Features - Life & Lifestyle

Age and the mirror

A good haircut does wonders at any age - I only wish I had the face to go with it...

I had one of those uncomfortable epiphanies recently. In dire need of a haircut, as my long bob had grown out, I hightailed it to my hairdresser Tania and asked for something more radical. She obliged and I now have a gorgeous short bob with a wispy fringe and two big wings that cut across where my jawline would be, if I had one, almost identical to the bob I wore throughout my 20s.

It looks fantastic and I am gathering compliments (and apparently this cut is becoming known locally as 'A Trish'). The only problem is, my hair looks a hell of a lot better than I do.

Welcome to the late 40s.

I have never much liked my looks and quite how little came home to me one day many years ago - about 20 in fact - when a caricature was drawn of me. I was at a PR bash, with about 80 people in the room, and the caricaturist chose me as the second subject. His first was a skinny red-head with Crystal Tips frizzy hair and massive glasses, and it suddenly hit home to me - I was obviously the second-most ridiculous-looking person in the room.

I managed a weak smile when the artwork was presented to me, but I asked my (then) boyfriend (now husband) to put it away and I never looked at it again except by accident. I would never destroy it - after all, it's the fruit of someone's labour and talent - but it was then, and is now, terribly depressing to look at the bug eyes and miniscule chin and think: is this really what I look like?

A caricature is an exaggeration, of course, but there is more than a nugget of truth in there. And with age, I look increasingly like the incipient Spitting Image that the artist spotted all those years ago - the rosebud mouth, the eyebags, the slightly mad stare that I recognise from my mother.

Back then, I looked like Edina from The Incredibles with my black bob (I rather think, actually, that she was modelled on Edith Head). Now, the bob is slightly choppier and, of course, blonde, but the facial features are more exaggerated and where, five years ago I could see myself in the mirror and flash back to that younger self, when I see myself now, I can flash forward to how I will look in old age. It is not a pretty sight.

Oh la. What can one do? As my skin's relationship with my bones becomes increasingly distant, and wrinkles suddenly appear where there were none before (like wrists, elbows and ankles, good grief), my devotion to yoga and meditation become more necessary than ever.

And vanity-wise, my search for a decent lip pencil to draw back in a fake lipline becomes more urgent, along with finding a becoming shade of lipstick - perhaps something that matches my thread veins?

The search continues…

What does feminism mean?

Annie Lennox hosted a debate on the meaning of the word.

There's an interesting article here that I've been meaning to link to since International Women's Day - a discussion on feminism.

It's galling to see, really, how far and how not-far we've come in 100 years. Young women's seeming obsession with WAGishness - who seem to me to be a bunch of airhead, false-titted doormats for the most part who are willing to put up with the most appalling behaviour from men, including rape and beatings, in exchange for cash - is possibly the most depressing, along with the patriarchally browbeaten silly tart who happily says: "I'm not a feminist, but...."

Not a feminist? Then don't have the vote. Don't have the right to custody of your own children. Don't have the right to contraception, the right to work, the right to keep your own earnings from your own labour, the right to not be bought and sold or killed by your brothers, husbands and fathers. The right to be treated like a human being and not an animal has been hard fought for by feminists throughout history, and anyone who isn't grateful to them is a fool. And above all, we should be grateful to live in the West, where a woman's life is not, as ours was just 100 years ago, ruled entirely by biology, and where education and opportunity create a life worth living. 

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Romance is bunk

Diane Warren may not be a name you're familiar with, but you certainly know her songs

There's a great article here on a successful songwriter (you probably don't recognise her name - I certainly didn't) that made me laugh out loud.

Famous for her teary ballads, she herself has no time for the idea of a relationship and thinks the whole idea of romantic love is bunk. Earning $20 million a year in royalties alone, she describes herself as thriving on squalor and as a real East-Coast New York Jew who's not nice enough for LA.

