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Let's Get Real About Our Middle-Aged Faces

23/09/2014 13:41 BST | Updated 22/11/2014 10:59 GMT

MP Jo Swinson's recent views on body image should be a reality check for middle-aged women.

A recent study of British women aged between 35 to 46 ("middle-aged," apparently) found they fret more about their looks than any other age group. Miss Swinson blames the growing number of celebrities undergoing extreme image airbrushing and plastic surgery as setting impossible standards for us ordinary women. Are we really that impressionable?

I'm 36 and don't live in the UK. I obviously didn't take part in this study but I am like other women in that age group whose faces are on the fade. Ageing is a bitch. But I'm not beating myself up over celebrities who use surgery to scrub up better than me. I'd like to think most ordinary women of my generation are smarter than that.

Airbrushing and plastic surgery are as subtle as raging bulls. If anything, when my "middle-aged" friends see celebrities without wrinkles or with unnaturally plumped lips, they actually cringe. Then we joke about what fillers or laser treatment those celebs might have had, and how we could apply them to fix our own sorry faces. We know a false appearance when we see it.

Wrinkles aren't fun but they shouldn't define you. If some women are spending a lot of time lamenting their lost youth while comparing themselves to celebrities, they need a good reality check. It's time for a new hobby if comparisons to surgically-warped faces influence your self-esteem. I struggle to accept that most women of my generation are judging their worth by certain celebrities who are so obviously struggling to accept themselves. It's a sad thing if that is happening.

Looks are like a passport, they will expire. I admit I don't like my new wrinkles around my eyes or the slightly saggy eyelids, but I am learning to accept them. Some days I despair. I look in the mirror and it is like a light dimmer is on my face, the knob slowly turning down. On a recent night out with my girlfriends (aged 36 to 42) we ran through lists of ageing signs appearing on our faces: sun spots, saggy eyelids, noticeable fine lines and wrinkles, "flat face" (collapsing collagen), kninkles (knee wrinkles), first grey hairs. I confided to them that most mornings I see the eyes of a St Bernard puppy staring back at me. One friend advised to look surprised all the time. We all laughed at this. Then another suggested surgery. We all said: "Not bloody likely!" The important thing about that night was we experienced no genuine sense of loss about our youth. We laughed till our laugh lines hurt.

Perhaps it's because we're in our late 30s that we're able to cope with fading faces. It might also be having a lot more important things to fret about than ageing, like finances, raising young children, developing our careers. I'm a lot more comfortable in my "middle age" skin now than in my 20s, when ironically my face was at its best but I fretted more about it.

Hollywood actress Charlize Theron was quoted recently in Red magazine on her views of ageing. She apparently feels more comfortable with her looks now she's in her late 30s than she did in her 20s, when she had "gorgeous skin and a fat, plump face."

Theron said: "I looked at myself then and I didn't appreciate any of it. Also, there was something about my beauty at that time that almost felt like it was waiting to be this age. I was so desperate to, like, have some kind of experience in my life, like not feeling that I came from the world of modelling. It was like I was waiting to look at my face and see life."

A good friend of mine once joked: "my looks are fading, I wish I'd spent more time on my personality." And she made a really good point. One of the things I personally hope my daughters learn to value most are their personalities, not their looks. It starts with us being realistic about ageing. And accepting our eyelids will sag.