On reflection

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.

39 responses
  1. Dany

    I really love that post.Love that you are always so honest about your life and feelings. Your blog is a great source of inspiration for me.

  2. maura

    Love the post, but your new mantra: today is the youngest I will ever be – brillliant.

  3. Cheryl

    Growing into your skin and caring less about what others say, or all the rules your younger self had, are some of the joys of aging.

    Good health and self-love are all.

    My skin has got drier as I’ve got older too. Every decade I have changed my skin care regime – in my 20s I used Simple and Clinique, in my 30s I used Clarins, in my 40s I used Clarins but started experimenting with different organic products such as REN and Alba Botanica. I’ve now reached my 50s and completely love Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish cleanser, REN and French laboratory producets such as Avene and LaRoche-Posay…

    I look forward to reading about your new tattoos….

  4. Cheryl

    ….forgot to say that the one thing I wish I had done when I was younger is to wear sunscreen on the back of my hands and moisturise them daily. They now have liver spots and wrinkles and look much older than my face. Be warned and give your hands TLC too…

  5. Birdie

    Speaking as a 46 year old who still passes for less than 40 even with hair almost white in the front I’d say the two best things you can possibly do for your skin are give up smoking (am I right? Did you say you smoked the other day?) as no amount of expensive skin cream can counteract the effects of smoking. I know it’s hard, I’m a former smoker myself and I’d really love to still be a smoker! And eat enough fat: most women in the west do not eat enough fat because we are told fat is the enemy, but actually we need a certain amount of saturated fat to stay healthy and for good skin!

    Anyway, I enjoy your blog :)

  6. Melissa

    you know, olive and lavendar oils are the secret!
    keep olive oil with a few drops in a glass dish and use it every night. it’s amazing! and without all the nasty preservatives and chemicals you’ll buy anywhere else.
    my mother is 60 and that’s all she uses. You should read more about the benefits of each.
    P.s. those images of you are astounding!

  7. susannah

    Yes, i eat saturated fat as i don’t believe in ‘low fat’ — it’s just full of sugar instead!

    and yes, i gave up smoking for 3 years and only started again last summer due to a LOT of stress. I haven’t had a cigarette in over a week now, so it’s on its way out.

  8. susannah

    Just a friendly reminder that i’m not looking for any advice here, loves — but as always shared stories and sisterhood are welcome, of course :) xxx

  9. susannah

    I’ve been using an organic face oil that contains avocado oil and rosehip and it’s sooo lovely — been putting it on my scar, too :)

  10. Puanani

    Oh, the joys of growing wiser…Just slathered my face this morning with a rich honey cream I get from a bee keeper. Funny, I was just thinking, “If I could only slather it on more thickly, then the creases would go away!” Heehee.

  11. susannah

    Ohh, that sounds divine!

  12. JO

    Stepping away from the skincare ( hee), I’m almost as excited about your new ink as you are. It is sacred, it is a rite – we’ve talked about this. I LOVE that we picked up on the ol’ shamanic tattoo vibe, dude : ) Ha! I think it will take you deeper still into your new body relationship, ground you, vitalise you. My last two were gifts also, from Charlie, and that love was written into me too. X

  13. barbara

    It is a strange feeling when you turn 40, it was the first time it hit me that i was getting older, strange feeling, still feeling so young and at the same time with much more wisdom about myself. when the first shock went away i felt the same as before, the weight of age disappeared.
    The physical cange is something i´m looking at it!
    of course it changes, but suddenly i realised all the changes because i´m turning 40 and it is hitting me i´m getting older???
    something i´m still looking at it, maybe will realised when i´ll turn 41…..
    lots of love.xxx

  14. Sherry Smyth

    I absolutely adore your attitude about hitting the 40s! I can only imagine how “in your face” you’ll be about the 50s! That your mother and sister are buying you that 40th tattoo? That’s fabulous! And Oil of Ulay–my grandfather gave me a bottle of the pink stuff when I was 18. I laughed and thought “what is he trying to tell me?” –lol. He had no idea, just thought it might be nice for me to have. I started using it and never looked back. The stuff works…even if the smell was a bit “oiky”. Here’s to rocking the senior years!! You’ll be one bad ass senior! hee

  15. Sherri B.

    You’re so lovely…oh, to be 40 again. It’s amazing how our inner selves evolve with each decade, and what was important ten years ago suddenly isn’t. At 51, I’m still learning, still developing, still evolving…it never ends. Despite my bags and wrinkles, I’ve never been more content with who I am. I hope your new tattoo brings you joy!

  16. Neens

    Just a quick tip – Raw Gaia makes some brilliant, affordable skin care, it’s all raw and organic and their MSM Beauty Cream quite literally works wonders. They are based in the UK (but also ship abroad).

  17. angie

    I am waiting for someone to invent Instagram glasses/cornea-implants – will save me a fortune on the potions! :)

  18. Phoebe

    I love this post! I got my first tattoo in my forties after having agonized over getting one for years. Am now forty six and have six tattoos with plans for more. Can’t wait to see your new ones and I love your positive attitude about aging. Life just gets better and better :)

  19. aimee

    “Today is the youngest I will ever be.” …exactly what I needed today. Thank you.

  20. Paula Puffer

    I noticed a couple of years ago that my skin/scalp are definitely drier in the winter than they are in the summer. I have to change my routines as the seasons change.

