Hate the way you look? Best get over it now

You know that thing you have, when you think you’re fat and ugly and totally unfit to be seen in public? Well, here’s some news: it never, ever ends.

Like me, you might have thought there’d be some vaguely-defined point – getting thin, finding your own style, meeting your Fairy Godmother – when it would get sorted. But no. Sorry. Feel shit now? It’s quite possible that you always will. Why did you ever think it would stop?

You may have counted on the ageing process to put everything in perspective. God knows, this is what I’ve been placing my bets on. I thought that once I actually looked the way I half-think I look anyhow, I’d be forced to accept it at last. Turns out I was wrong. According to Professor Nicola Rumsey, co-director of the University of West England’s Centre for Appearance Research (which is, one imagines, one massive lab lined with mirrors), older people remain as hung up on their appearance as the rest of us. In fact, once you start getting proper wrinkles, as opposed to “first signs of ageing” mini-creases, the way you feel can get worse. You don’t just think “ah, fuck it, battle’s already lost!”, which is certainly what I’d hoped. Quoted in The Observer, Rumsey says the following:

It can cause substantial distress to look in the mirror and see an ageing body, especially if [people] have very visible conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or an obvious skin condition, for example, yet in the UK we can be very dismissive of what is often construed as vanity. GPs are not trained to deal with the psychological impact of these anxieties, which can have a significant influence on overall wellbeing.

Well. How’s that for a total fucker? I’m scared enough of death itself. Now I’ll be torturing myself on my deathbed for wasting not half my life, but my whole life worrying about my appearance. Plus I’ll still be worrying about it then, and about whether the morphine’s making my complexion look even worse.

This is such a contrast to the usual message we hear. Plonked in the midst of a youth-obsessed culture, magazines such as Good Housekeeping and Woman and Home present us with “well-preserved” women in their forties and fifties claiming that they’ve never felt better. They’re now comfortable in their own skins, and don’t put themselves under the same pressures any more. Those “mature skin” serums that are being advertised on the following pages? Well, don’t take them seriously. The magazine editors don’t. They’re just suggesting you part with fifty quid for the sheer hell of it.

My nan is in her nineties. She swears that she got this far by dyeing her hair (it’s deep red and it’s ace). She still cares about how she looks. I’ve always known this, yet I’ve considered it something of an anomaly. I’ve always looked at her and thought “she looks good, but when I’m her age I’ll just be stuffing myself on Werther’s”. Except now it seems entirely plausible that I won’t.

Why can’t being old enable one to put things in perspective? I mean, I could try to put things in perspective now, I suppose. But it’s too hard! I thought you magically got perspective upon hitting 60! And I thought this applied to everything! Love, money, career, all of it – I want to stop giving a shit, albeit without it involving any actual effort on my part! I thought the simple fact of getting older would do it. It’s sooooo not fair! *teenage stomp*

I am so pissed off about this. It’s all such a total swizz, this life business. A total swizz, and then you just cease being. Actually, that sounds quite philosophical, for me. Maybe I will buck the trend after all.


6 thoughts on “Hate the way you look? Best get over it now

  1. Great post, though I am totally bummed to read this. I don’t want to believe it’s true, yet I have a sinking feeling that I, too, will still be fretting about cellulite and BMI and my ever-worsening complexion when I’m 70. THERE MUST BE MORE TO LIFE.

  2. “I thought you magically got perspective upon hitting 60! ” I thought you got it on hitting 40. Then at around 38, I guessed it was probably more like 50. Now I’m nearer to fifty, I’m guessing it’s 60 and when I’m 57, I’ll think it’s prob 70…

    1. I thought I might get a minor boost of wisdom upon having children, like I’d be all “ooh, now I know what really matters”. And my children are the most important thing. Even so, the part of my brain devoted to mascara and fat-hatred is just as large as ever!

  3. You do get perspective when you get to 60 but not about your looks. In fact certain changes in your body seem to happen overnight like my powdery skinned, soft and wrinkled dinner lady arms. Where did they come from? I have just spent a day heaving sacks of rubble into a transit van and then out again at the tip so my arm muscles still work fine but obviously nobody told the skin on top. But yes the changes in my face and body as I age are for me a cause of distress and fear as Martin Amis put it so well the other day you get the sense this isn’t going to end well. Whilst your body may not be everything you would wish for in your fertile years use it to the max while you still can.

    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment. I hate the fact that this is one topic about which no one can go “well, it might never happen!”

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