Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Back in my glory days in my glamorous 30s a rude colleague asked me: “ Is your hair colour natural?” I wish I’d been quick enough with the comeback: “Are your teeth real?” (However I was never quick with comebacks. It usually takes me a week to think of a clever retort!)
Yes I was born blonde as all the fading black and white childhood photos prove. There I am with my little blonde mop, actually basin cut (thanks mum!) smiling cheekily from under the crooked fringe. And in my teenage hippy/surfiechick/folkie days, my unkempt long blonde mane, parted carefully in the middle, streamed across my shoulders and down my back.
And then all through my natural 20s I resisted the dye pot until I hit 30 and resorted to a touch-up of my darkening roots. “Oh it got sun bleached on my holiday!” “Yeah right!” Since that turning point, there’s been agonising streaks, with the merciless hairdresser picking at my scalp like a demented chicken, and then foils, so I felt like I was being prepared for a turn in the oven and finally home jobs, so much cheaper, with just a few botched slightly orange results!
So now I’m in my 50s I swear I will be forever blonde with future visions of an old lady sporting a blonde ponytail like the tragic ageing starlet who refuses to accept the ravages of time.
Hair. It is a woman’s pride and joy and expression of her femininity, attractiveness and identity. Really it is just filamentous biomaterial that sprouts from the follicles in the dermis to keep our heads warm and protected. But hair is given so much false meaning by human vanity. It is a secondary sex characteristic defining attractiveness for males and females shaped by cultures and changing fashions.
What can we do with hair? How can we differentiate from another woman’s locks? Well our genes will determine the initial colour, blonde, dark or red, whether it’s curly, frizzy or straight, the texture, thickness, volume and rate of growth.
But we get to choose what we do with it artificially. We can vary the length; short, medium or long. Most women tend to be committed long-haired gals or short-haired gals; those who couldn’t bear wearing their crowning glory above the shoulders and those who couldn’t stand their carefully clipped spikes tickling their necks! The great divide!
Thanks to chemical concoctions, we can alter the colour at whim. Dark-haired women can ponder: “Will I have burgundy highlights or perhaps, chocolate? Blondes can go ash or honey and red-heads can opt for true ginger or rich auburn. And there’s always the purple or green streak for the dye-hard festival-goer!
In the perm-mad 80s we got to ask “Should I go wild and curly?” But really staying smooth and straight was no longer a fashion option. It just wouldn’t go with our shoulder pads, huge dangling earrings and gaudy clothes!
And if we were taking the plunge for the perm, it meant having our neat all-one-length hair layered! Shriek! What a crime against nature for us silk-haired chicks!
Oh the hair traumas! I remember my first disaster as a sensitive, self-conscious teenager when I allowed a butcher-hairdresser loose on my beloved long hair. She hacked it into a hybrid of the pageboy and the dolly cut. I was mortified. My whole identity was swept away on the salon floor!
And then I stupidly opted for my first perm for my wedding day! Note to Self, NEVER try a new hairstyle for your wedding! My beautiful long blonde hair was layered and frizzed but the perm didn’t take so had to be done again just days before the big event. The perm on perm wrecked my hair and it took two years to grow out. I long lamented my wedding photos and wished I’d gone natural.
You would think that disaster would have been enough to put me off perms for life but it was the persuasive Greek hairdresser who talked me around when I was Fashion Editor. “To be honest Diane, your straight hair does nothing for your pretty face. And smooth hair is OUT. BIG hair is IN. You need VOLUME!”
Wow! He wasn’t kidding. I soon had the lollipop head and was introduced to “product”; that gooey gunk we scrunched in our mops every morning to keep the precious volume intact all day! How did we ever hold our heads up?
By my mid-30s I’d recovered from the perming aberration and come to my senses. I swore I’d keep my hair long, soft, straight, one-length and yes, blonde, forever blonde. Hair dye is my open secret to eternal youth.
