RFW How do you feel about your self image?
CJ tricky one, like most women I’m not kind to myself, and lately it’s been pretty poor. I’ve gained a lot of weight over recent years and lots of my hair fell out, it went very thin. I turned 42, you get to your 40’s and it’s suddenly all happened at once, suddenly my eyesight went and I had my first filling and my first grey hair… my first grey pubic hair. It all hit me at once along with the weight gain. I know loads of women that are bigger than me, who rock it and look fabulous, but they all have hair like Disney princesses.
RFW do you feel like your hair has got a lot of power over your image?
CJ I know I had grey hair, but there was a lot more of it before.
RFW do you feel that it’s because it’s perceived as a very feminine thing?
CJ It is. And because I was loosing it right at the front. So for a long time I bleached my hair because of the contrast between my hair and my gleaming scalp, but I realised what a source of my feminine image hair was and how old and afraid and ill it made me feel when I was otherwise feeling healthy
RFW so it was the image that was making you feel old rather than anything internal?
CJ well, at the same time I was going through lots of health tests….as you know I write all about it online, I’m a bit of a blurter, so you’ve probably seen some of it. I have a small….it’s called a Rathke cleft cyst. It’s basically a benign tumour on my pituitary gland, and we think that’s probably what’s caused a lot of it, and might have influenced the weight gain as well.
For about 9 months I had hospital test…Hundreds of blood tests, I was like a pincushion. Re-tests, scans and x-rays, MRI, and eventually with the MRI they found what they were looking for and it made sense. But I felt fine in myself to begin with, it was just something which was picked up in a routine blood test. But it lead to all this…..’you must be ill’ ‘do you have cancer of this?’ ‘do you have cancer of that?’ and after 9 months of that I was like a shrivelled husk. They kept telling me there’s something wrong , so there must be something wrong, but at the same time, hair falling out, teeth going a bit dodgy, first wrinkles….and the person I feel like inside was sort of being shrouded by all this grey, and this weight. Like something vampirically sucking my essence out. And it really did, and has affected my confidence and I’m beginning to just pull it back and one sign of this is that I’ve died my hair back to my natural colour, which was a big thing. I’m sort of just starting to accept me. I did have extensions for a while and they started to come out and I’m sort of coming back to me. I’m having my contraceptive implant out, trying to get rid of any hormones that aren’t mine, and it’s like: OK, well, if I’m in my pre-menopausal years, then so be it. But I want to know, and want to feel what is going on with my body and who I am, and make the best of what I can with the surface. But it is a frightening time, a frightening age for how you look, because I still feel about 7 years old inside, so I’m waiting to feel like a proper grow up still, and yet my body is saying, not only are you a grown up, but you’re nearly a pensioner….
When I was 13, I would look to my big sister to see what should I do…should I be using Clearsil or should I be doing my eyelashes like this, or wear my socks this high or that high, and there was Just 17 magazine and it tells you what to do, and when you get to your 40’s there’s no one to tell you what to do. There’s no Guru, other than really expensive face creams, none of whom do anything, or people saying BOTOX at you! But there’s no fun, trusted advice. So it’s like being 13 again. It’s like going through puberty, but backwards towards becoming a grey husk, and I’m not quite ready for it.
RFW do you think it’s different for women and for men…the ageing process?
CJ oh yes! Absolutely! Women are overlooked I think by certain parts of society once they get over a certain age. It’s like you might as well just be invisible, and I’m so used to having been invisible the last few years that when I went out the other night, and a total stranger tried to chat me up in a pub – This hasn’t happened for over a decade, and it took me so by surprise, I was literally just trying to run out of the building and I didn’t know what to say. A younger me would get hit on, but me in my 40’s was like ‘what? Sorry?….’
I think men within society and amongst each other gain more respect as they get older, and a few wrinkles can make them look distinguished. There ARE some wonderful role models, but the general feel is that women can’t be sexy over a certain age or a certain weight. Even as soon as you become a mother you might as well be everybody’s mum.
RFW which I find quite funny because sexuality is about fertility and making babies, but yet once you’ve made a baby then your not sexual anymore? That doesn’t make sense, surely the baby is an expression of your sexuality.
CJ I know in other cultures, like in Italy there’s the whole thing that you have sex with your wife to procreate and you have sex with our mistress for fun, and even though that’s not the accepted case in England it still psychologically feels that that’s the truth – the dried up old husk. And I don’t feel like that inside, I feel like I should still be shaking my rara petticoats at people. Although I did do that quite recently…..
