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Grow Old Gracefully - The Best is Yet to Come

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Ageing, it comes to us all. It creeps up slowly and before we know it, we're officially middle aged with a face and figure to match. I have just turned 40, after a tumultuous couple of years in which I have lost people I love and had cancer myself. I have finally come to understand the meaning of the phrase 'life begins at 40', because in many ways it does and it's all about attitude. There is no 'holding back the years', as the song goes, so how do we deal with getting older and looking our age as we change and grow?

A Teenage Kate Thompson

It used to be that our elders were looked up to for their experience and the wisdom that a lifetime of learning brought with it. We live amongst an ageing population where today's elderly are living longer than ever before. Now many of our elderly are locked away in care homes and living alone in communities where neighbours may not even know they are there.

What changed for these once 'bright, young things', our wartime heroes and their pretty brides? They grew old, they retired, perhaps they stopped going out so much and the once tall and broad-shouldered frame of our war hero began to stoop, just a little at first, while the tiny waist of his pretty bride is no longer so small.

So many of today's stars are chosen to look as close to perfect as possible. Most female celebrities don't have visible eye-bags or spots or jowels or wrinkles like some of us do. Tess Daly, even in her 40s, is more polished than most women in their 20s and 30s. And yet she's teamed on Strictly Come Dancing with ageing 80-something Bruce Forsyth... Top of today's role models for our children and teenagers are the slim and pretty Cheryl Cole and the sporty and handsome David Beckham. What does Cheryl Cole teach our daughters - that being slim makes you look sexy. Mother Theresa was never a role model for our young and yet she could have taught them a thing or two about compassion and love for others but sadly, in our culture, beauty and youth are prized above goodness and wisdom.

The notion of growing old gracefully seems to have been replaced with a desire to turn back the clock and use any means possible to emulate Cheryl Cole - to look 20 again. This desire is nothing new as our grandmothers invested in face creams and cosmetics for the same reason. It's just that now we have a greater variety of options to choose from, for every body 'issue' - from cheek implants to create angular cheek bones, to bum fillers to enhance the 'J-Lo rear admirable' as the Daily Mail puts it, there is quite simply a solution for every 'problem'. There are women having their breasts made larger, others having theirs made smaller and it's become big business for the private medical sector.

Kate Thompson

For some, Botox is the answer, for others it's a face lift, but what surgery and fillers won't change is the way we feel inside. And yet, that is the very reason we turn to fast fixes and facelifts in the first place - to make ourselves feel better on the inside. We may spend years wishing we were slimmer or curvier or taller or shorter, but what many of us will come to realise when we reach middle age is that it is actually the acceptance of all our perceived short-comings that brings the most contentment.

A glorious 'sod it' attitude comes upon us with age that cannot be denied. After 40 years of worrying about how I look and what people think of me, I now no longer care because I have accepted who I am at last. I also now have a lovely scar on my tummy from my recent surgery, a constant reminder of my illness and of what's really important in this life. It wasn't that long ago I was seriously considering some 'self improvement' and now I see that it's all about who I am and what I say and do, not how I look. That said, I do like to dress up, but I realise now that my actions towards others are far more important than what people think about my face or figure.

So, before you book yourself in to 'have your eyes lifted' or thighs 'suctioned', think about why you're really doing it and who you're really doing it for. Is it to look younger or more desirable, to look as good as, or perhaps even better than your peers? And whether the man or woman you love, truly loves you - then they'll love the ageing you - the you with the laughter lines around your eyes and the rounded tummy and the greying hair. They'll accept your changes just as, in time, you will learn to accept them too and feel content in your own skin, however wrinkled and saggy it may become. See your laughter lines as a little reminder of every time you've smiled. Now remember that every time you frown!