Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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The Fashion Commandments

I am not a fashion victim or slave. Since I was bashed with the blogging mallet, I have almost completely given up my fashion magazine habit – unless I receive them as a gift, in which case, I hyperventilate with excitement. I now tend to get my fashion advice from two online newspapers – The Guardian/Observer and The Times – and those brilliant stylistas at Go Fug Yourself. With forty looming like an overly mascaraed false eyelash, I occasionally give some thought to my own style. Am I showing too much flesh, like a rosemary-scented Easter lamb, or is there a hint of tough-skinned old mutton about me? I recently read the following tips from The Times, which I thought would be important to share with those of you who care. Those of you who couldn’t give a lamb damn, then flick away fast to something less superficial.

Ten commandments, apparently, for mothers with daughters (and all women over 40):

1. Thou shalt resist Abercrombie & Fitch. It’s soft, it’s comfortable. It’s designed for teenagers.

Luckily this is not a problem for me. No A&F in my ‘hood. However there are large sections of H&M I have to avoid.

2. Thou shalt be seen only at the most casual events in hoodies.

Early morning walk? Talking the kids to kindergarten? Apres-ski? Methinks these are all suitable hoody occasions. Otherwise I leave the hood well alone. Of course, the hood on my green boiled wool winter coat doesn’t count here.

3. Thou shalt wear high-tech trainers only in the gym.

Well, what’s a high-tech trainer when it’s home. One that flashes? Or calculates your BMI? I do wear trainers – see above for when.

4. Thou shalt not show thy political awareness by wearing slogan T-shirts. Thou hast the vote. Use it.

I have voted, and I do forswear slogan T-shirts, but I wouldn’t mind a T-shirt that said “Mother. Blogger. Goddess”. That would be good.

5. Thou shalt wear jeans, but not the identical cut and brands as thy teenage daughter.

I do avoid teenage jeans, usually because I can’t get them over my knees. While my jeans do rest slightly below my navel, they also rest quite far above my coccyx, so that I keep my antler tattoo hidden from public view. Some things just have to be kept private.

6. Thou shalt not wear sparkly body powder even in jest. It settles in the wrinkles.

Sparkly body powder, no. Sparkly Dream Mousse Shimmer Porcelain Face Illuminator for special occasions, yes. I am a natural born princess.

7. Thou shalt not wear leggings. Period.

I have lived through two leggings fashion eras. This is not mine. I leave the leggings to the twiglets. Chicken drumstick legs are only for boot-cut pants. Period.

8. Thou shalt not suddenly decide to be edgy, although if one has always been an eccentric dresser, carry on as normal.

Disagree! While I am not edgy, I am cutting-edge for my town (I wear lipstick! and mascara! to kindergarten! with jewellery!) I refuse to stop entertaining the crowds.

9. Thou shalt never do mixy-matchy or themed outfits with one’s daughters.

Absolutely. Too, too tacky.

10. Thou shalt treat thyself to expensive classics. And lock them away.

I’m not good at tailored. Tailored, expensive classics make me feel like an over-upholstered sofa, all puffed-up and full of self-importance. However I have made two investment purchases this year – a beautiful pair of brown leather boots and my Party Dress. Worn together, they are very slightly edgy.

Do any of these rules speak to you? Or do I drop The Times of London as my fashion bible and head elsewhere for tips?


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Musings from the Pool

In the last two weeks, I spent a lot of time here:

It gave me the chance to examine closely and at length other people’s bodies. Let me say this, there is almost no such thing as a perfect body. Flaws are everywhere. While looking at bodies large and slender, I was also able to examine my own weight madness. I think my attitude to weight is odd and skewed, coming as I do from a family who believe on seeing one another that it is acceptable to say things like, “You look like you’ve lost some weight! Last time I saw you you had buttocks like a zebra.” Or who like to fling an arm around a pregnant woman and announce to a group of 12 people that, “Charlotte will lose all this weight as soon as the baby is here.” Or who think it is helpful to say to a pubescent 12-year-old, “I see you have inherited the Von Mengershausen (read: Teutonic and large) thighs.”

As grown-ups we have to own our madness and not still blame our families for every single one of our failings, but having had such a fertile start, my twisted attitude to weight has grown apace like a feral and overactive vine. While I relaxed reading in a lounger stood in the shallow waters of the pool watching my small people cavort, there was a dialogue between my weight madness and my sane mind. It went something like this …

Weight madness: Fat people shouldn’t have tattoos.

