It was my birthday recently. I turned 45. I still can't get used to that number, if I'm honest. It's interesting to contemplate who I am at this age. I catch myself referring to old traits and old ways of thinking, forgetting that many people don't see me like that at all. They see the person I am now, rather than who I am in my mind's blueprint. The shy, awkward, anxious girl full of self loathing and self doubt. She never feels too far away. Like if you scratched my skin you'd see traces of her underneath. Like rings of tree growth, those thoughts and feelings are at the core of who I am.
In conversations with friends this year I realised a few things. Friend one is gorgeous. A stunning alternative fashionista who looks immaculate and inspiring every day. She was talking about putting on weight over christmas and wanting to slim down a little bit so she could fit into her gorgeous wardrobe. I said the great thing about getting older is that you just stop caring or being quite so hard on yourself. Believe me, I wish I looked like her! However, I also know that some people carry this mindset their whole life. On a perpetual diet even in the retirement home.
Friend two lives interstate from her family. She told me stories of a recent visit from her parents. She faced a barrage of criticism from her Mum about her weight, equating it to success and the classic 'you'll never find a man if you don't lose weight'. Oh families! My friend by the way is gorgeous, smart, funny and divinely perfect just as she is.
We talked about our insecurities. It's easy to grow up feeling 'not good enough', and we do get these thoughts planted by the environment we grow up in. They can be added to by society, the media, partners (yes, my first boyfriend commented that if I 'lost a little more weight off my thighs I'd be perfect') and all this just goes to cement how we already feel about ourselves.
It is weird looking back at old photos. Too see the years when I was so critical of myself and yet not realising that I was kind of ok. I constantly compared myself to everyone else. They all seemed thinner, more confident, socially assured and I was jealous of the ease with which they navigated the world. I wish I had the confidence I do now and the ability to appreciate who I was.
So what changed? I guess I realised some time ago that I would stop 'competing' with others on that playing field. I would never win at 'thin and beautiful' so focused on 'funny and smart'. Somewhere in my late 30s I was able to be this person in front of strangers. I realised I could meet new people and talk to them and have them like me. What a revelation. But I think the biggest thing is to surround yourself with lovely people. Standing here at 45 I see a group of incredible people. I am blessed. Smart, lovely, inspiring, warm, funny people who don't make me feel like the awkward kid. I also have this amazing husband. I've known Peter for six years and he constantly tells me that I am capable of anything...and that he thinks I'm wonderful. I have changed mostly because of him and his belief in me. This is a real gift and I love him so much for it. Perhaps I'm lucky enough to see myself through his eyes.
I share a birthday with Morrissey and he was asked if he minded getting older. His response was:
"I absolutely love it. The older I get, the better I feel. I'm fascinated by people in their eighties and nineties. Especially those who are still creating and living in an interesting way. I am fascinated by them because they have so much to say now that they've lived for so long. I always felt more relaxed with people who were much older than me, and I still do. Young people for the most part are absolutely boring. There's nothing automatically interesting about being young. Simply because you are 20, it doesn't mean that you have anything useful to offer anybody. I think it's fascinating to survive to 80, when you consider how much is against all of us every day, whether it's illness or just defeatism or this absurd planet that we're stuck on. It's a miracle you can glue yourself together through your thirties and forties, then burst into your fifties. It is astonishing. And if somebody reaches 80 or 90, then they have survived. And I must ask them how."
I really like this quote. Perhaps I am in the midst of glueing myself together as I get older. Adding to the growth rings, surrounding the insecurities and self criticism with new experiences and thoughts. Learning to be nicer to myself and realising there are much more important things in the world than what size my skirt is.
I wanted to send a shout out to anyone who has ever felt like this. For us all to realise that we're ok, just as we are. Shift our focus from what we dislike about ourselves to the things we don't mind. Because some of us have spent too much of our youth being critical. As I look back at my old photos I see my favourite ones are when I was happy. Hanging out with friends, having adventures and smiling. If only I saw then what I see now.
This is one of my favourite photos of me in my 20s. It was the 90s and I was the plus one for a friend going to a wedding. The laddered stockings although true to the fashion at the time were not intentional. I think I'm about 25 here.
Taken around a similar time (maybe when I'm 24) this was taken at a friends house. I've sliced her out of the photo as I didn't ask permission to post it. However, she has always been the cause of so many smiles and joyous moment in my life. I love her so much.
And here I am a couple of weeks ago, just a little while before turning 45. At the top of Mount Wellington in Hobart, freezing and having another adventure. Happy.
Youth shouldn't be wasted on criticising yourself. It should be about friends, relationships and living. Somehow the years fly by before you know it. It's never too late to stop focussing on the inner rings of the tree. It's time to look out at what lies ahead and marvel at the challenges and opportunities. Fingers crossed there are more smiles to come.