I refuse to go grey. No matter how much some women claim grey is glamorous or elegant and sophisticated. Sorry Honey, grey, to me, just screams ‘old’! Dumb Blonde jokes, bring them on!
We don’t need botox and face lifts, boob jobs and liposuction. Just a simple touch up with the Nice ‘N Easy or Naturtint (without the nasty chemicals) and there’s 10 years knocked off, just like that!
Oh yes, remember to stand up straight and smile. Good posture, a face-splitting smile and no trace of grey, keeps us Baby Boomer Chicks forever young!
Clothes are a big part of personal identity. They make a statement about who you are. In the book, The Language of Clothes, Alison Lurie, writes: “For thousands of years human beings have communicated with one another first in the language of dress. Long before I am near enough to talk to you on the street, in a meeting or at a party, you announce your sex, age and class to me through what you are wearing – and very possibly give me important information (or misinformation) as to your occupation, origin, personality, opinions, tastes, sexual desires and current mood.”
I have rediscovered fashion in midlife. As a fan of bright colours, my first request is Don’t Make Me Sad!
What is with the latest fashion ‘colour’ being grey? It’s enough to bring on a bad case of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder); the kind of depression caused by constant overcast weather and lack of sunshine.
I want to have a whinge about current fashions, which are so drab! Haven’t these people heard about colour? You know, remember the primary colours; red, blue, yellow, and the secondary colours; purple, green and orange. Leave the ‘shades’ of black, white and grey for bags and boots, trousers and funerals…please! Okay, I concede you CAN wear black in the evening, ladies!
A quick lesson on colour: tertiary colours are created when the shades of black, white or grey are added creating a vast spectrum of tones. Add white to primary and secondary colours and you get pastels: pink, aqua, lemon, mint, peach and mauve. Add black to the colours and you get your winter tones, including brown (the rich colour of the Earth and chocolate!) When you add grey (a mixture of black and white) to all six colours, you get neutrals. Neutrals are almost non-colours, as they neutralise impact.
It seems current fashion is stuck in neutral, with a dash of grey in everything! Maybe this obsession with grey is expressing the downcast mood of the recession. And maybe if fashion took the lead and we all went back to wearing pure happy colours, it would lift our collective spirits!
Now I have to confess, after an ‘intervention’ from my beautiful, elegant 23-year-old daughter and her friend, that I am forced to give up my addiction to gaudy colours and tone it down. Justine advises me to restrict bright colours to just one item per outfit! She has wisely convinced me to give up zany and aim for stylish. According to Justine too many colours on an old bird look eccentric! So much for colour, what about styles?
In Pursuit of Real Clothes
All these skimpy bits of fabric pretending to be whole garments; Where are the real clothes for the grown-ups, I ask? Is it just me, or do other middle-aged women find it difficult to track down clothes suitable for our age group?
You know want I mean; remember dresses, actual complete dresses, not just tops and bottoms. For midlife mammas, these rare garments must be substantial; longer than the thigh, past the knobbly knees, with sleeves that cover the arms, at least past those weird-looking things called elbows and not too low-cut because exposing the ample boobs at this age can make grown men regress to hungry infants.
In Defence of the 80s
As Fashion Editor for an Australian daily newspaper in that much-maligned fashion era of the 80s, I feel it is my duty to defend this dubious decade from the ridicule of contemporary fashionistas.
For the information of everyone under 40, the Eighties were all about vivid colour and excess. It was impossible to be OVER dressed, impossible to be too extreme or too extravagant!
There was no subtlety in this flamboyant, extroverted era. No time for shrinking violets, thank you. Shy introverts could just hide in the corner until the decade passed.
The word was BIG: big hair, big earrings, bright eye shadow to accentuate big eyes, big baggy tops draped over big, loose hanging belts. Or you could use big belts to hitch up your big, high-waisted, baggy clown pants. And the obligatory shoulder pads added get-out-of-my-way bulk to gaudy designer dresses and fancy jackets. This was Power Dressing. I swear some 80s sharp-edged shoulders could have sliced through timber.
