Yesterday on Radio 4’s Book Programme Harriett Gilbert selected as her Good Read More Than a Woman by Caitlin Moran. Like many reviewers before her, (particularly those of a certain age), she expressed mild dismay at Moran’s volte face regarding Botox. Why, asked Harriett, had Ms Moran, the very epitome of independent, confident womanhood, wavered from the path of real feminism in the face of her ageing face, and chosen cosmetic intervention?
I commiserated with Harriett. My own face fell even further, jowls aquiver with bewilderment, on hearing this earth-shattering news.
Muriel Gray, a guest on the programme, was rather more brisk on the subject. Her contribution, along the lines of ’I don’t give a flying f*** about what this author has done to herself in the privacy of a clinic…I enjoyed reading her eloquent opinions about far more consequential issues of 21st century womanhood’ set me back on the path of reason, but not before I recalled a similar exchange with my sister on a topic not unrelated.
It’s about HRT, and why, after years of cackling in the face of menopause symptoms, while ever-so-slightly disparaging those women who claim the cessation of menstrual periods has ruined their life, I have allowed pharmaceutical replicas of oestrogen and progesterone into mine.
In the past six months I have spoken to three women I admire – two are (good) runners, one does not indulge but likes a bit of powerlifting – who have embraced HRT. One of these women, a gynaecologist, explained that the hormones we have lost, now we are menopausal (or in my case, very much post menopausal) have a part to play in keeping tendons, ligaments, bones, membranes healthy and strong (which is pretty crucial, if we invisage staying active and upright for the rest of our lives).
Mother Nature, it would seem, designed women to bear and raise children, become a little more sedentary and plumper as they looked after their children’s children, then tidy themselves away and feed the worms when they got to around my age (especially in times of crop failure or plague). Some achieved their three-score-years and ten and beyond, but they were the anomalies. Women’s bodies, sadly, lose muscular strength and their skin loses elasticity, as they age. So do men’s, of course, but slower, and of course they get the whole Silver Fox second-go-at-Daddyhood thing, don’t they, Boris?
Is it any wonder, in the light of this, that sporty women, ambitious women, women in the public eye, are diverted by elixirs of Botox and Oestriol?
However, when I tried to posit this to my horrified older sister, as she challenged me about my change of heart regarding HRT. Indeed, it caused something of a hot flash of temper. As only sisters can, she trotted out, quite accurately, my historic resistance to medicalising menopause, and added a quick vegan-bash, just for me.
I completely understand her reaction (to the HRT revelation, at least). I can only defend my position by citing my current plummet in fitness. The cross country season has started (the picture above was the first meeting of the season, in a rainy Richmond Park. The huge wet panel on my sweatshirt is caused by running to the start in a hoody and open anorak, not a hot flush).
I enjoyed the race. It’s so bracing, after the 18-month restriction on mass gatherings, to be running for Kent AC and catching up with so many team-mates that don’t make it to the track in Lewisham every Tuesday, but I found the course especially gruelling. My times are so poor these days that I feel much more has been lost in my form, even allowing for natural age decline, and the injury setbacks I’ve had in the past five years.
If rubbing an oestrogen gel into my skin, and popping a progesterone pill at night (which, if nothing else, has largely knocked sleep disturbances and vague low mood on the head) can help me return to form, I will take it.
Years ago, when blogging about my running in a far more conventional, and tedious for everyone but me, way (it was a daily blog, called A Year of Training Seriously), I tracked sessions, performances, triumphs and disasters and finished the blog with the flourish of a London Marathon pb.
This time round, as I enter my 60th year on the planet, I will continue in this less intensely runner/geek vein as Marathon Gran, but, as in AYTS, keep in mind that I’ve a goal: Manchester Marathon on April 3.
Covid 19 allowing, that gives me a good four months of track, cross country, long slow runs and parkruns to see if I can get back to what I was. Older, wiser, open to suggestions, but so far, sceptical about Botox.