It happened a while back when I was staring in the mirror. I realised one of my eyes looked far bigger than the other. This definitely hasn't always been the case – and I wasn't imagining it either. I began to notice the same thing in photographs of myself, one larger eye, one smaller squinty one. What was going on?
Comedian Michele A'Court told me not to worry. It's just another weird thing that happens as you get older. Her theory is that the eye on the side you write with becomes more open than the other as the years go by. I mean really, who knew? And what else was going to happen to this 53-year-old body of mine that no-one has ever warned me about?
"Your eyebrows will disappear," says Michele (57). "I don't know where they go, but possibly it's into your husband's ears."
She's only half joking. Even I have noticed that my face is changing. Make-up takes twice as long to apply, even though I only put on half the amount. I'm having to rethink everything from the shade of my eyeshadow to the formula of my lipstick (it can't be too creamy, too matte or too glossy, which really doesn't leave many options).
As a performer, Michele has put some effort into this midlife revamp of her cosmetics bag.
"If I'm home alone, I like to go on YouTube and look at make-up tutorials for the older woman," she explains. "I've come to terms with the fact I can't do winged eyeliner any more because you can't draw on that skin. It would be like Michelangelo trying to do the Sistine Chapel on a tent. It's hopeless."
Getting ready to go on stage is now quite a process. "I'm basically constructing a face on top of my face," she admits.
Michele reckons it helps to think of yourself as like a car. "You're a gorgeous old classic... You need constant maintenance."
Perhaps the generations of women before us were more prepared to be old. I look at photographs of my mother and grandmother at my age, and don't feel like they look. In fact, it was a shock to find myself on the wrong side of the generation gap – surely I was still young about five minutes ago?
RadioLive host and Weekly columnist Wendyl Nissen says she first noticed she was old when it dawned on her that she couldn't party as hard.
"I've pretty much cut my drinking in half – maybe more. I don't have the stamina," she says. "I can't stay up as late, and then I don't sleep and wake up feeling like hell. The wisdom of being older means I've realised it's not worth the hassle."
Her youngest daughter is about to throw a party in their home. And while she's looking forward to attending, Wendyl (55) has taken the precaution of booking a hotel room for the night, "So I can be in bed by 10.30pm with a book. That's what I have to do for me."
At this point in life, it's important to be kinder to yourself, she says. "I don't have the resilience I once had. I don't cope with stuff as well as I used to. Once I could keep going and I'd be fine, but now I notice the stress and don't bounce back as well."
For Weekly columnist and Newstalk ZB host Kerre McIvor, one of the strangest developments as she's got older is suddenly no longer being able to put on pantyhose.
"It's one of those things that normally you don't even think about," she says. "I don't know why, but one day I just couldn't do it. My foot flaps around and I have to try to harness it with the pantyhose!"
Kerre (53) has been noticing all the obvious signs of ageing for a while, such as skin that's not as dewy and firm. But the mirror still had some surprises for her.
"Two big gouges appeared above my top lip. I looked like I'd been in a knife fight," she tells. "And I developed mad professor eyebrows – all of a sudden you get this rogue white one."
Kerre's solution has been to form a pact with her girlfriends that they will tell each other the moment a grey hair appears somewhere it's not meant to. And she's solved the lip issue by having her skin plumped with dermal fillers to soften those crevasses into daintier wrinkles.
While we all accept our appearance will change, there are other aspects of hitting midlife that are completely unexpected. For example, my appetite has diminished. I used to be able to do serious damage to a smorgasbord, but now, I find myself overfaced by a large slice of cake. And here's the kicker – even though I'm eating less, I'm putting on weight!
Author and foodie Peta Mathias has seen it all before.
"I put on a kilo a year for 10 years when I was going through the menopause," she says. "I just got bigger and bigger until at my heaviest I weighed 75kg."
Thankfully, Peta (67) has some good news. When menopause was over, the excess weight disappeared and now she's an elfin 60kg.
"I want everything I normally ate, but I just want less of it," she explains. "I never thought that would happen to me and I'm thrilled."
All this unsettling stuff about ageing was in my head when I wrote my latest novel, A Year at Hotel Gondola. It's a story about food, friendship, romance, Italy, and its main character, Kat Black, has just turned 50 and is determined she's not going to let age get in the way of the adventurous life she likes to lead.
Actually, some of the unexpected developments of midlife have come as a happy surprise. I've stopped caring about my cellulite and cankles.
I don't give a moment's thought to whether my bum looks big in this. I look worse than ever, but feel more confident (it helps that my eyesight is quite bad, so it's a while since I've seen anything but a blurry version of myself).
Michele, who's just written a romantic new book called How We Met, admits she is enjoying the invisibility that comes with being a midlife woman.
"I love being able to walk past a building site without being wolf-whistled."
Age has also brought her increased confidence as a stand-up comedienne. Most importantly, Michele says, being older means she's got enough experience to know that the bad times in life never last forever.
"I really love this time – this is my favourite bit," she says. "If I had access to a time machine and they said you can go back to any age, I'd stay right here, I think."
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