It was a fun, celebratory, hedonistic, greedy, grabby Have-It-All era where the bill for the long lunch was courtesy of the Boss and all freebies were gratefully accepted, without a shred of compunction! We might question the ethics of the free-for-all now but the spirit was exuberant and optimistic.
At least independent designers were given ‘a go’, as us Aussies like to say. I remember vigorously promoting many creative young designers with their own thriving businesses selling original garments in our little town.
An Alternative to Slave Labour
Such enterprise is not fostered in the new global marketplace of the 21st century. In poor countries, workers, mostly women and children, are dehumanised as cheap ‘units of labour’ in factories manufacturing clothing for insatiable, mindless ‘consumers’ in rich countries. We in the developed world just can’t get enough of the cheap merchandise churned out by China.
I wish we could outlaw slave labour. We all like affordable clothes and don’t want to pay a fortune for designer labels. Perhaps there is some middle ground where independent designers, ethical manufacturers and cottage industries can once again thrive.
One thing for sure, we need to become more aware and discerning as consumers and start to ask the popularised question “What do women want?” when it comes to clothing. If you ask me, I just want real, substantial clothes with a hint of 80s flamboyance!
What Do Middle-aged Women Want in Clothing?
As a woman in my early 50s, I consider four factors when deciding what to wear.
My first priority is comfort. I must be dressed in clothes of the exact right weight and fabric so I achieve the perfect temperature, not too hot (to bring on a flush) and not too cold (to bring on whinging). Pants and skirts must fit perfectly so they don’t cut into my waist when sitting or feel too tight after a meal! Jackets must also be serviceable with loads of pockets.
Secondly, I dress for the occasion. There are six spheres of my life to cover: working and relaxing at home, being sporty, being outdoors in the country or city parks; professional day wear for the office, dressy day wear for social functions and evening wear for nights out. I need different outfits for each of these parts of my life. Like most mature women when I am dressed right for the occasion I feel fantastic!
For home, I have a range of smart casuals for working in my home office (I never work in my PJs!) and comfy lounging clothes that switch the brain into relaxation mode and an array of nightwear. I have my collection of sporty clothes for power walking, the gym, swimming and horse riding (Okay, I don’t ride much, but I have the jodhpurs and riding boots under the bed!)
I have country casuals for weekend trips away exploring the genteel English countryside; a range of smart work wear including an inordinate number of natty jackets, a range of floral dresses for Ascot (I haven’t been yet!) and high tea at the Ritz (I’m all prepared for when the invite comes!) My favourite evening colours are red, purple and essential sexy black for nights out at restaurants, clubs and West End shows.
Thirdly, having moved from the tropics, where the climate varies between hot or hotter, to live in genteel England, I relish the four distinct seasons that transform life every three months. I love to dress for the seasons. Like most organised women, I store my stash of off-season clothes in cases under the bed and bring them out with ritual delight, placing them lovingly in the drawers and wardrobe as the new season approaches.
For spring and summer I go all pastel in light fabrics and pretty wraps and cardi’s with white or cream or navy as a base colour. In autumn and winter, I love to wrap up in cuddly knitwear in deep winter colours with stylish coats, flamboyant scarves and of course a range of sturdy boots and chunky handbags. I like black as a base in the city in winter and earthy brown tones as the base for casual clothes when frolicking in the Great Outdoors in autumn and winter.
Lastly there is the question of style. Clothes must flatter and hide all the floppy bits, like bingo wings and the rounded belly, ample bottom and thunder thighs. Give me three-quarter length sleeves and scooped necklines in tops and dresses made from loose, soft, forgiving jersey that falls kindly over the tummy and swishes to the knees.
Style is all about how you combine an outfit. It is the puzzle that has a woman staring blankly at a wardrobe bulging with clothes, declaring she has ‘nothing to wear’. Style is knowing the right combination of pieces that either match or complement in colour, fabric texture and design. This is where the flair of the artist is required!
