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To see ourselves as others see us

Vicky Ward is a woman with absolutely no sense of perspective.

I found SUCH a strange article on the Daily Mail site the other day.

First of all, I have no idea who Vicky Ward is, nor why I should care what she thinks, but she struck me as a woman who has absolutely no sense of perspective. How self-obsessed can one person BE, exactly?

She shows a perfectly nice picture of a happy young woman in a pretty wedding dress on her wedding day and decries her (former) self as fat, frumpy, ugly. No she wasn't - she looked perfectly nice. Really. The dress is lovely - low neck, tight on her neat bust, crisp silk fabric. I think what she really has a problem with is the man on her arm. 

Vicky Ward is a woman who clearly has a problem with herself. Herself as she is now - in 6in stilettos, bleach blonde and a skimpy little frock that's far too young for her - is a creation she's spent many years creating. 

But one wonders why. And what kind of person she might have become if she had worked on her personality instead of turning herself into a teenage boy's idea of what a woman should look like. 

The Daily Mail is full of this sort of crap lately - not that it's ever been anything other than a filth rag of an excuse for a newspaper anyway. But it used to be faintly readable on the Femail pages. Lately, though, I pick up a lot of pro-surgery, pro-Botox, pro-putting-women-back-in-a-Barbie-box articles that I feel must come from the (male) suits up on high. Gone is the lovely size 14 Alexandra Shulman, for instance, but the skinny size-8 body-dysmorphic Liz Jones remains. 

Still, at least Vicky Ward's readers retain a sense of perspective. I particularly loved this comment:

"Please no more articles about this vacuous waste of energy, I am so bored of it already and by the looks of the comments here, other people are too! Someone needs to sit her down and make it clear that, having overhauled her NORMAL body and replaced it what something she clearly considers as better, her husband RAN OFF with someone else! He married her in 1997 for her, and oops she turned into a high-maintenance NYC lady who lunches - nice to look at but perhaps not someone you'd want to share your life with. What a result... at least she'll never be lonely with her fake body and fake friends and fake lifestyles. If she had no money to maintain this facade, would her "friends" and admirers love her for herself? Umm, wouldn't think so from the article content."

Couldn't have put it better myself.  

 

 

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Living in France - signed copies

We have a limited number of signed copies of my book that we're selling direct to the public

Living in FranceAs part of the launch of WebVivant Press - web-based publishing venture set up by my DH and myself - we're making available a limited number of signed copies of my book, Living in France.

The book was published by Harriman House in 2008 and has received some excellent reviews. Sub-titled 'A practical guide to your new life in France', it's a hands-on, nitty-gritty guide for Britons who have bought a house in France, either for holiday use or as a permanent new home. It covers everything from the practicalities of the move, to considerations such as tax, work, marriage, children and the healthcare system, through to the simple savoir-faire of local life and tips for ensuring a happy relationship with the locals (including the rules on how many times you should kiss our new neighbours on the cheek!).

"A great read - entertaining, witty and richly detailed - as well as a really helpful practical guide."

— Heather Leach, writer

 

» Find out more about Living in France »

 

 

 

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How much is your life worth?

Should your life's worth really be calculated in monetary value?

I got a fun press release from Lifesworth this morning.

Apparently, in the UK at least, you're 'worth' the most at the age of 46.

They're talking in terms of personal possessions, of course, not your real worth (don't get me started...). The average mid-life Brit apparently owns about £40k's worth of goods and chattels - more than you ever have in your life before or afterwards. Interestingly, though, that same average Brit also believes their personal possessions amount to about £28k and underinsures them accordingly.

This, of course, is Lifesworth's objective - to get you to up your insurance premiums, but I must confess the idea of being 'worth' £40k made me laugh out loud. I doubt I am 'worth' half this now, and it's very definitely by design.

