LADY GREY

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

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy JUSTIN LLOYD Words AN­GELA MOLLARD

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)

STRIPPED BARE Tracey Spicer dur­ing her famed TEDX talk; (left) with her fam­ily; (be­low) on her last day at Net­work Ten.

TRACEY WEARS Ginger & Smart top and skirt, gin­gerands­mart.com HAIR Richard Ka­vanagh us­ing Red­ken MAKE-UP Sa­man­tha P us­ing Ella Baché

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