I’ve reached the point where I now accept that the camera isn’t that keen on, and indeed may even be hostile to, my face.
Recently, you may have noticed my photograph on this page. This is because Al, Sunday’s illustrator, has been away, and couldn’t file his usual cartoons. Somehow, I must make it a rule that he never takes leave again.
“You’re in the magazine!” Maddy announced the first time my picture appeared. She gazed at it and said: “This is bad, bad, bad.” She’s only 6, but I’m not kidding when I tell you what she said next, which was: “You look like you were raised by wolves.” Then she laughed in the way all little kids do, as if they’re gargling with sunshine.
“I look like Simba from The Lion King,” I told my husband. My hair was a mane; I could easily have just torn apart a gazelle sandwich.
My friend Andie was soothing about it, saying: “It’s not the smile you’d normally use,” which is an empathetic way of agreeing that a particular photo isn’t especially flattering. It’s the kind of thing I’d say, because in these Instagrammable times, an unattractive photo should be a relic of the past, like a teapot trivet on a fireplace.
Luckily, I approve of this photograph because it confirms what I know about myself. I’ve reached the point where I now accept that the camera isn’t that keen on, and indeed may even be hostile to, my face.
There’s no photographer on Earth who could take a picture absolutely true to my likeness; there’ll always be someone who’d look at it and say: “This isn’t the you
that I know.” I have one of those faces, I guess: never one thing, nor another. Not unknowable, exactly: just unframeable. This acceptance is wonderful, like releasing the top button of tight jeans. I find my 40s like this, actually – a loosening of expectations and a rearranging of hopes that feels almost pleasurable, like a reward for long service.
That’s not to say I still can’t be surprised by life, or photographs. I certainly haven’t seen it all: last week, in fact, I learned something about my deep, inner self that I hadn’t known before, and something that I’ll always carry with me from now on, and it was all because of a photograph.
It started, as things often do, with a smear test. I know, you’re supposed to go every three years and for me, it had been closer to five (if you’ve given birth conventionally, you get petulant about smear tests; you think, hasn’t my undercarriage been through enough?). So I dragged myself there, set my jaw and prepared to endure it.
Actually, it was almost jolly. My nurse was chatty, brisk and fantastic; I could have talked to her all day. Luckily for me she extended the appointment by remarking: “By the way, have you ever seen a cervix? Would you like to see one?”
I’m telling you, questions like this don’t just happen every day. You won’t want to say yes when you get asked something like this (“Have you ever seen a fly-blown sheep? Would you like to see one?”), but you’ll hear yourself answer in the affirmative. This is because you’re magnetised by what might be repulsive, and explains why so many colonoscopy patients, when invited to watch their own back-end exam on a monitor, do.
A curtain was dividing us at the time and I wasn’t sure what I’d see when I pulled it to the side. One of those weird plaster cross sections of a female pelvis, probably. I could have used the anatomy lesson because I never was that hot on understanding biology, or microbiology: I once asked if I needed shots before going to Sydney.
But, lo! She sat at a computer and looked up what I like to think of as Hospital Google – not so much the dark internet as the brightly lit, clinical kind – and scrolled through medical images until she found a cervix.
And there it was, glistening, round and squishy. It looked exactly like a glazed pink doughnut.
“See, this is the part that expands for delivery,” she explained. “People know from movies that the cervix dilates, but don’t realise this is what they’re talking about.”
I blinked in wonder. I had no idea that the miracle of birth looked quite so much like baked goods, as if each one of us had sprung into life, naked, out of a cake.
I realised all of us cleave to the O shape when we’re most vulnerable (hugging a toilet bowl, spooning in bed) and this was why. We were all going back to this, this perfect round, the cervix: the welcome mat of our existence. Nants ingonyama bagithi, Baba! (Here comes a lion, Father!) It’s the circle, the circle of life!
After that I dead-headed the hydrangeas. It really was quite the morning.
“I look like Simba from The Lion King,” I told my husband. My hair was a mane; I could have torn apart a gazelle sandwich.