Today is my birthday.  I am forty-three years old.  I know it sounds silly, but I am always ridiculously excited for my birthday to arrive.  Over the years there have been good birthdays and bad ones, but I still experience the childish excitement building up to the day.  Birthdays are a big deal in our family, and we go all out.  This morning I woke up to posters and notes all over the house, wherever I am likely to look really, all with sweet messages and in particular a large poster containing pictures of my favourite things and if I am honest (and I always try to be – especially here), that will remain up there on the hallway mirror until we move out and possibly long after – maybe until I sell this place.

At our old house, you could expect to see banners and signs up saying happy birthday or nameday everywhere.  Some were for me, some for D, we had some for my niece G, and my sister and brother-in-law.  Some were 40th birthday ones, some were 1st, it made no difference.  Anyone coming into the house would say, “oh, does someone have a birthday?” and we would have to sheepishly explain that yes, someone did 5 months ago, in January or whatever.  It is these things that make the day special for me – obviously, presents help, but it is the little things or ‘the fuss’ you could say that makes the day special.  In my brother’s house (he has three gorgeous boys – the Nordic nephews) the person whose birthday it is, is declared ‘The Boss’ and gets to choose what they have for dinner or where they go, and what order to do any activities in.  Of course, the boys also get gifts, and visits from mad aunties and other relatives, but this is always what they mention to me first on the phone, when I call to wish them happy birthday “Hi Auntie Mia, thanks!  I am the boss today!”

I know we are supposed to enjoy birthdays less and less as the years go by.  People hit 21 and then kind of stop celebrating.  After 30 they may have a big bash every 10 years or in some cases, they hit 39 and stay there until that is no longer viable or credible and then they smoothly (ahem) make the jump to 49 where they reside for a few years.  When I sent out invitations for my 40th birthday party, they had 40 written all over them.  So many of my friends in Greece were surprised that I was copping to it.  But really is denial an option?  I mean you have to start obfuscating your age fairly early on for there to be any doubt about it.  And who are you lying to really?  The world?  The world doesn’t give a shit how old you are.  The government knows, your friends and family know.  Your boss knows. Who else do you need to fool?  Strangers? Fans? Stalkers? Potential dates?  I mean who else is there?  If you can’t be honest about how old you are, then how can you be honest in other areas of your life?  Your age is a fairly basic starting point.  When we are children, it is the first question we ask after what’s your name.  As we get older ‘how old are you?’ is replaced with ‘what do you do?’ or ‘where are you from?’ and the age question assumes taboo status.  I mean I have heard people being asked frighteningly personal questions my personal favourite of which was:

“Hello, nice to meet you, are you circumsized?”  Although the questionee did go an extremely deep shade of red, he did eventually answer.  However when we challenged the questioner about the appropriateness of the question, she answered:

“What?  It’s a perfectly natural question!  It’s not like I asked him how old he was!!!”

We tried to tell her gently that it is only a perfectly natural question if you are a physician or at the very least a potential girlfriend and there is no one else in the room, but she was having none of it.  Apparently, the big rude question would have been ‘How old are you?’

As I have said before, being vague about my age just never occurred to me.  It isn’t something I shout out to everyone I meet, but it isn’t something I hide either.  It just is.  I mean, I am in my 40s, I behave a certain way, I dress a certain way (too young probably, but what does that even mean any more?) and I have had certain experiences.  How exhausting would it be if I had to do mental maths every time someone made a reference to the 80s.  “Oh! I am too young to remember that, I was only a child…” Blah blah blah.  It’s just too mentally taxing, just like dyeing my hair would be.  Anti-ageing treatments too.  I have seen too many  women with young faces and gravity-defying breasts and old hands.  I mean really?  You have been my friend’s Mum since I have known you, and now you’re trying to pass yourself off as the same age as me?  And the answer is no, they aren’t trying to fool me.  They are trying to fool people they don’t know.  Because people who know you, know how old you are.  They don’t guess based upon your looks or your situation in life.  They know.  So, essentially, women and men who put themselves through painful cosmetic procedures to appear younger are doing so to fool complete strangers.  Sometimes I see people who have taken it just a little too far.  You know who I am talking about.  The people who just no longer look real.  What I can never work out is when they start to believe that the look they are currently sporting is better than what nature would have provided them with.  At what point do they feel that tight stretched skin is better than softer, slightly lined skin.  I know it’s hard when the first lines start to appear.  You notice it but to me it was fascinating rather than horrifying.  Also things like pillow or sheet marks.  When I was 18, if I overslept, I could leap out of bed, splash water on my face and turn up for class 15 minutes later with no one knowing I had been in bed that recently.  Now I wake up with a line on my face from the creases in the pillowcase, and half an hour later it’s still lingering.  I can still leap out of bed, but there is no way people aren’t noticing I was there recently…

