MyThe other night, the husband and I were out shivering in the frost and walking Mabel the dog. In between regular swoops down to pull crumpled cigarette boxes, plastic drinks bottles and foil wrappers from her mouth (yes, maybe a call to the council is overdue) I was chatting to him about a post I’d seen on Instagram. It said “I am obsessed with being a woman who is comfortable in my own skin” and it had struck me particularly because I had realised that, for the first time in my nearly 50 years on this earth, it’s what I am. A woman who is comfortable in her own skin. It’s a recent enough feeling for me to remember clearly what it was to be uncomfortable in my own skin. A memory that makes me shudder. As we walked and talked I was overwhelmed with a huge sensation of relief. Being comfortable in your own skin is so bloody relaxing!
I have many elderly relatives; we’re obscenely long lived in our family. During my late 20’s I also worked in a care home for the elderly for a few years. This means I’ve seen a whole lot of different ways to grow old. I’ve seen people haunted by things beyond their control that happened half a century before. People aching with pride for kids who never visit and those who take a son or daughter’s devotion with a pinch of salt (“They’re not my favourite” they’d whisper after another visit). I’ve seen childless spinsters surrounded by loving friends and elderly men glowing with joy after a military service reunion. I’ve also seen vibrant people entombed within their own bodies and others swallowed by the vortex of dementia.. Although I was certainly very aware that working with the elderly was not the glittering glamorous career I’d hope for, I now look back on it and think it was the greatest learning experience I could have asked for. Those years, all added together to make centuries of experience …
The more time I spent with older people the more my own life goals changed. My early dreams of being an actress or singer or superstar writer began to fade,, to soften. I don’t see it as giving up or accepting less. In fact I feel my life goal now is richer than it ever was and possibly more difficult to achieve. It’s be a satisfied old lady. An old lady when doesn’t feel cheated or guilty or resentful. To understand that circumstances may change but to be strong enough to accept them. I know illness and frailty will test this but that’s no reason not to make it my aim.
This ambition informs everything I do know. If faced with a choice I look to the old lady I imagine myself being. I have a quite a clear visual image, a little fanciful but again, it’s my imagination, so why not? At age 90 I live in a small but luxurious suite in Claridges. The staff adore me because I demand little apart from smoked salmon and gossip but I give huge tips. I have a small social circle of interesting friends and young relatives, all of whom like to visit because I tell funny, filthy jokes and serve champagne. Sometimes people listen to my sage advice, others times they tell me to be quiet so they can dance. This will probably cost quite a bit but as I’m careering towards death, an increasing overdraft wont be too much of a worry. As far as the bank manager goes, fuck ‘em and I can always sell great grandma’s diamonds.
So it’s to this little old lady ( and if my mother and grandmothers are anything to go by, I I will be minuscule), dressed in a fluffy dressing gown and pink lipstick. I may look a little grotesque (who doesn’t at 90?) but I’m wise and I give my nearly 50 year old self bloody good advice. Most of which revolves around feeling good in my own skin. She believes in being contented, because when you are contented you are not only happy for yourself but it allows you to be kind and generous to other people. She believes in not letting yourself off the hook: that thing you’re pursuing or obsessed with, is that really the best thing for you? She knows that life can be tricky, leading you up a path seemingly paved with gold whilst that dirt track is the in fact the right one for you. She doesn’t know everything (after all, she is a figment of my imagination …) but she’s pretty good at remembering all the great advice other, older and wiser people have given me.
Whilst there are million different subjects I like to write about, the fundamental basis of everything is that objective: feeling good in my own skin. It’s amazing what a difficult thing to achieve it can be. It’s taken me many decades and I’m nervous, of course, that this is just a temporary blip and that soon I’ll go back to second guessing myself, feeling anxious, putting too much emphasis on other peoples opinions and actions. I remember clearly how unsettling, miserable and exhausting that is. So whether I’m writing about art, fashion, the morality of tech or the geopolitical situation in the Black Sea, at it’s heart is my passionate belief that learning, exploring, adventuring, challenging and enjoying is the key to being that contented and compassionate Grand Dame at Claridges. I’m writing to keep myself on track and if anything I’ve learned can excite you too, then when my bony old head hits that Egyptian cotton pillow for the final time, I’ll be a very happy old biddy.
PostScript. I’ve amended this post to being Part 1 because last week I had a very definite wobble in this ‘being comfortable in your own skin’ business. It’s a journey not a destination, as someone trite might say and I’ve only just left the station….