Turkey neck. Wrinkles. Bingo wings. Grey hair. We all have our ageing crosses to bear – blokes too, of course. But years of being fascinated by those clumps of black, sticky-out hairs you see growing out of old men’s ears has come back to bite me because, suddenly, I have them too. Only in my nostrils.
So it was with some relief – and, if I’m honest, a growing sense of horror – that I read the Looking Older chapter in Women’s Stuff, Kaz Cooke’s encyclopedic new tome of health advice (p191, if anyone’s interested).
Apparently, nasal hair (and chin hair) comes on like the party gate-crasher when you’re pushing 4o. Along with wrinkles and receding gums. Saggy upper arm skin. Bags and cleavage wrinkles and, oh god, under-buttock wrinkles. Cooke has split part of the chapter into what we can expect ageing-wise in our 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond.
And I’m not the only one officially freaked out by The Changes heading my way.
“One journalist from a radio station who interviewed me was so angry with me,” says Cooke. “I said, ‘What’s wrong? What’s upset you?’ And she said, ‘You used the word ‘drooping’. You said that my skin would droop down’ and I was like, ‘You know what? It really will. Your skin is not going to go north. It’s only going south’. We all have to come to terms with it. The alternative is hoisting up our faces with bulldog clips or having surgery and looking really weird. It’s just a reality.”
Like her previous book Girl’s Stuff, Cooke put a questionnaire on her website and invited women from all over the world to share.
A whopping 7060 did so – answering questions on everything from body acceptance to sex, eating disorders to abusive relationships – and, of course, ageing.
“The average age of respondents was 38 (the “average” Australian woman is 37), and the oldest was 86,” Cooke says.
“Most of the surveys came in from Australia, followed by women from the UK, the United States, New Zealand, Canada, China, and many others from Europe, Asia, Middle East, Russian Federation, Papua New Guinea, Botswana and other places.”
Cooke read every single word. “Some of the comments made me laugh and some made me cry and choosing which ones would go into the book was difficult,” she admits.
The quotes published in the ageing chapter run the gamut in terms of how we feel about getting older.
Vivian, 54, says she wanted to be the ‘exception’ to the ageing rule. “I hate the signs of losing my looks. It’s hard for me to accept my fading beauty.”
But Barb, 41, believes there are lots to love about ageing. “Once you get to 40, I think you look at your body more and appreciate its beauty, the marks from bearing children, the old scars from childhood, the wrinkles of experience. You accept you’re not perfect and you don’t want to be. This is who you are.”
Debbie, 49, agrees. “You can have a positive attitude to ageing or a negative one. Either way, you’re not in the driver’s seat, so get over it.”
But Robin, 60, from Sydney, said she never imagined that she’d “end up with wrinkles and facial hair”. I reckon if you’ve hit 60 without any sticky-out nostril hair, you’re doing OK, Robin.
Of course, it’s hard – nay, impossible – to ignore how media influences can affect our attitudes to getting older, but Cooke says we’re nuts to compare ourselves to what’s ultimately a photo-shopped reality.
“I think a lot of women are in denial about reality,” she says.
“No one likes the fact that [they’re ageing]. But if we don’t come to terms with it, we can waste from the time we’re 20 worrying about it rather than getting on and enjoying life,” she explains.
“It’s like when people say, ‘God, I’m 37 and I don’t look good in a bikini anymore’ which may or may not be true, but I kinda go, why are you still wearing a bikini? If it worries you, it’s not compulsory. You don’t have to look like a supermodel stripper. It’s a crazy standard that people are measuring themselves against.”
Along with helping her feel more realistic about her looks and ageing, Cooke says Women’s Stuff has changed her – and her health routines – more than any other book she’s written. But, she warns, there are risks involved if you’re planning on avoiding your reflection when it all becomes too much.
“I decided I wouldn’t scrutinize myself too closely in the mirror all the time anymore. Then I realised that I had actually gone out, done two hours of grocery shopping, gone to the post office, stuffed around in the neighbourhood and seen a few people and I came home and realised the whole time, I’d had this dustball of lint from the clothes dryer that had fallen onto my head and was kind of held onto my hair by static electricity,” she remembers, laughing.
“It was like a filthy fascinator wobbling on the top of my head. Nobody said a word! Bastards! So now I do try and at least give myself a cursory glance before going out the door.”
Good tip. And in my case, I’ll also have the nasal tweezers at the ready.