RFW How do you feel about images of women; the way women are represented? You touched on role models, and the fact you feel that there’s no go-to presence, like the magazine presence for teenagers.
CJ I think one of the places I really notice a difference is on news and current affairs programmes. That’s where you really see it. There was Moira Stewart who went on for a good few years, but mostly on television, where there’s a serious programme, there’s a serious older man and a hot young hottie. Hat’s not to say that the hot young hottie can’t also be intelligent, articulate and witty, but they’ll get to a certain age and they will disappear. So there’s certainly less choice of role models for older women. I think older women are beautiful and certainly natural faces are much more beautiful than the Hollywood plumped and filled faces…some of them are just terrifying. But why don’t we give ourselves permission to be and not to judge ourselves. I don’t think we judge others nearly so harshly….I know in my work I’m re-assuring everybody who comes in, and I see the beauty in everybody. I cast people of every age, size, shape and colour, and yet when I look in the mirror there’s the cruel voices of daily mail readers in my mind. (laughs)
RFW so your superego is like a daily mail reader…
CJ it would be nice to see more variety, I do feel a bit invisible both in myself and in my representation in society in images that I could relate to. I’ve had hypnosis for things like confidence and weight loss and it doesn’t matter who you see or what you download. They all say the same thing ‘imagine yourself as a slim, fit… and I just can’t because I’ve never really been that person and I cant see somebody who I can think ‘that is an ideal version of what I could be’. It’s just missing; it’s like asking me to imagine myself inside out without any skin.
RFW Do you feel that you used to have people who you could relate to, who you could imagine yourself being? Do you feel this is something that has changed?
CJ in my 30’s people used to say that I looked like Kate Winslet. She was quite curvy for a Hollywood person, and quite natural, but I feel that we’ve diverged. She got more stylists…private gyms….(laughs)
I think the Internet has helped actually because non main-stream pop stars and comedians pop up. They haven’t waited to be given permission by society to be famous, they have just done something cool, and people have said ‘that’s cool and I like that and I can relate to that person’. So maybe things aren’t as bad as they used to be… because people have started getting angry about it.
RFW Do you think there’s a resurgence of certain feminist ideas coming at the moment, as a backlash to the pressures you were talking about?
CJ I do think people are starting to draw the limits. I do think people have started to have enough of the pressure and some strong voices are coming forward. Even someone like Emma Watson. People who are using their notoriety to speak up for women’s issues in particular image issues. And Jennifer Lawrence, although she is almost perfect….she says ‘bollocks to that, I’m not having a salad I’m having a burger’ and says ‘sorry, I like to eat!’ and she still looks fabulous, but its less about how she looks, and more about having people in the media and the arts who have realistic attitudes. It almost doesn’t matter whether they’re fat or thin, it’s the courage. I think the courage is coming back. The confidence to say, ‘no, I don’t subscribe to this.’ And I know so many women who want to be part of that energy, but there’s still the horrible nasty daily mail reader voice on my shoulder going ‘that’s fine for society, but you’re still ugly. You’re unacceptable…look at your hair!’ It’s there! It’s a lifetime of ingrained nonsense…
I have an older sister, she’s beautiful and she has this big smile, and her whole life she could get away with anything because she has this big cheesy grin. I grew up my whole life with people saying ‘oh what a beautiful smile Naomi has’ and so I grew up thinking I didn’t have a nice smile. I grew up thinking I wasn’t pretty, but looking back at old photographs, I wasn’t the ugly daughter, I was just a different kind of pretty. There was nothing wrong with me. I think she just had that starlet look and people were more vocal about it. It wasn’t that I was unfortunate looking.
RFW how do you feel about images of yourself rather than those of other people? Like photographic images of yourself for example? Online we obviously have a lot of images of ourselves….
CJ it’s nice to have lovely images, although I’m generally not photogenic. But these days it doesn’t matter so much because you have a digital camera and you can take 200 photos and you don’t have to pay to have them developed like you used to have to in our teens, so you can take 200 photos and if there’s 1 where you look kind of cool from one direction, you can slightly enhance it on Photoshop, and then you start to believe in those images. So online now, I have a collection of images where I think I look all right. It’s like this surface, and every now and then somebody punctures it, not with a bullet or an arrow but with a photograph, tagging you in a photograph you didn’t know had been taken, from an unfortunate angle where it’s all chin and forehead
It’s always in my business group where I go to once a month. And they take pictures of everybody, and now I always put on tons of make up before, and check…do I look good, am I wearing something clean? Am I presentable? And they take the photograph, and it doesn’t matter what I do to myself, there’s always a photo of me looking like…. huge double chin, from the side with a popping-eye…
I like to believe in the illusion. It’s like a little safety net of reasonably attractive photographs that I’ve given permission to represent me on the Internet, and when somebody else buggers that up by putting a slightly more realistic one that shatters the illusion…
RFW but it’s not necessarily realistic, that’s the thing, these photos… I think if you have an expressive face people will take pictures whilst you’re pulling a face. But how do those images make you feel about yourself? Do they directly affect your self-worth or do you have distance from them?
