I somehow can't forget a conversation from 17 years ago.
After treating an elderly patient in my physiotherapy practice, I confirmed her next appointment. Suddenly, she interrupted me. "Oh, you can tell me now, I know you're expecting triplets!" I laughingly denied the news and defended my anatomical status but she continued in a more serious tone. "I have it on authority, you know, even if you don't want to confide in me."
This incident made me think about two things. One is aiming for body perfection. The other is rumours. Both bother me.
Take my flabby core, for instance. At least there are no rumours of pregnancy these days -- at 57 I'd be the first Australian woman to conceive naturally. And most women of my age buy slacks with elasticised waists. Not all, I suppose. Sixty is the new 40 and we're being forced to youthen. They're not cutting us any slack. Less potting plants and more Pilates.
Even Jennifer Aniston hasn't escaped unscathed. Photographed from the side after a large lunch and the media are now rumouring she's pregnant.
Then there's Renee Zellweger. In 2014, it was rumoured that she'd had surgery to alter her eyes. She has since responded. "I'm glad folk think I look different. I'm living a different, happy, more fulfilling life, and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows," she was widely quoted in 2014, aged 45.
I can believe this. For the first five years of childrearing, I was sleep deprived. My eyes puffed and were hard to keep open. Magically, after five years, we all slept through. I blossomed. I was bright, wide-eyed and chirpy. And it didn't take long for the rumours to start. "Can't help noticing how young you look! Did you change your face cream? Or did you see someone?"
"Sleep, wonderful restorative sleep, did the rejuvenating trick. Didn't cost a cent," I said. But trying to defend my new face didn't work -- no-one bought my sleep therapy.
"Come on, tell me. I know a face job when I see one. Do you have a card?"
Admittedly, I had surgery to my ears when I was five (bat ears), and perhaps I have some tell-tale sign. I was mercilessly mocked because of my protruding ears and have been spared much humiliation.
But I have worked in cosmetic surgery units and have seen the complications that can occur. Infections, non-healing of tissue, lopsidedness, and sadly even death. Bed number three was empty in the surgical unit. "She passed away in the night -- embolism," said the ward sister. The patient was a beautiful woman who wanted just one more procedure.
I'm not sure what drives us women to change ourselves, but I do know a plumping secret for the desperate and out-of-pocket that one can source from the veggie patch. Chillies! Choose the number of chillies for the effect you require. A friend starts application to her lips at noon for full effect by seven. She says the pain for the pout is worth the comments and the rumours she starts.
Why do we judge each other so harshly when it comes to looks?
I once lost 10kg. "Oh, you look stunning!" "Look at you, size 10... how cute!" So I wasn't cute or stunning before? I hadn't been noticed before and it was worryingly intoxicating to be revered, to be closer to the social goddess of perfection than many of my envious sisters.
Let's strive for health. And the standards won't be the socially accepted norms. Just the basic monitoring of the lab (chemicals, cholesterol, blood sugar etc.) It seems that Australian women need to move a little more and eat just a little less. We average a size 16. There's a middle road for all of us in the healthy lifestyle and weight department, not forgetting or judging those who are "fat" due to the side effects of medications.
We should encourage self-acceptance in all age groups. Those who want to can then choose to age naturally. A little flabbier, grey hair, glasses, practical shoes with inserts, double chins and the odd hairy chin(s). Or just target a few bits (I'll be buried blonde). Freedom to accept it all, or fight the entire spectrum. Choice.
More health, less judgment. And starting today, I'm choosing to concentrate on my core.
This post first appeared on August 25, 2016.