks sensible and mumsy? It is a mystery to me which is why I am the one who looks mumsy rather than sexy. Perhaps it is the small things (that I usually forget)… jewellery, interesting shoes, a stylish bag, belt, sunglasses and a little dash of attitude. Yes, that must be it. It is the salt, pepper and spices that I am missing. The one or two little extras that add some interest or mystery to an otherwise boring outfit. There are so many considerations when re-vamping the wardrobe. For me the outfits need to be practical and wearable, but how to achieve this without being mind-numbingly dull? I have all the basics…T shirts, jeans, jumpers, but the total effect is usually completely forgettable and non-descript. Fashionistas, how do you do it?
Getting stylish is the first challenge in my ‘Big Life Re-tune’ and this is going to be tough for me. Thankfully there are some great blogs out there to help me spice up the blandness of my wardrobe. Here goes….

What am I like?

As a child of the seventies, it was never about me. The grown-ups ruled the roost and there was little interest in understanding the personality of a child or what they enjoyed. This was not unusual, it was just how it was in the seventies. Our parents didn’t put themselves out to accommodate our needs or interests, as parents do today, we just had to work around the adults. When it was time to go to university I was not taken to any open days (were there even any open days?) and was given very little guidance about what to good with my life. The upshot was that I ended up doing a degree that I wasn’t really interested in and not doing very well. But, as I say, this is just the way things were and, at the time, I didn’t feel short-changed.

The point is, that it was never about me. I had a few years of a good career after university, but then the past eighteen years have really been all about my family. The career is a distant memory, discarded in favour of a ‘convenient’ job that would fit around the children. My eldest is about to leave for university and I am suddenly faced with myself, my limited achievements and a gaping void ahead of me. Finally, it is going to be about me, but that terrifies me as I realise that I have no idea what I like, what I am good at or what an earth I am going to do next. I can see that over the next 12 months I am going to be confronted with myself and that is not an appealing prospect. I will either emerge like a phoenix from the flames or shuffle into old age, unremarkable and unnoticed. It is finally about me, whether I like it or not, and I need to find the strength to pursue the phoenix option, even though at the moment I can’t see how I will get there.

Reclaim your Va Va Voom

I was talking to a friend today who is going through the menopause. Apart from random feelings of rage and despair, she also feels totally unattractive, even though she is beautiful.  I have a lot of empathy with her. It is very difficult to feel attractive as you age and succumb to middle aged spread. Your body changes. Skin starts to hang rather than spring back and a flat stomach is a distant memory. The interesting thing is though, that I see women far bigger than me, who obviously feel attractive regardless of the love handles. Somehow, despite not conforming to the standard media images of women that we see in magazines, they feel attractive and this somehow radiates from them. So how is it possible to overlook our flaws and feel sexy again?

Esther Perel From Psychologies magazine tells us that attractiveness is a state of mind rather than a set of physical attributes..
“Beauty is a state of mind, feeling sexual is a permission you grant yourself”
So how do we change our state of mind?

It is impossible to feel sexy without feeling confident. So identify all the areas of your life where your confidence is low. The most obvious might be your body, so dedicate some time each week to how you look. This is time for you. Look at yourself in a mirror from top to toe. Which areas need some attention? Hair? When did you last have a new style or colour? Face. When did you last update your make up routine. Can you book a makeup lesson at a department store? How about a facial? What about your body? Freshen it up with a salt scrub and some new body lotion. Remove all surplus body- we are going for siren not cave woman. Hands and feet. Get a manicure and pedicure-at home or in a salon. If you’re still wearing clothes that you have had for over 5 years, get rid of them. Styles change and old clothes look dated. All black trousers are not the same..trust me-if they are from the 90s, they look like they are from the 90s! All this is going to be an investment, but it is important. Budget for an overhaul every year. Do an audit and keep your look fresh. Madonna was the master of re-invention and we can all take a leaf from her book! This year I booked a styling session at John Lewis and it was fantastic. I got a new set of clothes and, yes it was expensive, but I have had so many compliments since and I came away with outfits that I would never have been able to choose my self. Investing in yourself will give you a real lift and everyone around you will benefit from that too. Tone up your body by scheduling regular exercise. Give it priority in your diary: walking, running, Zumba…find something and do it! You will feel more toned and energetic. I really recommend a book by Lori Bryant-Woolridge called “The Power of Wow-a guide to unleashing a confident, sexy you”. It is packed full of top tips including having your own signature scent, wearing jewellery, beautiful underwear and being more aware of sensuality all around you.
The other main area where women lose confidence is in their sense of achievement. Women can often lose themselves after years of childcare or putting others’ needs first. Menopause is time for re-invention and feeling successful and valued is an important part of this. It is a great time to re-launch your career or investigate new income streams. This can be a very exciting time. A time to rediscover ourselves. There is nothing sexier than feeling successful and being noticed. Don’t become invisible- reclaim your VaVaVoom, starting right now!