'She has never felt the need to be close to another human being? "If I do feel the need, it passes - thank God. Why do I want to wake up with someone and talk to them? Yeuch. It's like when I wrote for Aerosmith, 'I could stay awake just to hear you breathing ... '" She makes a disgusted face. "If someone was listening to me breathing all night, I'd throw them out the window. Preferably a high-rise...'

Worth a read for the cynics among us.

Family snapshots

I found a family photo recently, and it reminded me of why I don't look at them.

I found a family snapshot the other day, when we were swapping our office and our bedroom around.

It's a nice picture, but it made me remember why I don't keep family photographs on display, because it made me feel unutterably depressed.

I suppose it's different if you come from a happy, well-adjusted family, but I don't. In fact, even this picture's survival was a bone of contention. My mother, some years, ago, binned all the family pictures without telling us, and my sister rescued a few boxes of slides out of the rubbish and sent them to me. My husband scanned this one and printed it out for me, and I'd forgotten all about it since.

It's a bit out of focus, but is of us all on the beach, and I'm guessing it dates from about 1972, which would make me nine years old. Because I'm small and skinny, though, I look a lot younger. I'm sprawling in my father's lap in the sand, unaware of all the family tensions around me.

1972 would make my parents in this photo 45 years old, the same age I am now, which is something of a shock.

Dad looks happy and fit and well, in his army swimming shorts and his clip-on sunglasses. He was a miner and did hard physical labour all his life, and you can see he's well-muscled with no fat on him. And yet, 16 years from this picture, he would be dead - struck down by a massive coronary at only 61. Afterwards, the family would split apart and never fully recover. 

My mother also looks pretty happy, but you can't tell she has a bad back in this picture. It would be the bane of her existence, and the painkillers would distance her from her family. She's wearing a swimming costume, which is strange, because I don't remember her doing that at this age. When I was four, she stopped going in the water, saying it was bad for her insides. Actually, she may have had a point. We took our holidays on the east coast and bathing in the North Sea requires the constitution of an ox.  

Next to her is my eldest brother, aged maybe 22. He left home when I was three and never came back much, so we were virtual strangers until my father's death in 1987. Our relationship was never strong and since my mother's death last year, when we disagreed about most things, he has severed all ties. His wife - at this point still his girlfriend - is probably behind the camera, taking the picture. 

The last person in the photo is my middle brother at far left, who in this shot must be about 15. He's giving my mother a 'dead leg' - one of his favourite occupations: he was always tickling her and making her squeal. The most naturally affectionate of us all, a year after this picture was taken, he would leave home at the age of 16, then ask to come back and my parents would refuse. They would leave his things in the garden, and I'd rejoice because I was so sick of him bullying me on a daily basis. We haven't seen each other in 20 years. 

Only later would I realise how unusual my family was, because when you grow up in a dysfunctional family, weird behaviour is quite normal. My eldest brother left at 15, and my sister at 17 - my parents keen to 'get them off our hands'. I would hang on a bit longer, until I was 18, but when I left, like the others, I scarcely went back again. My mother had a breakdown after I left, and my father had to give up night work to keep her company, which was no fun for either of them. Grindingly unhappy for decades, they were not of the class or educational background to even consider divorce. 

There is one other person not in this photo - my sister, the eldest of us and already, at 25, a mother of two children aged five and six.

She and I, at least, these 36 years later, are still speaking - as far as I know, the only two people in the family who are. Maybe it is because of our characters (though I don't think so) or maybe it's because, despite our differences, we are women and therefore try that much harder to maintain a relationship.

Psychologists tell you not to hang on to residue from failed relationships, and for most people that means romance. But for me it means family, and there's no point in crying over spilt milk. So no, I don't keep out family photographs. I have boxes of them tucked away, of course, labelled for other people to make use of in the future, but I confine myself to those from the 1950s and earlier, before I was born, and where I can regard them with disinterest.


