AS SHE APPROACHES A MILESTONE BIRTHDAY, TRACEY SPICER IS FEELING FREER THAN EVER – AND IS DETERMINED TO CELEBRATE A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO AGE DISGRACEFULLY
As she approaches her 50th birthday, Tracey Spicer is ditching the diets and picking up a guitar.
“i tell my kids I´m turning 50 so i´ll do what i bloody want”
For the first time in years, Tracey Spicer is eating desserts. Not just fruit or sorbet but the whole calorific caboodle – chocolate fondant, melting moments, vanilla slice. Even her friends have noticed, pointing out how often she used to abstain.
“I’m revelling in it,” Spicer tells Stellar with a laugh. “After years of restricting pleasure for the sake of maintaining the perfect TV size 10, I’ve allowed myself to put on weight. I’ve gained five kilos and some of my outfits don’t fit. But I don’t give a sh*t. I’m not even thinking, ‘Oh gosh, when am I going to lose that weight I deliberately put on?’”
On the eve of her 50th birthday, Spicer is head of a masterclass in ageing disgracefully. She’s unshackling herself from societal expectations, letting her hair go grey, swearing like a trooper and hoisting two fingers at the notion that a successful woman runs round like a lunatic juggling work and family and telling anyone who’ll listen that she’s very, very busy.
Indeed, in spite of her prodigious output – writing, TV presenting, mentoring, teaching and event hosting – Spicer emits an almost Zen-like calm as she sits at her dining table sipping from a bucket of tea. It’s mid-afternoon, her kids are about to return from school and there are piles of stuff on the stairs to put away. But she has just spent half an hour reading a book. In the bath.
IF 50 IS the age that divides two key life stages, it’s also the milestone that divides women into two key categories: refusers and accepters. The refusers employ an arsenal of age-fighting weapons: surgery, exercise, dieting and never leaving the house without their “face” on. The accepters welcome ageing as an opportunity to down tools and stop worrying about how they look.
Spicer is distinctly the latter. And after years of spending 90 minutes a day in hair and make-up becoming “camera ready”, the mother of two has largely stopped bothering except for special occasions. “I’m totally reconciled to middle age and think it’s a shame that society forces us to catastrophise about it,” she tells Stellar. “I don’t give a sh*t anymore about what people think about me. I could exercise the house down and buy clothes that suck it all in, but it’s an expensive, time-consuming and soul-destroying battle.”
Ever the journalist, Spicer has taken an investigative approach to the milestone. Having lost her beloved mother to pancreatic cancer 18 years ago, she’s sought the advice of older friends about ageing. “I’ve been doing a lot of research and speaking to women like Jane Caro and Wendy Harmer who feel fantastic about this stage of their lives. We don’t read enough stories about how wonderful it is to gain your confidence and feel comfortable about your power on this earth when you reach [the] halfway [point].”
The title of Spicer’s “femoir” The Good Girl Stripped Bare (published by Harpercollins and on sale now) was adapted from her 2014 TEDX Talk in which she deconstructed the beauty myth by detailing her extensive daily routine. While onstage, Spicer removed her make-up and constricting dress in front of a live audience.
Her approach to middle age is not so much “letting herself go” as “letting herself be”. First it was her weight. “I was always balancing the scales,” she says. “It’s such a relief giving up the mental arithmetic we do when we calculate whether we’ve done enough exercise to eat something.”
Then as her hair went grey, she decided not to dye it. “Grey doesn’t make you a witch or a crone or a harridan. I suspect I was going grey in my 20s but didn’t know it because I’ve always dyed my hair. Now I wish it could all be grey.”
Spicer is also an exponent of the judiciously delivered expletive. “It’s got tremendous shock value. It breaks the stereotype of the demure older woman having a cup of tea. When I see Helen Mirren swearing like a sailor and looking like the Queen I think it’s fantastic.”
So what do her kids, son Taj, 12, and daughter Grace, 10, think of Mum’s potty-mouth? “They pick me up on it,” she laughs. “But I tell them I’m turning 50 so I’ll do what I bloody well want.”