Over the years, I've come to the belief that people are at their most free and creative when they're not burdened by possessions. Sure, it's great to own things, but once you've got them, you have to worry about them. Clean them, dust them, store them, take care of them, insure them. Is this really a good idea? Better to have plates you can afford to break, clothes you can afford to ruin without there being any heartache involved. Then you don't have to work so hard to support a lifestyle. Maybe you can just have a life instead.

The DH and I, some 10 years ago, were forcibly relieved of much of our burden of possessions by a burglary. After the initial relief that no-one was hurt (the house was empty at the time), came the absolute fury about what had been taken - our wedding presents to each other, the Victorian writing box my parents gave me when I was 16, Steve's favourite watch, the World War II marching compass I'd bought him in six instalments, his entire collection of aviation memorabilia, my late father's clock. There were also our computers, all of our coats, the throws off the sofas, the curtain tie-backs - a strange assortment of finds. It was Christmas, and they had gone shopping in our house. 

A wealthy friend patted me on the head and said: "Trish, they're only things," which only incensed me more because a: his parents subbed his lifestyle and he'd never had to work, and b: many of them were things that I had bought and paid for, worked many hours at a job I hated in order to own. They were MINE, for God's sake.  

And then I thought again. Why exactly was I working all these awful hours in horrible jobs just in order to buy stuff? None of it was necessary stuff - it was pretty, it was nice to have, but it wasn't the roof over my head, it wasn't food on the table. In the grand scheme of things, it didn't make a difference. Sure, it's nice to be surrounded by pretty things, but it's not necessary to fulfilment.

Some of the items had sentimental value, but this too is an imaginary construct. I didn't drop dead for the loss of any of them. And the truth may be something else, too. Every time I looked at that clock I remembered that my mother wouldn't give it to me when dad died but had made me pay £200 for it. Whenever I looked at the writing box, I was chastened by the split it had picked up when I placed it too close to a radiator. Steve had bought his favourite watch the same day as a near-identical one for his ex-wife, which coloured my view of it somewhat. 

A couple of years went by and although we sometimes winced when we thought of what had been taken, we found we didn't need to replace much, other than the work computers. When we did buy, we hit on a strategy of buying only things we could use, not things that were purely ornamental. And gradually, gradually, we began to divest.

I can't remember now what went first, but every year that goes by, we have sloughed off more of our belongings, and every year we feel better for it. We've got rid of clothes, books we'll never read again, ripped all our CDs into I-Tunes and chucked the discs, put item after item of furniture into the local depot vente. The house feels bigger, emptier, more spacious. There is less cleaning to do, less maneouvring around things. Both our lives and our souls free freer for it, and I hope, in time, to get to a stage where nothing I own has ANY monetary value at all. 

I wonder where this would put me on the Lifesworth scale? Probably a complete loser. But I frankly I have no truck with a society where a person's worth is calculated by what they own and not by what they contribute. If the latter was calculated, where on this scale would the average lawyer, PR executive or stockbroker be? A damn sight further down than the lowly-paid nurse or cleaner or ambulance driver.

If you want to calculate your worth on Lifesworth, click here (only relevant to UK residents).

Average age and value of possessions in the UK
20 - £24,548
30 - £34,823
40 - £40,125
50 - £40,454
60 - £35,810
70 - £26,192

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Does age necessarily mean ill-health?

Obese people aren't going to cost health services a fortune after all, because they die so much younger that, overall, they save the Government money.

That's according to the US's Public Library of Science.  

Oh lovely. What kind of warped thinking is that? Let's allow people to get fat, then - save cash in the long run. 

However, leaving the obesity issue aside, which is well worth a full-scale argument, it's that further little twist in thinking that I note - that it's assumed that as you get older, you start getting sicker and frailer, as if this was something to be expected. That age inevitably means heart disease and hip replacements and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

British road sign We take so much of that thinking for granted in the UK that we hardly notice the assumption - just look at this British road sign for 'old people crossing' compared with the Namibian road sign below, depicting the same societal group.

