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.

Three little stitches

I had a mole removed on Monday. It all started a few weeks ago after showering one morning before heading out to a doctor’s appointment about something else entirely. As I dried my skin I happened to look down at the mole on my abdomen, the one that had been looking strange for while, when ‘SHOW THE DOCTOR’ boomed loud and clear in my head. It had never occured to me to do that — I’d noticed the changes but never actually cottoned on to what that might mean. Our bodies change — it’s just part of getting older, surely?

So I showed the doctor, he referred me to the dermatology department at Hammersmith Hospital and on Monday I found myself having local anaesthetic injected into my flesh before a patch of my skin was removed along with the franken-mole. I was given three stitches — my first ever — and sent home to wait for the results of the biopsy.

As with most things, I’m doing my best to take this in my stride. if the results are clear I just have to continue being vigilant with my skin and regularly check my moles. If the results are of the more scary variety I’ll need to a have a much larger patch of skin removed and we’ll take it from there. As of right now it could go either way.

I was planning to write a post about this when I had the results, but, of course, this is blocking any other posts I had planned. Sharing photos on Instagram and Facebook, and hearing about others who’ve been in this situation — some many times before — has been really helpful. I spent my childhood getting burned to a crisp so have always been careful to use sunblock ever since, especially in my twenties when 10 years with an Italian meant 10 years of visting his family under the scorching summer sun. Slapping on the SPF has been the bane of my life as I really can’t go into the sun without burning. Now i’m grateful I persevered with it.

I tend to view my body as merely the vehicle that gets me around — I’ve never really identified it as ME. This has resulted in life lived from the neck up, only paying attention to my body when it stops working efficiently (which is a lot of time when you don’t take care of it). The extra book-baby weight that made me feel like crap; the RSI that’s plagued me for years; the suspected gluten intolerance; the PMS; the overly sensitive skin that blisters at the slightest touch. It’s all an inconvenience that makes me like my body even less and convinces me I got short-changed in the DNA department.

And human bodies are just so biological. Viruses can attack them. They swell and bloat for seemingly no reason. They age and stop working properly. Moles go renegade and need to be cut off. This is all coming at a time when I’m already feeling a bit sensitive about about ageing. In the last few years my body has definitely started changing. It’s quite shocking to appear to be losing the resilience and invincibility you thought you had when you were younger. To realise the morning creases on your face are still there in the evening. And let’s not even speak of the sagging and drooping and general unfirmness of it all.

I experience the world through my senses — sometimes too much — but rather than this be about the body it’s simply information that’s fed back into my brain. So it’s time to join my head and body back together, to accept that while I’m here this IS me, sags creases and all. And i don’t know what this looks like yet, because it’s not as simple as join a gym and start drinking green juice. But I do know I can’t just think my way into this.

In extremely related news, I’ve been planning my next tattoo, the one that will mark the beginning of my 40s (37 days to go!). It’s not lost on me that I’m planning to indelibly change how my skin looks again while also tending to my first ever scar. I’m actually really psyched about having a scar — does that sound odd? I view it as a badge of honour somehow, a marker of my ability to look after myself, even when that brings permanent physical change. There are the scars we choose and the ones that are thrust upon us. Until now my scars have all been held inside me — for the longest time during my bereavement I wished I had scars on the outside to show how much my life had been changed by his death. It didn’t seem right that I looked the same when my insides had been rearranged forever. Now, in the smallest way, I bear proof of time passing that goes deeper than laughter lines and the odd grey hair. Somehow these three little stitches have woken me up to how disconnected I’ve been from mySelf. I want to stitch myself back together: head, body, heart and soul. I’ve no doubt there will be more stitches to come, if not now then at some point in the future, so best I start now, with the things I have some control over, while I wait for the biopsy results I have no control over at all.

The word


Happy new year, lovelies!

I’m writing this post from my bed. Turns out a virus was contributing to the tiredness I mentioned in my last post and I’ve been in bed for the last three days… oh the JOY of it all. I’ve been waiting to get this sick since I returned from the book tour but somehow it never manifested. I now see how I haven’t really given myself a moment to breathe since I got back, so the moment I let myself relax the virus snuck in and here I am, in bed, forced to stop. Not a huge surprise but still rather annoying.

This wasn’t how I was expecting to write my word-of-the-year post. This is the fifth time I’ve purposely chosen a word to guide me through a year, and I’m always amazed at how powerful this practice is. My word for 2012 was BRAVE and I’ve wrung so much brave out of the last 12 months I’m not sure i have any left. “I have to be brave. I can do this” was my mantra on more occasions than I can count, right up until the 23rd of December when a visit to the doctor ended with a referral to the hospital on the 31st (now the 7th of January, thanks to the virus). I have to be brave. I can do this.