Outfits are either one piece, the classic dress (when you ride the Tube, you wonder if it still exists!) or two pieces; a top and a bottom, either pants or a skirt. Middle-aged women eventually realise, through the demoralising experience of squeezing into hipsters, to stick to pants that come up to the belly button! How I used to love my short, tight-fitting pencil skirts in my 30s but these days, I opt for full skirts to the knee!
Underneath, I need a wide colour range of cami’s to wear with low-cut dresses or jackets. Of course I also need a range of colourful knickers and bras for all seasons. In summer, thick, padded bras make me break out in a sweat! So I have to wear thin, light bras!
But all year round, I don’t feel fully dressed until I step out with a coat, jacket, wrap or cardi, sleeveless jacket (my trusty travel friend, the gilet) open vest or waistcoat for added panache! ‘Outer’ wear gives you a cosy sense of security in the city!
Shoes have been the trickiest item for me to master in London. I have finally settled on flat shoes for the Tube and pounding the city streets, after countless disastrous outings ending in throbbing, sore feet. For a special treat, I opt for small, sensible heels on stylish boots or evening shoes (when I can sit, looking elegant!)
How can you feel dressed without the right accessories? Winter demands finishing off your outfit with a scarf and gloves and possibly woolly hat when the freezing air nips your ears.
There’s the essential handbag (a woman’s portable home) containing the essential iphone and glasses, wallet, Oyster card and the rest of the gear (possibly camera and laptop.)
Jewellery is so personal. Six pieces are enough for me: earrings, necklace, rings on my wedding finger and watch on my left wrist, another ring on my right hand and bangle on right wrist. Optional extras include a fancy hair clip and interesting belt.
And that, my friends, is the simple business of putting an outfit together in midlife. A collection of pieces and bits and bobs allows you to invent different combinations each day. Be stylish and stay comfortable at every occasion and through all seasons and always remember to throw in a dash of 80s colour and flair!
Friday, January 6, 2012
Is it just me or does anyone else think high heels are a misogynist joke on women?
High-heeled shoes are meant to make women look sexy by jutting out the bum and making you teeter daintily and swing your hips seductively. Dazzling slender heels look especially alluring when worn with a short, tight skirt or skinny jeans. Being clearly impractical as sensible footwear, they subliminally suggest that you are ready to flop backwards on a bed, or possibly lean forward, ready for sex. They also send the message that looking sexy is such a priority you are willing to endure agony with every step.
In this excruciating attempt to look sexy, and some women paradoxically claim high heels make them feel “empowered”, a woman in reality looks helpless and vulnerable and precariously on the brink of toppling over.
Daily Mail columnist William Leigh expresses the male ambivalence to the female form cavorting in high heels. “At four inches, the woman begins to look ferocious as well as vulnerable – she may be cornered, but these heels look like weapons, metaphorically, if not quite literally. She is dressed to kill, a vamp, a creature of the night…even if she is standing in a lunch queue at Pret a Manger. At five inches, this year’s height, something new happens. Instead of the feminine sashay… the woman’s walk begins to look like something else – dressage. She’s like a show pony.”
To my middle-aged eyes, newly arrived in London and keenly observing the street fashion trends, younger women actually look silly, ridiculous and comical on absurdly tall stilettos.
High heels strike me as humiliating. Only a foolish woman would willingly turn herself into a fashion victim. Walking on spikes is a form of oppression on par with willingly shrouding yourself in heavy black robes and veils. We cannot judge other cultures that oppress women when our own western culture promotes instruments of torture for female footwear.
The physiological truth is walking on ‘killer heels’ sends shock waves through the foot reverberating throughout the nervous system, causing pain. Concentrating all the pressure on the ball of the foot, tips you forward and throws out your balance and posture, damages the spine and muscles and adversely impacts every body system.
