I made the foolish mistake of looking at some old photos of me today. It wasn't intentional. I was trying to find an old, unused photo album that my children could use to stick their gogo stickers into instead of decorating our new kitchen cabinets with them. While rummaging in a dusty box I unearthed several random pictures that have never quite made it into an album.
There I was. Young. Wrinkle free. Young. Glowing. Young. Sadly, these aren't pictures taken of me as a child or teenager. No, these were pictures taken in the years just before I got married and had children. Not a million years ago then. So how the hell did I go from being all dewy skinned to haggard looking in such a short space of time? This is a rhetorical question. I know the answer. I've banged on about the lack of sleep not to mention wine guzzling brought about by children many, many times. And the answer is right there.
But the pictures also throw up a few other depressing observations:
a) I used to travel to exotic places. Bali. Kenya. Zanzibar. Now we head off to B&Bs on the Isle of Wight because at least it involves a ferry ride, which makes it feel slightly more adventurous and tropical than just driving to a Butlins in Skegness (that said, I've never gone to a Butlins or Skegness so maybe I need to challenge myself - it would undoubtedly be an adventure but probably not of the exotic variety).
b) I used to wear far more mid-rift tops and short skirts. Both pieces of apparel have long since been retired from my wardrobe. I haven't quite graduated onto jeans with an elasticated waist yet, but it's not long now. I've already succombed to granny knickers and sensible shoes.
c) Ex-boyfriends are quite hard to explain to a person under the age of 5. My son kept enquiring 'who's that man next to you mummy?' and 'where's daddy in this picture?' and 'why's that man kissing you mummy?' making me feel like something of a strumpet, while simultaneously making me wonder what on earth I saw in some of them. The only good thing about ex-boyfriends is that you can find most of them on Facebook (if you're so inclined) and most look as though they've also been attacked by the middle-aged fairies. Which is satisfying.
d) Hairdressers should not be allowed to perm hair. By law.
e) I need to move back to South Africa. It was the lightly bronzed skin from perpetually sunny days that made me radiate health. This sodding country literally sucks the colour out of your complexion. It's not surprising I look grey and wan - it's the reflection off the clouds.
It has been years since I saw a decent photograph of me. This is largely because I'm normally the person taking the pictures. But I also can't quite believe what I see in the pictures, so I avoid them.
Frown lines. Lots of. And they are so very ingrained that you could lose an ant colony in the furrows. Black bags under my eyes that have supersized themselves into shipping containers. A double chin that seems to start somewhere near my ears and heads forward into a nice wrinkly, wobbly waddle. I'm 35 for god sake. Where the hell did that come from? Hair that never looks good. Ever. (Except for the day the hairdresser blow dries it and which I can never repeat again). Teeth too big for my mouth. Lips too thin for my face. Arms that belong in a bingo hall. A stomach that I could share with several Somalians. Breast that now loiter near my belly button. And knees that should be hidden at all times.
When I look in the mirror, I don't see this person. I don't see a supermodel admittedly, but I feel optimistic enough to leave the house without a wearing a sack cloth and a paper bag on my head. But when I see photos of myself, I do wonder why I possibly thought anything other than the aforementioned attire was acceptable.
And the very, very worst thing is when someone else looks at the same photo I am shocked by and says: 'That's a great one of you. You looked amazing. You are so photogenic,' in a way that suggests they genuinely believe the picture looks better than the real you.
I keep wanting to have some professional photographs taken of us as a family but I dread to see the results. But part of me thinks I must do it, because in another 10 years time I will look back on those pictures and write a blog about how I looked so young, so dewy, so wrinkle free. And I'll wonder why the hell I was ever worried. How thoroughly depressing. Prozac anyone?