But I don't think the French feel that way. When my mother died last year at the age of 83, in the UK the perception was that she'd 'had a good innings', but the comment I most often heard from French people was: "Oh dear, that's no age, is it?" Namibian road sign

Well no. Not here it isn't. The French are the longest-lived people in Europe, and French women outlive their men by four years. The average age at death is 83, but the fact is, my village is full of hale and healthy people in their late 80s and 90s, living on their farms, breeding their own chickens - living full and independent lives. They do not, to me, look like people who are costing the health service much, and I know for a fact that when they get sick, they're treated the same as younger people, which is not the case in the UK.

When I had physio after a car crash last year, one of my companions in the waiting room was a woman in her mid-80s who had undergone surgery and radiotherapy for breast cancer. 65 sessions, she said, and now she was on a three-month physio course to help her mobility. Try getting any of that in the UK once you hit 70. She bumped into a friend who asked after a mutual third party. "She's very well," my my companion. "She's busy looking after her neighbour's house at the moment..." That third party was 93 years of age. 

One reason for this state of health, I'm sure, is that the French eat so much better than Brits. One quick look round the supermarket tells you who's British before they open their mouths - it's the lard-arses waddling round the place, loading up their trolleys with booze and fast food. Next to the skinny French, we are a disgrace.

But another reason is that they're simply better cared for. There is a huge emphasis on preventative medicine here. After the age of 40, women go for a mammography every year, and every citizen is entitled to a full health checkup every 5 years, to nip problems in the bud before they start. French women all have a gynecologist, separate from their GP, and annual cervical smears etc, are considered normal. One way or another, I see a medical professional for checkups three times a year, even when nothing's wrong with me.

Perhaps it's time that UK health service focused on preventing sickness rather than treating it. And on teaching patients the value of a balanced diet and a modicum of exercise. And perhaps it's time the Government banned junk food advertising on television altogther, not just before the watershed. And required schools to reintroduce games as part of the curriculum. Annd home economics, so that people know a protein from a polysaccharide. 

Not that there's a snowball's chance in hell of that, of course.

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Style icons - Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn's dancer's style is a look with a lasting influence

Audrey Hepburn three agesShe was certainly one of my icons.

Audrey Hepburn was born Audrey van Heemstra Ruston in Belgium in 1929 to an English father and a Dutch mother who was a former Baroness. Her father later appended the family name Hepburn to his name Ruston and the family became known as the Hepburn-Rustons.

Hepburn went to school in Belgium, Holland and England, and, after her father walked out on the family, from 1939 attended the Arnhem conservatory in Holland, where she studied ballet until the outbreak of war. Like most European families, the Hepburns suffered a great deal during the conflict, and Hepburn herself had malnutrition, respiratory problems and oedema during these years.

Audrey Hepburn After the war, she resumed her dance training but her height of 5ft 7 told against her and her constitution remained weak from the malnutrition. So she turned instead to acting, which paid better money than ballet - important when she was the family's chief breadwinner - and started small in educational films and bit parts. She was lucky enough to be spotted fairly early on, scoring a hit on stage in Gigi, and made her major motion picture debut in Roman Holiday in 1952, which made her a star.

Her debut as a style icon began shortly afterwards, when she made the film Sabrina with Humphrey Bogart and the film studio sent her to fashion designer Hubert Givenchy to create a wardrobe.

Givenchy would later recall that Hepburn "knew exactly what she wanted. She knew perfectly her visage and her body, their fine points and their faults". This is typical of dancers, who are trained to regard their bodies with a critical and objective eye.

Until the end of her life, Givenchy's clothes would be part of Hepburn's signature look. She wore them both onscreen and off, and the two of them became firm friends in private life. He once said that he had never had to alter her 110-pound mannequin in all the years he designed for her - her stick-thin figure never changed one iota, although she bore two children.

