‘I’m even fond of my baggy el­bows’ Au­thor Mimi Spencer on why her midlife body is so lib­er­at­ing

Au­thor Mimi Spencer on why her midlife body is so lib­er­at­ing

Woman & Home (South Africa) - - Editor’s Letter - w&h

“That,” says my teenage daugh­ter, pulling gently at the baggy skin of my el­bow, “is your we­nis!” “My what?”

“Your we­nis, Mom. It’s not an anatom­i­cal term ex­actly. More a slang word for that bit you’ve got right there.”

I google it. She’s right! With­out no­tice, I’ve gone baggy at the we­nis. I was ab­so­lutely ex­pect­ing Muf­fin and Bingo, those twin blights of life that de­scend on the waist and up­per arms in mid­dle age (but, th­ese days, part of me thinks they sound more like a nice day out). But it turns out there’s more, so much more: as your fifti­eth year ap­proaches, count­less changes – sub­tle, un­de­ni­able – creep up on you, like ivy grow­ing over a win­dow.

Not that I’m com­plain­ing. There’s a lot to be grate­ful for in life’s mid­zone: a sense of the ‘set­tled self’, a confidence borne of the years, a re­al­i­sa­tion that there’s no need what­so­ever to wear a miniskirt ever again. But, still, there are struc­tural changes that re­quire at­ten­tion, a bit like a house that gets to a cer­tain point and then re­ally needs a lick of paint and the draughty win­dows seen to. It’s all a ques­tion of main­te­nance.

Most of the midlife shift is, of course, a brute func­tion of grav­ity. Once you’ve been knock­ing around for five decades, the sheer weight of the world causes ev­ery­thing to head in­ex­orably south. A de­cent bra – not a flimsy fairy af­fair, but a proper one with up­lift and (crit­i­cal, this) comfy straps is a mat­ter of ne­ces­sity, not choice. Per­son­ally, I’ve no­ticed the Midlife Drop mostly around the jowls. Mine are sud­denly ob­vi­ous in a cer­tain light; soft and pil­lowy, al­most downy, like a puppy’s tummy. I re­mem­ber my grand­mother’s jowls, which wag­gled about in a very friendly, Beatrix Pot­ter kind of way when she was of­fer­ing me hot cross buns. Now that I have jowls of my own, I’m not quite so keen.

While there are tons of mid­dle-aged body changes we dis­cuss at length – the thick­en­ing of the tum, the grey­ing hair, the novel af­fec­tion for a cap-sleeved top – there are some that sub­sist un­der the radar, to be dwelt upon in the pri­vacy of one’s own bath­room, glued to the mag­ni­fy­ing mir­ror, armed with a pair of tweez­ers and a grim sense of pur­pose.

I, for in­stance, am cap­ti­vated by my eye­lids. How crêpey! How fas­ci­nat­ing! How am I sup­posed to wear eye­shadow ever again? Th­ese days, I do my makeup quickly in a dimly lit room (it helps that my near vi­sion is slightly more blurry now that I’m 50). As that same grandma told me at the age of 15, “What you can’t see can’t hurt you, dar­ling” – so true!

The other word that emerges as the years roll by is ‘Ooof’; a noise you start to make get­ting out of a seat or bed. It ar­rives unan­nounced and set­tles in the air like a burp. At 50, the me­chan­ics of your body be­gin to in­sin­u­ate them­selves on pro­ceed­ings. Fin­ger­tips are colder, teeth wonkier, hands newly in­ter­est­ing, like a map of the Ok­la­homa Dust Bowl.

But, in all of this, like many women, I feel great af­fec­tion for my midlife body. It’s mine, and I’ve known it for a long while now – in the same way as you’d pre­fer to sit on a favourite couch, not on a new one in a swanky show­room.

There’s some­thing mag­nif­i­cent about not giv­ing two hoots if your bum looks big in jeans; some­thing truly lib­er­at­ing about no longer be­ing be­dev­illed by the loom­ing prospect of a bikini. At a cer­tain age, none of that seems to mat­ter much any more. And, yes, I’m even start­ing to love those baggy el­bows of mine. Mimi and Sam Rice’s book The Midlife

Kitchen (Oc­to­pus), is out now.

‘I feel so much more con­fi­dent now’

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