THE BIG BIRTHDAY SPRUCE UP

You probably know the feeling. You look in the mirror and wonder when that little line, about which only you knew, became visible from five feet away? And then you begin to look elsewhere, and notice a general grey-cast to your face, flaky bits of skin on your shins and a general lack of 'bloom' about your appearance. 

When that happens six weeks before your birthday, it's even more of a jolt. And you know you've got some work to do. When that birthday comes towards the end of February - when your skin has been the furthest it can be from Northern Hemisphere daylight, you've had the Lurgy From Hell for weeks on end, and you've had all those Christmas treats to eat up, you know it's going to be a big task. And when you realise that, at some point in the not too distant future, you're going to have to reveal some of that flesh in public, particularly those feet, legs and arms, that have been hiding beneath six layers of woolly warmers, you begin, just a little, to panic. 

And, of course, by now you will doubtless have realised that I am speaking, or rather writing, about my own experience of a few weeks ago.  Now I might have overstated it a bit. I did not, as you may have inferred from my description, look like a zombie. At least I don't think I did. But, while I wasn't utterly horrified, I was certainly determined that, come birthday time things had to look different. 

The problem is, that with each passing year, that difference takes a little more effort to enact. There seems, with each new birthday, to be an extra step necessary to restore things to a level I'm content with. It used to be that a couple of goes with a face pack would suffice. I think back to my 18th birthday preparations. It started the night before my party and consisted of a quick swipe of nail polish, a bit of spot cover, a touch of makeup and curling my hair with those squiggly Schumi Shaper things and that was it. Done. Granted my teenage self might have been a bit  less sophisticated in her standards, but I think I'd now need more effort than that for a trip to Aldi!

It's recently occurred to me, probably it should have done so some time ago, that I can no longer let my efforts slide without a similar deterioration in my appearance. I seem now to need all manner of creams and lotions, serums and potions. And I need to be much more disciplined about it. No more missing a few days here and there. No more being lazy about removing makeup, or forgetting to pop on some eye cream.  

And not just to my face either! Now I need to exfoliate and moisturise my  body like never before. Whereas before it would take weeks of gradual neglect to make my feet look anything less than pretty, it now takes a day without attention for them to turn into horrible, dried-up giant wrinkles. Sorry for that imagery. But if you have the same problem, you'll have seen it all before. And if not, well just you wait …

I like to give myself a little boost here and there. After all it makes you feel good to treat yourself. I have regular hair colours, have my brows threaded by a professional. In truth I struggle to maintain any kind of shape without expert intervention. (Whether that's my ability, or lack thereof, or the awkward nature of my natural brows, I'm not sure). And I've recently discovered the joys of the eyebrow tint. I'm not ashamed of it. I mean, I could sit here and pretend that my naturally-dark brows have a beautifully defined arch all of their own. But they don't. Left to their own devices, they are mousey, wavy and rather flat with a gap where a chicken pox once erupted. And besides, what's the point in pretending?  Chances are, if you're reading this, you artificially enhance a few things about your own appearance too! And so you'll assume that I probably do the same. 

And that list of little 'adjustments' grows ever longer. I used to try to convince myself that these increases were merely down to me gaining higher standards. And to a point that is true. However it's also because my skin needs a bit more help than is used to require. And that's okay. It comes to us all. But the thing is, I'm starting to wonder when I'll reach the point that I can no longer find the time to get all those treatments, use all the necessary products and put on all the makeup and still get dressed in the morning!

Sometimes I do just wonder if it would really do any harm to ease off a bit. But then I take a look in that mirror.  In truth, I don't actually mind that everything takes so much time and effort. It's not yet that big a commitment and, if I'm honest, the longer it takes to do, the greater the pay-off of doing it. So in my opinion, the results are worth it. And, over the past few weeks, I've buffed and scrubbed, cleansed and moisturised, preened and pampered everything I could  and, with a couple of weeks to go until that birthday, things are looking much better, thank goodness. I'm not overly ambitious. I knew from an early age I was never going to be a rival to Grace Kelly. I'm not expecting Hollywood glamour. Just as well because, if it takes this much effort to look like me, Lord knows how long it takes to look properly beautiful!

Of course, as much as I may prefer to pretend that it isn't, this is entirely a matter of vanity. I like to think I don't stress about getting older – better than the alternative, as they say – but that doesn't mean I don't want to look as good as I can. And it's not really about looking at my reflection and seeing someone older that jolts me into action, it's when the face staring back at me looks dull and somewhat unloved. And, when it comes down to it, that's precisely what it's all about – appreciating and respecting yourself enough to make a bit of effort before you face the world.  It may not, for all that effort, make a huge difference to anyone else's view of me. They may not even notice that my skin looks clearer,  my hair colour fresher,  my brows more defined and my face more uplifted, but I can see a difference. And that makes me more content. And happier. And if I feel better about myself, then that must count for something.  After all, you can't expect anyone else to respect you if you don't feel that way about yourself.