When I was eleven years old my mum gave me a bottle of Oil of Ulay, as it was called back then. She told me to apply it twice a day every day to keep my skin soft and protect against wrinkles. It was the only skincare product I ever saw her use and at the time I thought I had been inducted into a secret club just for women. I treasured this little glass bottle of delicate pink lotion and used it religiously. I had always been interested in hair and beauty, spending hours putting rollers into my Girl’s Worlds’ disembodied head and applying make up to her face. I began to worry about the ageing process and read countless teenage magazines and self-help books, scouring the pages for skincare tips. I found an article about facial exercises and practised them in the mirror each night as my younger sister, with whom I shared a room, sniggered at me patting under my chin and mouthing exaggerated vowel sounds to my reflection. She still laughs about it now and if we go away together I have to lock myself in the bathroom so that I can do my routine in private, otherwise she collapses into hysterics.
My first job was as a clerical officer with the Department of Ministry, Agriculture and Food. I was the only girl on my floor, surrounded by mostly middle-aged men in the days long before sexual harassment was a thing. They thought nothing of patting my behind as I brought them their coffee or rubbing up against me as they squeezed past the filing cabinets and their language was often ribald but it never occurred to me to be offended, it was just the way things were. After a few years in office work I was bored to tears and decided to follow my heart and pursue a career in hairdressing. My family were not best pleased that I was considering giving up a good salary for an apprenticeship but I was an independent young lady and very headstrong. I was shopping in Caversham one day and I walked past a salon with a vacancy sign in the window. I went in, spoke to the manager Denise and left half an hour later with a new job as a junior. My job would involve making tea, sweeping up the hair and cleaning the salon until the September when I would start my college course. My wages were £15 per week, cash in a brown envelope, of which I gave my mum £5 housekeeping and put aside £5 for my travel costs. This left very little for my skincare products so for a few years I made my own face masks from store cupboard ingredients like oats and honey and requested creams and make up for birthdays and Christmas presents. The girls I worked with were my icons, I adored their huge eighties hair styles and neon eyeshadow. I soaked up knowledge like a sponge, eager to learn new skills and my colleagues often used me as a model to try out new products so my hair was always a different colour. In this new female-led environment I flourished but my home life was deteriorating. My stepdad didn’t feel that I was contributing enough money to the household so, at the age of eighteen, I took the decision to move in with my boyfriend. Now I was living in a tiny bedsit, doing my own washing and cooking and trying to study. Somehow I survived and even managed regular nights out to show off my latest hair colour. I was living my best life but my skincare routine was never compromised. Even if I got home very drunk and late I never failed to cleanse, tone and moisturise.
Once I passed all my exams and became a stylist I was earning much more money. I had moved to another salon to finish my apprenticeship and the clientele were generous tippers. I spent most of my spare cash on creams and oils for my face. I also started going for facials and quizzed the beauticians endlessly about the best products to use. I would think nothing of spending £50 on a jar of face cream with mixed results. I had given up on night cream as it seemed too heavy for my skin and made it breakout. After I had my first child my skin changed, as did my hair. I struggled with a very dry, flaky complexion and my hair went from dead straight and silky to wiry and wavy. For years I hated how I looked. After three children I was overweight and tired all the time. I looked in the mirror and saw an old bag lady. I was at rock bottom. I hardly left the house and retreated into myself, finding consolation in sweet, fatty foods which I binged on in secret when the kids were in bed. I remember turning forty and realising that life was passing me by in a blur and that I was deeply unhappy. I joined a slimming club and although it was hard work I lost almost three stones. I had so much more energy and my passion for hair and beauty returned. I got a new job as a receptionist and began having my nails done. I embraced my new curls and grew them longer, adding highlights to hide the emerging grey hairs.
In my mid forties I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. Initially it set me back, I was in denial for a while but now I have my head round everything and I’m on the right medication, my condition and my weight is stable. I discovered Clarins skincare after having a facial with them and I feel that my complexion is better than it has been in years. I turned fifty this year and although I’m beginning to feel the first symptoms of the menopause I like what I see in the mirror now. I’m hoping I can maintain this new found confidence into my sixties, seventies and beyond. So I think that beauty definitely comes from within. Once you have found an inner peace and acceptance with the way you look it shines through for everyone to see.
Thanks for reading. xx