Although many people have cosmetic surgery to delay the signs of ageing, it isn’t the only reason.  I remember when I was younger, a cousin of my mum’s came to stay with us after she had a nose job.  She had given my mum a call after recovering in a hotel room alone for a few days, bored and listless.  Mum had invited her to stay with us. I must have been maybe 8 or 9 at the time.  I remember the bandages clearly, but what I remember most was the bruising.  She looked like someone had taken a baseball bat to her face, and she sounded dreadful.  To this day she still sounds like she has a cold, and I know she didn’t sound like that before.  I remember feeling really sorry for her and then amazed when my mum explained that it was elective surgery.  I couldn’t fathom volunteering for that kind of treatment.  As I have gotten older, I have had several friends and relatives who have had cosmetic surgery, to their breasts, noses etc..  I understand that although I thought these people looked lovely before, and  felt that they didn’t require cosmetic  surgery, it isn’t about how I feel, it is about how they do.  If getting rid of a bump on their nose, or reducing the size of their breasts increases their confidence and allows them to love themselves a bit more, then it is the right thing for them.  Surgery has been suggested to me several times (not in a wow- that’s-quite- a- hooter-have–you- thought- of- a- nose- job kind of way, but in a have- you- considered- a –gastric- band –or- liposuction kind of way)  Of course, I would love an instant ‘fix’ to my weight issues, but the truth is, there isn’t one.  I have never felt tempted.  And yes, a lot of it is sheer terror, but most of it is that I believe that the goal here is to achieve self-acceptance, and it is a goal I have been working towards for many years.  I would be lying if I said I had got there, but every year that goes by I get a little closer to it, and it feels like I am making progress. Baby steps as they say, baby steps.

Despite the fact that we have made significant medical and scientific advances, and cosmetic surgery is probably less dangerous than ever before, what scares me most about attitudes to cosmetic surgery nowadays is the message that we are putting out there.  The message is this:    The body you are born with doesn’t necessarily have to be the one you end up with.  You can choose what you look like.  You don’t have to accept yourself or others as they are.

I have already overheard conversations where people say things like:

“I mean really, the nose on that girl – the least she could do is have a nose job. She could totally afford it.”

And it isn’t only about surgery; people now take offense to men with hairy backs and/or chests. Or people with crooked teeth.   Or women with pubic hair. Magazines run entire pages of celebrity images with ‘shameful’ things circled on them.  By shameful I am referring to visible sweat patches,  food in their teeth, or cellulite.   We have become a generation of judgemental and demanding perfectionists who place appearance above everything else.  I didn’t sign up for that, and I am reluctant to take part.

So here is my pledge.

If you have a unibrow, or facial hair, or back hair.  Or any kind of body hair really.

If you sweat visibly.

If you have a big nose.

if you have a small nose.

If you have very small or very large breasts.

If you have crooked teeth.

Or cellulite.

If you are overweight or underweight, tall or short.

If you have an imperfect manicure or pedicure.

I promise to try and get to know you before deciding how I feel about you.

I would expect the same from you.

So stop wondering how to save all your hard-earned money on things that will make you appear different.  And, because it’s my birthday, and I am the boss today, here comes some cheese:

Embrace your age and your imperfections, they are what make you uniquely you.

Nothing wrong with that.

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