I’m obsessed wth my skin at the moment. This is one part impending 40th birthday to two-parts finally making a tattoo appointment. I’ve always had a fairly balanced complexion. I still get the occasional (usually hormonal) spot and have a few fine lines, but the wrinkles have yet to take over. Definitely getting a bit jowly, but smiling sorts that out
for now. I regularly get told I look younger than I am, and believe me when I say I don’t take that for granted AT ALL. Hating hearing it in my 20s but loving hearing it now, obviously.
But my skin has been changing. This is the first winter I’ve really noticed the effects of the central-heating-cold-weather dynamic on my skin — can you say dehydration? I’ve been slathering on richer creams and oils and using thicker, creamier cleansers. Suddenly the potions* I choose cost three times what I used to spend — I want organic, clean, super-duper products to help me make the most of what i have, while I still have it. After a lifetime of combination skin, this new dryness is something I’ve had to figure out how to tackle. I spent my entire teenage leafing through beauty books and making face scrubs from oatmeal + yoghurt (thanks for that tip Victoria Principal) so I thought I had my skincare routine down, but it turns out your skin really does change over time (I know, right? Victoria wasn’t lying!)
I’m a little bit ashamed to admit I’ve purchased four eye creams over the last month or so, desperately trying to find the answer to the eye bags that have taken up residence on my face. This time last year they weren’t there and it’s been a shock to see such a fast change happen in real time. If I’m standing in the right light I can still take an Instagram vanity selfie that magically smoothes out the bags (see above) but in real life those suckers refuse to shift. I want to get to a place where I accept and love these changes in my appearance… but I’m not there yet, not quite.
I don’t believe in overpriced anti-wrinkle creams — rather, I believe in a sensible skincare routine, lots of water and daily SPF application. I’ve inherited my paternal grandmother’s complexion and she used soap, water and Oil of Ulay (as it was called then) every day; if I close my eyes I can still smell that scented pink lotion that will forever remind me of her. I know that genetics and bone structure play a big part in how we age over time, and I do my best to put good food into my body in the hope that i’ll see the results on my skin as well as my general health. Like most women I take pleasure in painting my toenails, wearing clothes that flatter my figure and adorning myself with jewellery — appearance is a key part of my identity as a woman. It’s creative and occasionally *whispers* fun. But what’s most interesting about this time in my life is how I really do feel myself moving into a different category. I’m sensing that my 40s will bring more changes than just the ones I see on my face.
One thing my grandmother didn’t have — and I’m sure never even considered — were tattoos on her porcelain English skin.
This morning I was fascinated to read a post I’d written about my tattoos back in 2006, sharing how I regretted the blue lily I have on my arm:
“The thing is, I have always been, and will continue to be, the girl with the tattoos. When I worked at a national newspaper, this was how most of my colleagues identified me. Admittedly most of the time I cover my arms and no one is any the wiser (the tattoo is covered by the sleeve of a T-shirt, thank god) but I still get those looks, the looks that see the tattoos first and make an assumption. Even I look at women with tattoos and make an assumption. I’m not a particularly conservative person, so the tattoos are not at odds with how I live my life, but they certainly make me look more extroverted than I really am.”
The assumption that I am more extroverted is still true, but I’m a little amazed at how my thoughts about my tattoos have changed in the last seven years. Me-then still had a lot of unravelling to do. Me-then was still measuring herself by the rules she’d followed in her 20s. Me-then seems scared and uptight to me.
Me-now? She wants ALL the tattoos. Don’t like the blue lily? Rather than try to remove it I plan to find a tattoo artist whose artistic brilliance makes my heart thump and transfom the lily into something new. Something bigger. Something that reflects the woman I am today. Bigger, bolder, eye-bags be damned! This is what I can control. This is where I can be creative and daring and adorn myself in a way that means something to me.
When I told my mum I was planning a new tattoo for my 40th, she said: “But what’s it going to look like when you’re older?” And without missing a beat I said, “I AM older!” [I know you're reading this -- I love you, mum :)] On the one hand I wish I’d had more done when I was younger and skinnier, but this really is the youngest I’m ever going to be. There was a moment a few years back when I started wearing clothes that covered me more than was necessary — I was hiding myself, not wanting to be seen. And I don’t know if it’s the London energy seeping back into my bones, but I really don’t want to hide anymore. And persuing my fascination for permanent skin adornment is making me feel more excited than I have in some time. It feels delicious and sacred (something my friend Jo understands too – read this post) and more me-now than ever. Plus I have fantasies of being this woman in my dotage ;-)
So I’ve been planning the new ink for some months now. First will be the tattoo marking my fortieth year — that’s happening at the end of February and has an inspiring story around it, if you’d like me share after it’s done — and then the transformation of the blue lily will take place later in the year. It’s time to write a new story on my skin.**
As you may have guessed, I’m entering my 40s with a fuck it attitude, the one I’ve always had in me multiplied by a thousand. I suddenly sense there are no more rules — I can eat what I want, do what I want and really — finally — bite into my life and really savour it. I’m all grown up and don’t have to answer to anyone. It feels heady and liberating. I understand why some
men people fall into a mid-life crisis when they hit their forties — you certainly become more aware of your mortality with every new grey hair — but I feel fully conscious around all of this. I feel like I now have permission to just be ME.
So often I get caught up in the ghostly reflection of how I used to look, measuring it against what’s in the mirror today. But then I think of my new mantra — today is the youngest I will ever be — and I try to trust that I will learn to accept my eye bags and my lines, and later my wrinkles and my sags. And I promise myself I will not waste a moment of this life
There are no more rules.
* Because I know some of you might want to know, I’m currently using and loving Antipodes, REN and Eve Lom products. Not cheap but bloody good, in my very humble opinion
** My mum and sister have offered to pay for the first tattoo as my 40th birthday present from them, which I LOVE so much. One of my most treasured possesions is the ring they bought me for my 30th birthday. Now I’ll have another reminder of my beloveds on me at all times. LOVE.