The sisterhood closes ranks when it comes to telling the truth about childbirth - fearing that no woman in their right mind would ever have a baby if they knew what it really entails. Well, it seems to me that a similar conspiracy is at work about telling women about what it is really like after the age of 40. Admittedly a woman has no choice element about the march of time but it's about time someone told it how it is. So here it is: what to expect after 40...
- You know that invisibility cloak which you always wanted when you were a child - how cool to be able to go to places and no-one see you? Well, guess what, when you are woman over 40, you get to wear the invisibility cloak most of the time. It's not quite as thrilling though as it might have been as a child. No-one takes a blind bit of notice of women over 40. Of course there are exceptions but most of the exceptions live in celebrity world and have had their entire body remodelled by the best in the business. For the rest of us, anonymity is the reality. 40 might be the new 30 or whatever but for everyone under 30, a woman over 40 is just old. Even in the unlikely event of being eyed up by a devilishly handsome young man, it is important to remember that the chances are you are either a) too far away from him to be seen properly or b) being closely followed by a nubile young woman with endless legs, a mane of golden hair and boobs that have not even thought about straying south.
- You will have to chuck out any "early wrinkle" correction creams - you are WAY past those and you face the humiliation of a sniggering beauty counter assistant with her beautiful smooth face of youth if you ask for such a product. From the age of 40, wrinkles appear at an alarming rate and at a new frightening trench-like depth. For the unlucky ones, the worst are the so-called "elevens" between the eyes which as the proud owner of such I can tell you that you just look permanently angry and although this may well be the case (see below), it would be nice if it wasn't etched on your brow. Perhaps the worst sort of wrinkles that suddenly start appearing are what I call "morning wake-up wrinkles". If someone had said to me five years ago that my face would have lost so much elasticity that my sleeping position would give me creases in my face, I wouldn't have believed it. But it is true, my face at 7am is testament to this, a veritable origami masterclass. If you're lucky these lines soften during the day but I am beginning to suspect as I trip through my 40s that this is not always going to be the case. It is a huge surprise to me that no-one has yet invented the morning facial iron - there is certainly a market for it and although I don't as a rule iron (I fold, in fact I fold very well indeed), I most certainly could be persuaded to take up ironing if my face was the winner.
- You will have acne. For those who largely escaped unscathed in their teens and are just a little bit smug about it, this is perhaps the worst thing of all. Nasty red angry spots erupt when you least want them to and you are forced to slink around the teenage spot cream counter in Boots, surreptitiously sliding a tube of 'Clearasil' into your basket. If, like me, you find this later life outbreak of spots a tad distressing, then you will throw everything at them - surgical spirit, tea tree oil and that old overnight favourite, toothpaste. Note to self: it is advisable to remove the toothpaste in the morning before you do the school run or the like - this may require a written reminder to yourself as your memory in your 40s is not what it used to be.
- You will be irrationally angry quite a lot of the time. This is your hormones - indeed that very seemingly innocuous word is enough to send me into a boiling rage. Oh yes, what no-one tells you is that the big M might not typically happen until your early fifties, but the Peri-M starts up to 10 years earlier. Now I don't remember signing up for that, do you? Increasingly through your forties you will discover that at every doctor's visit, your hormones will be mentioned. They seem to be responsible for everything that goes wrong with your health and their mention is usually accompanied by a look of sympathy from an older female doctor but pseudo-sage, ever so slightly patronising, nodding from a male doctor. Yes, boys, you really do get off lightly at all stages of life it would seem. Of course, it's those hormones that are the cause of mid-life acne and more than likely the cause of being angry A LOT. Although I find husbands, children and pets don't help the mood.
To all of this you can add an alarming influx of grey hair, an ever-increasing battle with your weight, a constant fear of looking like mutton dressed as lamb and a general unavoidable feeling that things are kind of downhill from now on. So that's the truth about being over 40. Sorry if I haven't sugar-coated it for you. I shall say, though, that there are lots of wonderful things about being over 40 - a liberating "don't care" attitude about everything, a great solidarity with your female friends at the same stage of life as you and the best tonic of all - humour (and wine).