There’s a joke that used to make me laugh –
From birth to eighteen, a girl needs good parents
From eighteen to thirty, she needs good looks
From thirty to fifty, she needs a good personality
After that, she needs good cash.
Huh, not so funny now.
Tick ‘birth to eighteen’ – lovely nanny, followed by the best schools (which I didn’t appreciate at ALL) and the big house filled with dogs, even the obligatory pony, which I appreciated very much indeed. (The pony didn’t live in the house, BTW. Note to self, may need to reword.)
Tick ‘eighteen to thirty’ – nothing special, but I had bright hair of – for South Africa – a fairly unusual colour, and a fairly sunny temperament, and can’t remember ever languishing over a fellow who wasn’t interested in me, so check that one off the list too.
Thirty came and went and so did forty and nothing changed much on that front. Like Gypsy Rose Lee, I could have said I didn’t have anything I hadn’t had twenty years earlier, just a bit more of it, and a bit lower down.
Then the wheels fell off. I moved to a country which was very cold, and put on weight to keep warm. Well, probably more weight than strictly necessary. No, total honesty here. Definitely more weight than strictly necessary. And my hair colour was no longer even remotely unusual, half the people I met had variations of the same. And a few years went by and suddenly I had got older.
Personality, oh yes, still had one, of sorts, but it rather relied on people noticing I was around in the first place so I could then fascinate them.
Stupid joke stopped being funny.
The reality is, and it took me a while to realize this, which is why I am blogging in case there is any other rather dim person who needs the facts highlighted, put in bold and underlined, there comes a time when you no longer make a strong first impression based on your looks. Invisible happens. Suck it up.
Doesn’t mean you’re ugly. Doesn’t make you dull. But at some point the indefinable something that comes across even in a photograph fades.
So, are you going to fade with it? Allow yourself to be put in the corner, slightly grumpy and resentful, and wishing you had that good cash? I did, and I wasted a couple of years doing it. My Twitter photo is twenty years old, because I like that photo, and I use a caricature on FB, and only reluctantly a current photo on LinkedIn. The world, and the workplace, is filled with people younger than me vigorously getting on with their lives and I sulked, I did. And carped a bit, and was sour about the unfairness of life. My corner got emptier, I carped a bit more and there was more grumpy. It Wasn’t Fair. And damnit, why weren’t my older friends finding the same? They were going from strength to strength, making more friends than ever and having a whale of a time.
So here’s what I finally grasped and am passing on. The good thing about losing an instant first impression is that you now make your own. The first time I openly fanned myself ruefully and admitted that I’d reached the age of private tropical holidays was a breakthrough – colleagues laughed and teased instead of politely ignoring my pink face. In fact the more confidence I have, the more strongly people respond. Flirting, far from being gone for good, is more fun than ever when it is an end in itself. No one CARES what you look like, you know. Why should they? It only matters to you. As long as you don’t actually frighten the horses, people see the basic canvas, the difference is that you now might need to consciously check your painting.
Someone young and nice-looking with a goofy smile and a too-loud laugh, you don’t mind them sitting next to you on the train, am I right? Someone ‘older’ with a goofy smile and a too-loud laugh heads towards you and you’ll change seats if you possibly can. Different perception. Think about it. Those lines round your mouth make you look sullen even when you think you look expressionless. I slowly learned that if I smile (tip: not too goofily) rather than look grumpy, and be alert and open, listen as well as talk, people are more friendly to me now than I think at any stage in my life before. It’s interesting.
I still don’t approve of the way I look. Cameras are not my friends, but everything else, pretty good. After fifty, you need good confidence. (And some cash would be nice)
You probably knew all that already. But just in case.