Look the part

Personally, I have never thought too much about looking the part, or how I am perceived by others. I am usually preoccupied by what I am doing rather than what people think of me. I like to think that I don’t judge or make assumptions based on looks, clothes or the car someone is driving and, I suppose, I have thought that judgements are not being made about me. It has taken too long to realise that I am quite wrong. Firstly, I do make subconscious judgements all the time ( even though I don’t want to) and secondly, I am being judged and categorised by others. Now, I could rebel against this, because It is wrong to make assumptions based on looks, clothes and cars- and haven’t we always been told it’s wrong to stereotype? The truth is that stereotyping is a psychological process that we all use to simplify a very complex social world. We need to be able to quickly categorise people (starting with ‘are they a danger to me?’ ) in order to process and manage the world we live in. It is extremely difficult to disengage this core part of human nature. So yes, I am being judged and I am judging others. With this in mind, it is important to understand what image we are projecting (on a simple visual level). How would I be instantly categorised and is it in line with who I am and how I want to be perceived? It has taken me many years of denial to come to the conclusion that if you want to succeed in our society, if you want others to buy into what you have to offer, then you have to play by the rules and look the part.
So, how do you want to be categorised? Are you still wearing the same clothes that you did five or ten years ago, even though your story has changed? How do you want to be seen today? Artist, entrepreneur, super organised? What would people, with the characteristics you wish to project, look like and can you build a mood board of these looks? The disappointing truth for me was that I looked like a slightly tired, bland, forgettable middle-aged stay-at-home Mum. What I actually want to portray is energetic, successful female entrepreneur. It is quite exciting and refreshing to realise this. I have already started my re-vamp without any guilt about getting new clothes, a new haircut and a manicure. I am now convinced that this is vital for success, not merely a self-indulgence. Here’s to looking the part!

Stealth Fat

In my twenties I weighed about eight and a half stone, not that I bothered weighing myself as I ate what I liked and never got fat. I should have appreciated it more at the time- slimness is wasted on youth! Since then I have gradually gained 17 pounds in the form of ‘stealth fat ‘. This is the kind of fat that doesn’t make you look obviously overweight, but settles around your middle like a waistcoat. Easy to gain and very difficult to lose. The truth is we are all busy and over-stretched and food becomes a way to treat ourselves and give us a much needed energy boost. I have bought countless diet books over the years and tried various different approaches. I have given up with them all (as most people seem to do). This time I have really thought about why I give up and what would be a more sustainable approach. Well, like most women I am rushing from pillar to post: working, running my boys around, shopping, cooking, cleaning, gardening etc etc. I am tired and that does not put me in the mood for a kale smoothie. If a diet involves giving up tea, coffee, sugar, wine, dairy, gluten and all carbs then it’s just not going to happen. Well not for more than about 4 hours anyway. I have come up with a more realistic approach which builds in the things I can’t ( or won’t ) do without. To lose some weight I need to cut my calories to 1400 a day for weekdays and 1600 a day for weekends (I look forward to nice breakfast at the weekends, so I have upped the allowance) I want to build in 2 cups of coffee, 2 cups of tea, 2 snacks a day and 4 glasses of wine throughout the week. I will have to forego the buttered toast and evening cheese and biscuits. Something had to go.

My Essentials:
2x Cups of coffee with milk 50 calories =100 calories
2x Cups of tea with milk 20 calories = 40 calories
2x Snack 100 calories = 200 calories
Glass of wine 160 calories= average 90 calories per day

Snacks and drinks = 430 calories per day
Meals = 970 calories per day
Total 1400 calories per day

So a typical day should look like:

Breakfast 250 calories
Snack 100 calories
Lunch 320 calories
Snack 100 calories

Dinner 400 calories
Drinks 230 calories

Total 1400 calories (weekdays)

An extra 200 calories per day at weekends to account for a bigger breakfast. If I am eating out then I will have to sacrifice the snacks and choose wisely from the menu.

On the first week of this new plan I have lost 2 pounds which, whilst not dramatic, is steady and sustainable. I have not felt hungry or deprived and have managed to make it work in a household with other family members who are all skinny and hungry and definitely don’t need to cut calories. Lucky them!

Let’s see if I can stick to it. I do hope so, as I am going to a wedding in two weeks and need to be able to squeeze into the dress I am planning to wear. That should focus the mind.
Next time: my favourite 100 calorie snacks. X

Invisible Woman

I have long been concerned that I am becoming more invisible the older I get. Which is strange as I am a bigger part of many other people’s lives than I was when I was younger. Like many women, I offer an exhausting support service for all the people I love- and I am happy to do it. I have two teenage sons, a husband, a brother, ageing parents…the list goes on, but I have somehow become lost in the chaos. This struck home last week when I was at a drinks party with work colleagues. I work as a teacher and have worked at the school, part-time, for 12 years. I began talking to one of the cooks who works in the kitchen. He was amazed when I said I had worked there for years, as he had never noticed me and did not recognise me at all. I understand that being invisible is really my own fault-I have always been happy to blend into the background. I hate public speaking because I feel very self-conscious when I am the centre of attention. I used to think that was fine- after all, not everyone likes to stand out and nobody want a world full of prima donnas- but maybe not getting noticed at all is a step too far? I feel quite sure that many women get lost amongst all their commitments. Middle-aged women are the glue that holds everything together and we offer a secure foundation of love to our family and friends. Ironically, whilst becoming more invisible in one way, I have also become physically larger, so my next post will be about ‘ stealth fat’ and how I am finally tackling it in a realistic way! My love to all the invisibles out there X