This same fearless, free-thinking attitude is what compelled Spicer to take Network Ten to court for discrimination after they sacked her via email in 2006 after Grace was born. She settled out of court, but was not about to take the money and slope away. For Spicer, it was never about her – but about all women.
She was warned she’d be branded a troublemaker and find it difficult to get work. Instead, the opposite happened. A decade later her career is thriving, her stance has changed workplace
culture – particularly in the media – and she continues to advocate for others. She’s regularly sought out by everyone from newly minted interns to some of the biggest names in the media to consult on workplace issues. While saddened that many still experience sexual harassment in the workplace, Spicer says she remains encouraged that women are becoming more assertive about pay and promotion.
It’s clear Spicer stays deeply anchored in her values. Raised in Queensland by hardworking and progressive parents, her memoir is like Puberty Blues meets Paper Giants. Which means it is begging to be made into a TV series. And it could happen – Spicer quietly reveals she’s been speaking to producers, but shrugs: “Who knows if it’ll come off or not.”
She wrote her book to help others. “I wanted it to be read by a 16-year-old girl who lives in the outer suburbs who might not have heard about feminism. She may want to work in journalism but doesn’t think it’s possible. That was me until I saw Jana Wendt on TV.”
SPICER WANTS TO keep breaking ground, but in new ways. Behind the action, agitation and altruism, there’s recognition that women need to rest; that in having it all and being it all they are in danger of wearing themselves out.
She reveals she has gone through menopause, a process that prompted stress, a “terrible temper” and low tolerance to loud noise. “I realised I wasn’t enjoying life and had to handle the stress better. Instead of driving in heavy traffic I’d take the bus or ferry and enjoy reading on the way.”
She has embraced “slow” activities such as gardening, bushwalking and yoga, exercising as much to slow her “monkey mind” as to maintain good health. She also rallies against perfectionism, determined to model for her daughter a more balanced approach.
“An older male friend said to me, ‘Trace, you’re not in competition with anybody else.’ All my life I had been sucked in by ambition, perfectionism and measuring myself against others. It’s only in the last couple of years I’ve set my own goals instead of looking over my shoulder and thinking I should be doing what someone else is doing.”
So to celebrate her 50th, Spicer will take a month off to travel around Europe with her husband, cameraman Jason Thompson, and their kids. If, as Sheryl Sandberg suggests, the best career decision a woman makes is whom she marries, then Spicer has been smart. As her book chronicles, Thompson drove their kids to her workplace so she could breastfeed them, unconditionally supported her as she fought her firing, and does all the cleaning and housework. (Spicer takes care of the cooking.)
“It’s a shame that a man doing half the caring and half the housework has to be lauded and praised because it’s so unusual,” she reckons, “but I do want to acknowledge him because he juggles more than I do. We’re equal partners who know when the other needs a bit of help.”
When Taj recently suggested he’d get through life by having his sister cook for him, she and Thompson stepped in with a solution. Now, each child is expected to cook once a week, with Taj turning out a mean corned beef and mash while Grace attempts three-course meals. “Note the creeping perfectionism?” Spicer sighs.
As for her “good girl” image, Spicer is quietly reinventing herself as a rock chick. Well, maybe not quietly. Shedding TV’S requisite helmet hair and stiff jackets, she’s taken up playing the electric guitar, bashing out numbers by AC/DC and the Red Hot Chili Peppers for her teacher. “I always put on one of my rocker T-shirts,” she laughs.
She’s also enjoying singing lessons with a friend. “Instead of eating or drinking we decided to do something that doesn’t involve a bottle of wine.”
As for the songs they belt out? Spicer laughingly reveals, “Oh, all the women’s anthems: “I Am Woman”, “You Don’t Own Me” and “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves”.”
“grey hair doesn´t make you a witch”
TRACEY WEARS Reiss blazer, reiss.com; Michael Lo Sordo dress, michaellosordo.com; Steve Madden shoes (worn throughout), stevemadden.com; her own earrings and wedding ring (worn throughout)