  21. jane

    my anti wrinkle time is long past and the fuck it time is yet to arrive but i so love that you have made it there….

  22. Amanda

    I have been struggling with dry skin this winter too. I finally decided to try the “oil cleanse” method. I wash my face every night with olive oil. It has literally transformed my skin! It’s worth looking into, if you haven’t tried it before!

  23. Sheila Bergquist

    This is the first time I’ve been to your blog and I love it. I will be finishing “this i know” tonight and hate to be at the end of it. The book is so wonderful and I could relate to so much of what you said in it. It really touched me in so many ways.
    I love this post about aging and your attitude about it. I’m facing 60 this year…but I refuse to let it bother me…most of the time anyway…haha.

  24. TERESA

    I just have to share my love for Antipodes too. A great Kiwi company :) I also love the other two — and may I suggest looking into Ultraceuticals and Environ? Great products. (But you’re right, not great for the wallet.)

  25. Em

    Wow! What a lovely present for yourself, I’m toying with the idea of a tatt myself, I thought it would be a good way of marking turning 30 but I still haven’t uncovered a design which is unique enough to me yet & I turn 35 this year :)

    I hope that you do share the image & the story (& the evolution of the blue lily too) with us.

  26. Rhianne

    Susannah! That first photo of you is just stunning, you gorgeous thing you.

    My Mum only uses soap, water and baby oil on her face and she swears by it. My skin has always been temperamental though – oily and dry at the same time, how does it do it?

  27. Micala Duvoux

    I’m going to try the “Fuck it, I’m 40” mantra for a while, sounds great to me. Thanks gorgeous! x

  28. Dogmatix

    I love your mantra…will definately be repeating that to myself a lot this year :-)

  29. Janice

    I have written it on my mirror “today is the youngest I am ever going to be, enjoy and cherish the day”
    thanks for the inspiration.

  30. Robin

    I got three tattoos in my late teens. I then went through the phase of not liking them, thinking I made permanent, childish mistakes on my skin. Lots of regret.
    And then, one day I looked at my not-as-young-as-I-was-but-youngest-I-will-ever-be-again self and all those feelings disappeared. I fell in love with my tattoos again; their meaning and significance. They helped me remember who I am and were part of healing the wounds of not loving my body, as it is, tattoos and all, for so many years.

  31. Heather

    a great post. I love your attitude. I thought for a moment, do I know you, have we actually met? we haven’t of course, it’s just a feeling! On the subject of skincare. I use a light vitamin E oil, which I have used for about 14 years! That’s all, just that after a shower or bath. It seems to work quite well and doesn’t cost a fortune. As for under the eyes, if you ever fancy having some accupunture, (not actually under the eyes!) I noticed that it really made a difference under my eyes. It helps to distribute the fluids in the body and that’s what makes under our eyes puffy. Of course it doesn’t last, but overtime it helps to address how this happens! and know I am wondering if I would like to have a tattoo…..!

  32. india flint

    i do like that mantra
    i have ink, each one drawn by me [or my youngest daughter] and each one meaningful
    for dry skin i recommend Aesop [they have a store in London] – their products smell heavenly and actually work.

  33. Aime

    I always wanted a tatoo for my birthday, but a get some chickened and delay it for “later”… On March is my 35th. Birthday and this post tells me that “later” is here!! Thanks for give me the push and try it… ;)

  34. Ashley

    A beautiful post. I’ve been feeling very similarly lately. I’m tired of comparing myself to what I was, or to who I wish I was, or waiting for the ‘right time’. Now I’m just doing! My husband and I just booked our appointments for our first tattoos last week, and while we’re nervous, we’re very excited to share this new experience together.

  35. Lydia kimble-wright

    I, too, love the mantra and can’t wait to use it regularly. I am over a decade older than you and often, I find myself thinking that I am too old to _________ (fill in the blank). One of the things that I’ve considered myself too old for is a tattoo. For years, I’ve wanted to get one and always convinced myself that I couldn’t or shouldn’t. The issue was complicated two years ago, when I was diagnosed with pulmonary emboli caused by too thin blood. Naturally, that can cause a problem when getting a tattoo. Still, I am looking for alternatives for a tattoo. Thanks for this discussion. I appreciate it and you.

  36. kira

    I am with many of the others, “today is the youngest I am going to be” is a great mantra and yes Finally there are no more rules. I love it, plus i have the confidence now embrace it when in my 20s I was a mess. A hot hot mess. Thanks for sharing your B-day journey

  37. HOLLY

    I love this – “appearance is a key part of my identity as a woman. It’s creative and fun” xxx

  38. HEATher

    Wow! A like-minded person. I turned 40 on the 11th of January and I’m feeling the same way. I feel like the rules are gone, I am who I am and I refuse to do or be anything that I don’t want to. It’s so fabulous! I feel like I’m finally, fully me! It’s awesome. I’ll check back on your blog and see how your 40th year is going.

  39. Iris Ztarr

    I love your line that this is as young as I’ll ever be! Never really looked at age with this perspective but I will from now on! I looked at an amazing Tattoo Art book in a bookstore a couple of days ago, it was a beautiful coffee table book. I wish I had written down the name of it, I could tell you. I will see is I can Google it and find it, I’m sure you’d love it. Good luck with new tatto, can’t wait to see it

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