I looked in the mirror a couple of weeks ago and realised that I had grey hairs protruding from my eyebrows. I hoiked them out and looked back at my reflection, it was pretty rough after a sleep deprived night with a poorly toddler. Bags under the eyes, wrinkles, a long since faded and grown out hair style and lower down I was giving the thicket that surrounded Sleeping Beauty a run for its money.
Since then I've been (from head to toe and in descending order) cut, coloured, threaded, tinted, tidied, waxed, filed and painted.
Before I had a baby I would wear make up all the time, my hair though chaotic was always well cut and I had gleamy toenails. I never seem to find the time these days. Being self employed with a toddler can be tough at times, the cost of child care means a careful balance of budget and time. More often than not it's the 'me time' and spending that gets shelved. Supporting her is my priority, enjoying her childhood and earning a living. I'm constantly aware this precious time won't last long, it's already whizzing by. To that end, I'm happy that she takes up my time, she wolfs it down and leaves me doing online banking at 1am or sorting out washing in the wee small hours.
The main reason for examining myself in the mirror and the subsequent superficial body overhaul was the fact that I was having photographs taken, proper professional ones, for a project on breastfeeding that I'm working on. I joked with the photographer (a friend) prior to the event and told him that my daughter had found a stray hair beside my nipple the other day when she was breastfeeding, "we can always air brush it out" he responded cheerfully. Clearly I checked carefully to make sure that I wasn't sporting other unwanted random curls before he came round. The shoot went really well, his generous warmth and good humour helped me overcome my nerves, and I ended up feeling confident and happy.
While he was snapping away, we talked about glamour shoots; the tummy tucks, breast enhancements, artificial tummy buttons and goings on down below. He asked if I'd ever considered having naked photos taken? I laughed, said no for a myriad of reasons, and added that I was a bit too hairy for that kind of thing, and he responded with a big (and very cheeky) grin, "Really? Pubic hair is so 1976! It'd be wonderful". I gave him a withering look and we discussed the merits of a more natural looking pin up with no air (or hair!!) brushing. Who knows maybe I'll summon up the courage one day!
Later that night I had a bath with my daughter, so perfect bless her, and it got me thinking about the female form and how we've become increasingly embarrassed about the way it ages. That and what people put themselves through in the name of 'beauty'. Why did I feel the need to be waxed or tinted? Was it for me or because I was concerned about other people's perception of me, and how far will it go? If I'm prepared to have a stranger smearing hot wax close to my nether regions, is it just a slippery slope to anal bleaching? What next ? A post Cesarean tummy tuck?
I have a friend who has recently moved to Southern California, she's been dabbling with online dating. She is capable, successful, beautiful, truly lovely in fact, but she has observed that in her new sun soaked world not far from Hollywood, the pressure's on to be not just plucked and polished, but nipped, tucked, (and rather scarily) bleached and tightened. We've wondered how the locals will take to an English girl who hasn't put herself through unnecessary discomfort to live up to someone else's expectation of what beauty should be.
In the UK, 50,122 cosmetic procedures were performed last year, a rise of nearly 17% on 2012 figures, with an increase of 13% in breast augmentation (the most popular of all cosmetic surgery). Just this week, the BAAPS (is it just me that sniggers when I see that acronym?) themselves, voiced concern about the increased number of younger women wanting to have plastic surgery. BBC Newsbeat published the results of a survey citing girls as young as 11 saying they have confidence issues they feel that a boob job would help. Call me old fashioned, but I find this makes for depressing reading.
I hope there never comes a time when my daughter suffers from self doubt due to her appearance or feels the need to surgically 'enhance' her incredibly perfect self. There is much more pressure in the world she's growing up in than I had to deal with, and I will do what I can to equip her to have confidence in herself, as she is. For my part, I remember my father's sadness when I had my ears pierced, "if you were meant to have holes in your ears you'd have been born with them", and his stony faced silence when my brother gave the game away about my (very small) tattoo. I expect I'll be the same when she gets her umteenth piercing or has the name of a boy band emblazoned down her arm, let alone any thing more extreme.
It's time to reconsider the ageing female form, its fuzz, wrinkles and flaws.
Ben Hopper's glorious 'Natural Beauty' photos of armpit hair provoke and challenge. The Body Beautiful Project is doing its bit to show just how lovely women and mothers look un-enhanced or augmented. Body hair may not have been in since the 70s but it does seem to be making a come back in New York with the likes of Cameron Diaz celebrating the "enticing", "mysterious" and "lovely curtain of pubic hair" in her bestselling book on loving your body in a chapter called In Praise of Pubes. Rather than campaigning to stop Page 3 pictures, should we lobby for images women of all ages in their unaltered glorious feminine form? Perhaps the next time I see my friend I shall tell him that natural beauty and pubic hair are "so very 2014", we shall see!
For the sake of full disclosure, I've had the whole lot waxed once, it hurt like hell, made me look and feel embarrassingly pre pubescent and the wax burnt a very private part of me. I won't be doing it again. I sport my post Cesarean tummy with pride, have no intention of having a boob job when we eventually finish breastfeeding, and no way is anyone going near my rear end with a tub of bleach.
This original version of this article also appears on the author's own blog Mush Brained Ramblings.