Apart from chronic pain inflicted through the martyrdom of walking or standing in high heels throughout a busy working day, there is a very real danger of tripping and falling over and injuring yourself as you rush around the city streets, chasing a bargain or trudging through the unglamorous tunnels in the Tube.
High heels are a commercial conspiracy. Clever advertising and marketing whiz kids exploit the female urge to collect objects that are shiny and pretty, drawing on the tribal gatherer instinct. Once a woman has succumbed to buying the latest mesmerising pair of heels, she will quickly tire of them, as the novelty of the new trinket wears off, and will return to buy another pair, and another and another, to add to her glittering collection (the equivalent of collecting pebbles or shells in the wild).
The impractical nature of these shoes ensures planned obsolescence and continual sales. All the while, gullible women are indoctrinated by fashion magazines that convince them that wearing killer heels is ‘normal’. Like other forms of social indoctrination, it is an insidious normalisation process of behaviour that is ridiculous and harmful (like violence and war).
I have a personal gripe with high heels because I have reached that menopausal age where walking long distances in standard heels or even flat shoes causes my feet to over-heat (something to do with the body thermostat being out of whack). My sweet little footsies become all swollen, tender and sore. I once Google searched ‘swollen and tender feet’ to discover a truckload of serious medical knowledge under the heading of this quaint Old Wives term.
Unlike women who get obsessed with pretty shoes, I was obsessed with buying every possible variety of sensible, supportive shoes; spongy slip-ons, cool open sandals and solid exercise footwear, but still my poor feet ended up ‘swollen and tender’; all pink, blistered and throbbing after a few hours on the move; which is very distressing as an avid traveller.
What to do, what to do! It is a perplexing dilemma for women of my age. And then I discovered The Anti-Shoe. I even like the assertive name because it is as cranky and adamant in its rejection of heels as I am. But when I laid eyes on a pair for the first time, I must admit I was shocked. They have big, curved soles. Hmmm…now that IS different!
However when I put on the DVD and started learning about the rationale behind the design, it made perfect sense and the people at this smart company MBT are my new best friends.
The brochure blurb explains all: “The curved sole preserves the foot’s natural rolling movement. By creating a natural instability underfoot, it activates long-neglected muscles and has a positive effect from head to toe.
“The anti-shoe improves gait and posture and relieves stress on your joints and back. It exercises a large number of muscles and supports muscle regeneration, whether you’re walking or standing. It stimulates your metabolism and burns extra calories. It can have a firming effect on abdominal, leg and buttock muscles.”
I like it! I like it! So I bought myself a pair. They are expensive and not for the faint-hearted. But I reckon I will make a saving on random purchases of useless ‘sensible shoes’. And the nice man in the store tells me they will last for four million steps.
Maybe I’m a sucker for well-written advertising copy and convincing diagrams. But my new curved soles can’t possibly look sillier than killer heels. I’m off to try them out with a promise to report on the state of my precious pinkies after pounding the pavement like a menopausal Super Hero in my trusty Anti-Shoes.
So here I am some months later after getting through a winter with my Anti-Shoes and discovering to my dismay that curved sole and slippery icy footpaths simply don’t mix! In fact they became as much a hazard in snowy conditions as the dreaded stilettos. I will keep them for autumn when it’s cold enough, but not wet and slippery, to wear such heavy clodhoppers, and resolved to wear regular flat boots in the snow.
And for summer, I looked up my old friend Scholl online and rediscovered the ecstasy of spiky massage sandals for around the house and contoured, spongy soles for out and about on the Tube.
And in more than two years in London I’ve discovered a thrilling new array of comfort shoes! Oh Bliss. I’m in Sensible Footwear Heaven! There is Life After Death by heels. Give me sole comfort over sole torture any day! I am the new evangelist for walking on clouds! Hallelujah!
Thursday, January 5, 2012
At first it was tough and lonely leaving behind close friends in Australia and reaching out to make new friends in London. But here I am at the start of 2012 blessed to have, at last, a small circle of trusted women friends around me to share innermost feelings and struggles, triumphs and joy.
