Saturday 19 January 2019

Suzanne Power: Make loving yourself your own valentine

"Opinions are like belly buttons, everyone has them," my gorgeous hairdresser told me this week. Someone had given me their opinion that I was 15 years older than I am.

Time to get the hair done.

The 30s is the first decade when people start to observe: "You don't look as old as all that." You can fill the hourglass of life getting bottom heavy and as Billy Connolly puts it, it's the first grey hair decade and not just on your head.

Ageing is a fact. But how you handle it is an impression. I handled it not too well when someone looked at a photo of me and decided it had been taken when I was 20. It was taken seven years ago. When I advised him of this he turned to my son and said: "That's your fault she turned out like that."

I had two choices. Hand my self-esteem over to a casual observation, or focus on what I could learn from it. I started off with option A then moved to B, as I saw the first choice was going to get me to the bottom of a wine bottle. The second option might end up with a celebration glass, but I certainly wasn't going to begin by drowning sorrow.

My face has lived. It's cried, laughed and raged. It has shown sympathy. It has decided not be bitter and sour, so I have smile lines. It will not compromise on its age, so it will not be steeped in anti-ageing complexes that are not half as good or beneficial to the skin as a glass of water and a night's rest.

Loving the skin I am in means accepting I am no longer as beautiful as I was. But I am replacing that physical youth with a more rooted and less impressionistic reality. I am who I am. You can't have a decade of sleep deprivation and not have crow's feet. You can't allow everyone's observations of you to become your truth.

On the day I heard I looked 57, I cried. But I did feel 57. I had a virus, complications at work and a personal family situation all boiling in the one pot. One of my best friends, who is 59, and so beautiful I am amazed, came to mind. She is not trying to be thirtysomething. She deals with humanity every day of the week in its troubles. Twenty-five years ago she was a model. But she doesn't want to be a model anymore. She wants to be real.

Age brings both challenge and benefit. It puts crises in perspective and your own concerns matter less. You realise time solves everything, but in giving you answers it has less of the days and years you once thought endless to offer you now.

I find that more difficult than anything else. I want to stop the clock, stop the children growing up, stop my older relatives and friends from getting sick and in some cases dying, I want to catch up with all that's happening and then switch time back on. But it's not listening.

And I'm glad I have got to an age where I finally realised that opinions are like belly buttons, that everyone has one and they're not always correct. If you hear something harsh about yourself, however unintentional, the more lines on your face the better you'll cope with the criticism.

When our visitor had gone and I had my son back to myself, I had a quiet word: "What do you think of what that man said?" I asked.

"I was upset. I feel like I did something wrong to you and I need to grow up a bit more."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because I have so much love inside me for you, I need extra space to fit it in. I love your older face. Your younger one doesn't have me in it."

What a Valentine. A room full of red roses wouldn't do that to me. Opinions are like belly buttons, my son's says he was once attached to me, and still is, not physically, but by all the time we have shared. I can cope with that.

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