Top tips for a successful relationship

Most of us are in relationships - here are some basics on making things work

1 Like yourself

If you don't like yourself, you won't believe that others do either. In other words, everyone requires self-esteem to be in a successful relationship.

Having self-esteem is easy for people who were brought up by loving, balanced parents, but it can be harder for others. If your family background or subsequent experience has left you lacking confidence, it is well worth getting professional counselling so that you can understand how this has affected you and may be, in turn, affecting your relationships.

Having self-esteem means not leaning too hard on your partner and relying too much on them for reassurance - the stronger you are as an individual, the stronger and more equal your relationship will be.

2 Like your partner

Love - and being in love - comes and goes, but if you really like your partner then you've got a sound basis for a relationship. Friendship is the key to a successful partnership - you need to enjoy being together, agree (by and large) with how each other thinks and behaves, and share roughly the same goals. If you don't, your differences will pull you apart, no matter how much you love each other.

3 Be nice

Let your partner know that you like and love them. Be encouraging and supportive - and complimentary when you can. That will increase their trust and respect for you, and also boost their self-esteem, which makes people easier to live with. With any luck, they'll come right back at you, but if they don't, take it on the chin - loving someone only exactly as much as they love you back only leads to less love overall.

4 Be grateful

Gratitude, according to studies by psychologist Martin Seligman and others, is the absolute KEY to being happy. Grateful people are happy people - their glass is always half full. When it comes to relationships, count your blessings, and be grateful you've found someone in life that you're even half-way compatible with.

5 Make time for one another

In a busy life, especially if you work and have children, spending time alone together can slip down your list of priorities, but the amount of time we give to things is a measure of how important we think they are. Making time for each other is an investment in your future happiness, even if it means sacrificing other things, such as time off with the girls. For many couples, setting aside one night a week is plenty - make this an evening where you go out (if you can) or eat a nice meal together (if you're stuck at home). And don't talk about the kids - this is about the two of you as people, not as parents.

6 Communicate

Good communication is essential in a healthy relationship - telling your partner honestly and openly how you feel about things, and listening in return. It is the only way to really get to know one another. Don't assume you know how your partner is feeling about something - ask. And don't assume he knows how you're feeling - tell him. Men are notoriously rubbish at empathy, compared with women - don't expect him to read your mind.

7 Argue

Arguments are a normal part of a relationship and arguing well means not worrying about it. You don't have to always agree with one another - having differences is to be expected , as you are not clones of one another. Arguing is really just way of flexing your individual personalities.

But arguing well means setting certain boundaries, such as: don't get physical, don't stomp out and slam the door, and don't burst into tears at the first harsh word - that's passive-aggressive behaviour. Show respect for your partner, even during a slanging match.

8 Touch

Human beings die without touch - it's absolutely critical to our happiness. Being caressed also lowers blood pressure and releases oxytocin - the bonding chemical that helps people stay together.

Sexual desire comes and goes but our need for physical affection remains the same, so whether your sex life is red hot or moribund, make the time to hug, stroke and cuddle every day.

9 Roll with the punches

Everyone and everything changes over a period of time, and that is something you have to learn to deal with. Sometimes change is good, and then it's easy, but sometimes life changes in ways we don't want - we lose a job or become sick or make a move that was a mistake, and that's when we need to learn to adjust.

In successful relationships, couples face challenges like this together, not separately. They accept that change is an inevitable part of human life and support each other, for better for worse.

10 Accept that you can't solve everything

You cannot solve every problem in a partnership. Some things are not solvable - one partner's disability that places a burden on the other partner; one partner's hopeless inability to handle money; differing levels of sociability that leave you wanting to go out while your other half wants to stay at home. Realising that there are some things that you can't change is key to being an adult, never mind being in successful relationship.

Find meaning in your life

Your life is full of potential meaning - but how do you find it? Here are ten top tips to find happiness

I believe that our lives are what we make of them - but that finding the right path can sometimes be difficult. Try these ten tips to help you focus on how to be happy.