I adore the young adults in my life. I cherish my precious relationships with my amazing son and daughter and their circles of friends; ambitious young Aussies making their way in London.
I listen to their scintillating dreams and delight in their unbridled confidence. I relish being a parent-figure and mentor; offering wisdom drawn from my cauldron of mistakes, regrets, hard-won knowledge and the odd good choice of my own tumultuous 20s.
And I sympathise with the challenges of the elderly, their litany of complaints about ill health, their vulnerability and daily sense of helplessness in a computer age that confounds their every turn.
However at times I feel sandwiched in the middle between two generations, an antiquated old Hippy amongst vibrant, tech-savvy 20-somethings and an upbeat youngster in the company of old people, wary of being drawn into their world of woes.
Honestly, I yearn for friends my own age, for my peer group, those in the middle of their life journey, the 40 to 60 year-olds (and those rare eternally youthful 70-somethings!) that share cultural memories and common concerns.
I need people just like me who are navigating the same challenges in this tricky middle passage. I need, I admit, mutual understanding and validation. And if I’m getting ‘horizontal’ encouragement from my peers I am better equipped to offer support and guidance ‘vertically’ to generations downward and upward.
But it is not easy to make new friends at this in-between stage of life. Friendships don’t just happen. They don’t get thrust upon you, as in your frantic 30s and 40s when you suddenly found yourself bosom buddies and throwing barbecues with other parents, random colleagues or amusing couples you clicked with at social functions.
At this age, making new friends is not so accidental. It is an art form, or a science perhaps.
More so since moving countries and leaving behind old mates, my husband and I have entered uncertain terrain where people already have established friends. Like the new kids at school we hang around the fringes of the playground, scared to bust into tight-knit cliques.
But if we rise to the challenge, there is an up side. New friendships are invigorating, especially with interesting people from other countries. We can embrace new conversations while still cherishing long-term chums with shared history.
Over 50 it comes naturally to open up and build rapport because most of us who have survived our 40s have been through similar experiences; mourned over the ashes of our youthful dreams, buried loved ones, weathered traumas, stared down the barrel of divorce and been wounded or dodged the bullet.
And you can be really fussy and selective. Making new friends in midlife is more deliberate and intentional. By this seasoned, verging on grumpy stage of life, you have developed particular tastes and know exactly what you like and mostly what you don’t like in food, customer service, your partner’s personal habits and other people’s idiosyncrasies. You now get to choose friends on the grounds of compatibility.
This might sound mercenary and a tad narcissistic, but I prefer gal pals who are just like me! I no longer want to do battle with contrary friends who are diametrically opposed on every opinion. I want women friends who share my values, my range of emotions, my tastes and even my faults and issues! Yes it is empathy I am flagrantly seeking. It’s a job description where Empathisers Only need apply!
Common interests provide fertile ground for the friend-seeking mission. I love to travel and find taking trips with small groups of same-age adventurers a smart way to share fun times and make lasting alliances.
With a life-long interest in therapy, I value weekly get-togethers with trusted people who are willing to disclose their deeper issues in a confidential circle that brings healing to old wounds and shares the load.
And I have become a real joiner, discovering a dynamic club for journalists, a folk music society and a little church around the corner. I’ve even given serious thought while lying on my bed to joining a gym.
But my very favourite social activity remains doing lunch with girlfriends. (It’s okay to use this term even though we are long past giggly girlhood.) Doing lunch is an indulgence in dire need of revival.
The internet provides cyber bonding on a global scale. I love Facebook and email but I can go a whole day staring at my screen, alone in my loft, imagining I’ve made contact with people when in reality I haven’t made any real contact!
So I’ve made a resolution: instead of emailing I will pick up the phone and actually talk to someone and tear myself away from the screen and get out and do lunch and make eye contact and full-blown conversation with real friends. A novel concept in this new Cyber World, but the only way to connect with other humans in the Big City on the surprising journey of life.