CJ sometimes… it depends on the day. I have a certain buffer. I know there are layers, and on certain days when I’m feeling really good about myself and really strong, I might be able to laugh at the unfortunate photograph ( but still un-tag it…) I have a safety barrier of dismissal, but if it gets you on a low day, or there’s a few things in succession, it can be quite hard, and I do have days where I go into melt down and feel hideous. It’s not like anorexia where people think they’re hideous and can’t go out. I often look in the mirror and think ‘yeah I’m all right! I’m not bad for my age!’ and I’ll go out. Then I’ll catch sight of this person in a shop window or mirror, or somebody will have photographed me and put it online and it’s like ‘god, I didn’t realise I looked so bad.’ So it’s like the reverse of that low self esteem in that I think I look better or thinner or younger than I do and then I’ll see some other image that doesn’t correlate with my internal rendering of what I think I look like and it’s like a kick in the stomach….and then I’m almost embarrassed and frightened, and I worry about Andre(my partner) thinking that I’m not worthy.
It’s stupid because I know a persons’ beauty and worth is not about the surface. There are gorgeous older people, and I love casting older people, older faces and hands, the paperiness of the skin and the richness of the life in that, the stories and character. I don’t fear old age in that sense. I fear getting ill or not being able to work or being in pain, being a burden. I always imagine myself as this mad old lady with bits of straw stuck in my hair living on some mountain with a goat, making weird things to sell to tourists somewhere in Italy maybe , and I quite like the idea of being a mad old soul, but I just feel so far away from that at the moment, I don’t feel like I should look in the mirror or a photograph and see this person that I don’t recognise. There’s a disjointedness- I don’t feel connected to my physical body in the same way that I used to. I think the weight gain has something to do with it. I’ve always been hourglass and for the first time in my life I’ve got a belly (other than pregnancy). I’ve been many sizes, but I always went in and out, but last year for the first time I had this belly. I almost couldn’t relate to it being a part of me. It was like I was wearing a fat suit and I expected to be able to just take it off, so there’s not this acceptance, yet…. you’ve got me at a pivotal moment.
RFW Do you think that the weight you give to the change in your appearance has something to do with outside forces? What a woman’s expected to look like? Or do you think it’s more internal?
CJ External forces, definitely. It’s a contradiction, society says ‘you’ve had your children, you’re an embarrassment, disappear – go away! But if we have to see you, you still have to look sexy, to be thin. You’re not allowed to have wrinkles or wear glasses or have greasy hair and you must be well presented to society’. There are even moments when I have thought…Maybe there’s something to be said for Burkas ( lauhghs) there are definitely days where I think that could be a blessing. Less pressure – I could be wearing flame colored underwear underneath.
There are a lot of pressures. When I was younger I really was a fun dresser. Most of my clothes looked like dressing up clothes, and quite a few of them still do! I just don’t get to wear them very often. I went through my wardrobe and it’s all tutus ball-gowns and tiaras, frilly net skirts and colours and mad things, pretty things, vintage things. I love all that, but I feel that when you’re young, you dress up and you’re the kooky wild chick – she can do whatever she wants , she can wear whatever she wants and that’s her own style – but when you get past your 40’s and you wear things like that people start thinking you’re mad, and not necessarily in a good way. They start thinking: care in the community!
That’s why I love my women’s business group. They totally accept me. I gave my first member talk…and I was nervous, so because I was nervous I wore my paint splattered dungarees which were my grounding comfort clothes, and then I wore my tiara for confidence. The thing is, they didn’t bat an eyelid. It was lovely, and they totally accepted me. I think that’s what’s probably helping my confidence. That I have this lovely network of women. They’re very accepting and they’re re-teaching me what I learned in my teens, which is, it’s ok to be yourself. It’s who you are as a person which makes you lovable or interesting, and not whether or not you’re wearing a proper business suit and haven’t dropped your breakfast down your clothes.