Hepburn was a style groundbreaker principally because she looked like herself and that made her a new type of beauty. She kept her hair short and dark in an age where blonde was more fashionable. She was flat-chested when the current trend was voluptuous (Monroe and Mansfield were the celebrated stars of the era, along with Loren and Lollabrigida). She celebrated her dancer's frame with black capri pants and turtleneck sweaters that showed every inch of her svelte figure. She outlined her dark eyes with even darker eyeliner to create an innocent, doe-eyed look that was totally new.

Audrey Hepburn in Always Hepburn changed her fashion sense very little during her lifetime. Her astounding youthful beauty morphed into a mature elegance and at the age of 59, when she appeared in the film Always, she was still sporting her signature clean, neat style (but in white rather than black, as she was playing an angel). She still looked very much the dancer - hair scraped back, a small head on a trim body. The style influences she has left are manifold. Capri pants, ballet flats, full skirts, the little black dress, short strings of pearls, button-down mens' shirts, big hats and even bigger sunglasses are all Hepburn trademarks that remain in fashion today. So are cinched waists, trenchcoats and short scarves worn at the neck. Her classic elegance can be copied whatever your age and whatever your budget - all you need is class (though a rail-thin figure doesn't hurt). Keep it neat and clean and simple and you can't go far wrong. 

Hepburn withdrew from films in 1967 in order to raise her family and thereafter worked only sporadically in cinema, preferring to follow more substantial pursuits. She became a Unicef goodwill ambassador and was tireless in helping refugee children as she herself had been helped at the end of the Second World War. But perhaps, in the end, it was the war that finally conquered her, and in 1993 she died of bowel cancer aged only 63.

Four things you can do right now to help your health

Here are four simple things you can do that don’t cost the earth and can improve your health dramatically

Jali neti, oil pulling, drinking more water and shutting your mouth are four things that everyone can do without much effort, yet which result in an immediate and surprisingly effective boost for your health and wellbeing.

 

Plumping up your G-spot

Is having all-day orgasms really what women want?

Although it's apparently been available in the US for some years now, in the UK a woman named Caroline Cushworth recently became the first British woman to have the 'orgasm jab', also known as the G-shot.

If 60 is the new 40, that makes me 25

No wonder baby boomers are still trying to stay on top of fashion and beauty - remember what previous generations looked like?

My big sis turns 60 today. And how the hell did that happen, she wonders?

Ammunition for the unbeliever

There are millions of atheists, but when we come under attack, we often can't justify our viewpoint - what we need is ammunition

I was raised in a very religious household, with many hours of Sunday dedicated to praising Him in whichever denomination my mother favoured at the moment, but there was something about it that my intelligence couldn't quite accept.

Second marriages

Women over 40 are increasingly marrying again, but getting married in mid-life throws up different issues from marrying when you're younger. Not to mention the difficulty of finding that perfect dress...

Brigit Sapstead is having her wedding at Easter and it will be a time of great joy and celebration, but she's found that things are more complicated the second time around.

Second-hand rose

A very great deal of my clothing has belonged to someone else first.

Some people never see the point in buying stuff second-hand, but I love it.

The love of roses

I ordered my roses the other day, and it suddenly feels like spring is on its way

They won't actually arrive for ages, of course. They're bare-root jobs from David Austin in the UK, and they won't come until March or April. But in a bitter February, with frost on the ground every morning, a girl can still dream.

Oprah makeovers

http://www.oprah.com/beauty/bestof/20070205/beauty_20070205_284x426_203.jhtml

Sisters are doing it for themselves

Gay couple take the state of Colorado to court for their right to marry

A lesbian couple from Englewood, near Denver are seeking to overturn the state of Colorado's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Stay away from the knife

Cosmetic surgery gives me the creeps, and here's why

Let me say straight away that I am not against plastic surgery per se. Surgery that restores a face or body to normalcy after a tumour, or a car crash, or severe burns. Though I wish we were more accepting of deformity and disfigurement in our culture, we are what we are, and I am not against the kind of surgery that enables a sufferer to live a reasonably normal life.