When I choose a word for the year I have in mind not only what i want to bring into my life but also what I know I’ll be facing in the new year. BRAVE made sense for a year filled with so many new experiences. BRAVE convinced me to move back to London. It persuaded me to join a dating site. It got me on every single flight last year and carried me through the overwhelm of being out in the world when i prefer to be at home.

I know BRAVE hasn’t finished with me yet. These last few months of unravelling have brought up a lot of stuff that needs to be aired and refolded, so I’ve reached out to a new therapist here in London and am starting the year with an improved support network in place. This feels like the best gift I can give myself right now, and it’s in no small part down to BRAVE for giving me the courage to look at what needs doing… and doing something about it.



So yes, choosing a word to guide you through the year is powerful stuff. I’ve known for a while what my word for 2013 is. When I reflected on all I wish to bring into my life, in all the different ways that might manifest, the word that felt right was… OPEN.

I want to be OPEN to new opportunities, new possibilities, new adventures

I want to keep my eyes OPEN to all the magic around me and capture it on film

I want to stay OPEN to help and support when I need it, and to be brave enough to reach out in the first place

I want to stay OPEN to all sides of my self, not rejecting parts that aren’t ‘good enough’

I want to be OPEN to new ways of thinking, new ways of being, new ways of living

I want to move through this new year with my heart OPEN — no more hiding, no more fear, no more waiting

Heart open. Eyes open. Mind open.



What’s your word for 2013?

On clarity, crapness & tiny flames

One of the hardest things about being on this personal development path is facing up to the truths about who you are. Just when you think you have it all figured out, something happens that makes you question all you thought you knew. Although that makes it sound like it’s a smooth process from something happens —> new realisation. How this usually goes down (for me, at least) is: something happens —> I feel like crap about it for months —> new realisation finally dawns.

I am not a particularly gregarious person. I can be chatty and animated when I feel at ease, but large groups of people make me want to run for the hills. This year I attended a conference with 1,000 people, a retreat with 80 people, another retreat with 50 people, I did book readings for groups of 20-30 people and co-lead a retreat in Morocco for 10 people. This is a lot of in-person stuff for an introvert who functions best on her own. What I learned was I am at my best with groups of no more than 30 people. Anything bigger than that and I feel utterly overwhelmed and have to slink away to decompress (add jet lag and PMS to that and I’m TOAST, as I discovered while in North Carolina in October. The place was beautiful and the people were lovely, but I was not at my best by a long shot).

I’ve been reading up on the traits of Highly Sensitive People, a term that’s been bandied around the blogosphere a lot recently. It’s like the introversion/extroversion thing — suddenly stuff is making sense for a lot of people. I’ve always been overly sensitive to stimuli — strong smells, bright light and loud or invasive sounds are particularly hard for me — but I always just thought I was a “bit fussy”. After a recent bout of (what i thought was) uncharacteristic anxiety, I started to add it all up. (Reading this article was my proverbial a-ha.) When I mentioned to Sas last week that I thought I might be an HSP she laughed and said ‘You think?’


I turn 40 in February so there’s a lot of reflecting going on in my dimly-lit corner of the world. I feel very far away from the young woman I was at 30 let alone the girl I was at 20. I know myself so much better but that doesn’t mean I love myself so much better. There are pieces of my personality I’d change if I could. I don’t for a moment expect to be perfect all the time — ha! What a notion. No, I expect that I will be thoroughly imperfect most of the time, but within that I hope to do my best. And sometimes that means taking myself out of situations where I can’t BE my best. The older I get the less I’m striving for the Big Achievements. I don’t need to do a TED talk. I don’t yearn to be on a best-seller list. That all feels very external to me, when what I truly crave is peacefulness. Self-acceptance. A sprinkling of ease. A pinch of grace. And the ability to forgive myself when I screw up.

So I continue to practice: something happens —> I feel like crap about it for months —> new realisation dawns. Then something else happens —> I feel like crap about it for months —> new realisation dawns.

This HSP tag has brought some useful clarity with it. For years I thought it was my bereavement that made me so sensitive, but now I see that it’s just part of my make-up, like my blue eyes and flat feet. So I’m trying to accept that sometimes my overwhelm makes me seem aloof. That sometimes my awkwardness makes me appear unfriendly. That sometimes I feel another’s energy so acutely it makes it hard for me to be around them, let alone talk to them. Because I also know this sensitivity is why I arrange my books by colour, why I keep a bowl of perfume oils by my side when I write and why I could take a 1000 photographs a day, I see so much in this world.

I didn’t sign up for the easy path this time around. If you’re reading these words I’m guessing you know exactly what I mean. When I read about the heartbreaking things that have happened lately I stop for a moment and hug my loved ones in my heart. I try to let go of the fear of something happening to them, and I recommit — for probably the umpteenth time that day — to heal my hurts so I don’t pass them on. To nurture compassion for my self so i learn to have compassion for others. To shine my light even if it’s just a tiny flame. It’s the best I can do.