It’s the moment all women dread. Four writers reveal when it hit them
Former model Jilly Johnson, 60, lives in Hertfordshire with her husband Ashley. She says:
I’ll never forget it. I was crossing the road to enter Selfridges department store in London when I caught a glimpse of a tubby woman reflected in the shop’s huge windows. When her strides started to mirror mine, it hit me: she was me.
I was completely taken aback, and as people rushed past me, I stood stock-still in the middle of the road staring at my reflection. I didn’t look willowy and light, as I’d always been. On that day, aged 42, I looked dumpy and middle-aged.
I was only 15 when I first hit the modelling scene, and I soon realised that although I didn’t have perfect features, with the right poses, in the right light and by drawing attention to my best bits, I could stop traffic.
I had a svelte figure and long legs, so swimwear, hosiery and glamour modelling were my forte and I was very successful.
Still, it was a massive shock when I realised I was no longer lean, lithe and youthful — at least, in comparison to the way I’d been. I convinced myself that it must be a bad angle, but in reality, it was the start of a difficult process of coming to terms with ageing throughout my 40s and 50s.
I was battling all the time, trying to turn back the clock with the odd jab of Botox and expensive beauty products.
Perhaps the nadir was a few years ago, when I hailed a taxi and the cabbie asked me: ‘Didn’t you used to be that Jilly Johnson?’
‘Yes, I think I did,’ I replied. It was a stark reminder that I bore only a passing resemblance to the glamorous woman I had been in the Seventies.
Thankfully, I’d already learned to have a sense of humour about ageing by that point. Now, I don’t bother with expensive brands and treatments; I just try to throw my shoulders back, suck everything in and walk with confidence.
Journalist and author Helena Frith Powell, 48, lives in France and Abu Dhabi. She says:
It was ten years ago, almost to the day. I was 38 and driving into our local village in France when I caught sight of myself in my rear view mirror. There was a criss-cross of wrinkles across my forehead and around my eyes.
In between my eyebrows there was a great big dip, which made me look permanently angry. My hair was streaked with grey. I felt that sort of pit-of-the-stomach horror you have when something hideous happens, like when you suddenly realise your handbag has been stolen. But what had been stolen were my looks.
Of course, it hadn’t happened overnight, but I had been so busy raising five small children (two step-children and three of my own) that I hadn’t focused on myself for some time.
At the time, my smallest one was four and so at school in the mornings. I finally had time to look in the mirror. I tried to reason that the light was harsh, but there was no getting away from the fact that for the first time in my life I looked old.
In my teens, I worked as a model, and I’d always been happy with my appearance. It was natural, then, for me to try to find a remedy when it started to change. I wrote a book about it, which involved trying every anti-ageing technique I could find, from laughter yoga to Botox and face creams. Botox did help, as did hair dye, and I also learned a lot about the importance of diet and exercise.
Ten years on I still have the odd shock. Just the other day, a friend and I were discussing a man she knows who, at the age of 44, has just married a 22-year-old.
Rather depressingly it dawned on me that, given the choice, men of my generation probably don’t want anything to do with women my age. But, at the same time, I am a little more sanguine about the process.
My daughters are growing up into beautiful young women. My mother is 72 and still having fun. I am also beginning to realise that ageing is all about attitude. Of course, you have to look after yourself, but my hope is that if I don’t behave like an old person, I won’t look like one.
GMTV presenter Kate Garraway, 46, lives in London with her husband and two children. She says:
I was referring to the visible pores, which were such a contrast to my own alabaster-smooth skin. My mum looked mortified, while my grandma laughed and said: ‘They’re nothing — look at mine!’ Now I have my own two children, I’ve continued the tradition of going to Cornwall.
Last spring’s trip was particularly poignant, because my grandma had died shortly before we went, leaving my mum and I very aware that we had moved up a generation. And, sure enough, on the journey down, my seven-year-old daughter Darcey underlined the point by telling me: ‘Your hands are like net.’
I looked at them and saw the same pores and lines I’d once seen on my mother’s hands. Then I looked at my reflection in the rearview mirror and thought: ‘It’s happened.’
In that moment, I realised that however much I try to halt the ageing process with creams and potions, diet and exercise regimes, it will defy me and happen anyway. It’s happening now. And there’s nothing I can do about it.
But being happily married and having children has taken away a lot of the insecurities women have when they’re young, when we endlessly analyse our looks, worrying about every split end in our hair, because we want the people we fancy to fancy us back.
If it means being settled and content, getting older can be a relief.
Writer Claudia Connell is 47 and lives in London. She says:
Standing bleary-eyed in my bathroom I stared at my face in the mirror and wondered how on earth I’d woken up with a line of black Biro running the length of my forehead.
I rubbed at it with a flannel, but it didn’t budge. It was only when I examined it up close that I realised that it wasn’t ink, but a wrinkle. And not any old wrinkle — a huge, deep Grand Canyon of one. I couldn’t believe that I’d never noticed it before.
I was 34 and it was shortly after that I began to notice other signs of ageing: the fine lines around my eyes, the vertical lines on my décolletage and how I could no longer keep pace with the younger women at my aerobics classes.
Throughout my teens and 20s, I had always looked years younger than I was. But, as I hit my mid-30s, all that stopped. Mother Nature took the brakes off and, seemingly overnight, I turned from bright-eyed, dewy-skinned nymph into red-eyed, flaky-skinned hag.
For the first time in my life I had a fringe cut in my hair to cover my wrinkly forehead and started buying moisturisers for ‘mature’ skin. Aged 36, I succumbed to Botox. I didn’t care that it was expensive and that it was a poisonous toxin. It worked and wiped out my facial lines like a magic eraser. I still have it today.
It was also in my mid 30s that I realised I could no longer go braless. I used to like not wearing one under strapless tops, but things were starting to sag and my once-perky boobs looked like a couple of balloons — a week after the party.
Then, when I hit my 40s, the weight started to pile on, resulting in a battle I am still fighting today.
Now 47, I am reminded of my advancing years from the moment I wake up, when my knees creak as I get out of bed, when I squint to see the number on a bus and when I never leave home without a packet of Rennies, cardigan and hand cream. Some people may come to terms with ageing — I never will.