Sane mind: Anyone can have tattoos. Even if I don’t like them much, it’s anyone’s right to decide how to decorate their bodies.

Weight madness: Oh God, look at the size of her. How can she bring herself to put on a bikini?

Sane mind: She is relaxing and enjoying her holiday with her family. Isn’t that lovely?

Weight madness: I’ve never seen so many fat teenagers. Look at that brazen one.

Sane mind: Yes, there are a lot of fat teenagers. Children nowadays have different pressures to face. It’s better that she’s out there having fun with her friends than cooped up at home feeling sorry for herself.

Weight madness: I wish my thighs were thinner.

Sane mind: I’ve had three children. My thighs are a badge of pride.

Weight madness: Yes, but look at my stomach. It’s gross.

Sane mind: My stomach could be a little trimmer.

Weight madness: I’d better lose all this weight before I go to Berlin in September. I don’t want (dear and accepting friend) to go back home to South Africa and tell everyone how fat I am.

Sane mind: She loves me for who I am not for the size of my thighs.

Weight madness: True, but she’ll still go home and tell everyone how fat I am.

Sane mind: South Africans are more weight-obsessed than anyone else I know. Look at all these happy fat Italians. They’re having a lovely time and no-one’s feeling self-conscious at all. I could let my stomach hang out a little more if I wanted to.

Weight madness: No I musn’t! I won’t be able to see my feet. I’m going sit down in the water so only my thin bits show.

That bit of internal insanity aside, here are the facts:

1. I am 10 kilograms heavier than I was when I left school in 1986.

2. When I left school in 1986 I had the beginnings of a food disorder, during which I ate an apple for breakfast, a Slim Slab for lunch and only the vegetables at supper. No-one noticed that I was not eating enough, and everyone congratulated me for looking so thin. The disorderette went away after about six months when my hunger thankfully returned.

3. There is a five-kilogram window in which my weight radiates up and down, depending on mood, season and hormones.

4. I wear the same size clothes as I did before I was pregnant. The clothes are sometimes a little tighter, sometimes a little looser.

5. My husband and my children think I am gorgeous.

6. I have never mentioned weight to my children. I tell them they are beautiful, and they are. My weight madness dialogue is completely internal.

Despite knowing all of the above, I still believe – when I am at wrong end of that five-kilogram window – that I am out of control and shameful. How mad is that? I sucked in all those weight messages my family sent my way like a thirsty camel hitting the oasis. The messages were thin = good, fat = bad; thin = good girl, fat = shameful girl; thin = stand up and be proud, fat = run away and hide and don’t come out until you’re thin again.

The sane part of me has completely accepted my Von Mengershausen thighs, but the weight madness stills scrapes away in the back of my head critiquing myself and those around me who dare to wear a bikini when they clearly shouldn’t. I need to send the weight madness for re-education, from whence it can come back a Beth Ditto fan, shouting “Love me, love my zebra buttocks”. Most importantly, it needs to look at other people and not run through an exhausting checklist of how they could look better. At best, it’s superficial, and at worst, it’s cruel.

Thin-propaganda free, I could relax a little more at the pool. It takes a lot of energy being mean.


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Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow?

Today, after many months of being out on a grey and brown limb, I rejoined the sisterhood and did what many women do on a Saturday morning – left my husband in the care of the children and went to have my hair highlighted. Now I really am from blonde people. The last time I was at the hair salon was July last year, and since then I have been experimenting with how I feel allowing my natural honey dark blonde mouse to grow through, touched up as it is with wings of platinum grey. And the answer is, friends and feminists, not good. I have been feeling steadily more and more frumpish. It doesn’t help that it’s winter, that the world is coloured sludge and the coat which I wear on a daily basis is olive green. Not even my purple sparkly beanie and my various purple scarves have helped. I needed colour and I needed it badly.

Part of the problem is that although I’ve been back in Germany for nearly four years, I’ve struggled to find a hairdresser I like. Some can colour, some can cut and some can blow-dry but rare is the hair-beast who can do all three well. I was loyal to one salon in town that cut and coloured my hair beautifully but I always left with Shirley Temple curls that had been gelled and sprayed into a helmet. Then I moved to another salon, recommended by friends, where I had the world’s most spectacularly incompetent highlighting experience – as she folded the foils into my hair, they were falling out again, drifting to the floor in silver swathes. Last year I found a fabulous hairdresser, but she fell in love with an English lad and moved to London.

So, to quote Zia, I loined my girdles and gave a different local salon a go. Happy me! We have blondeness! And at an extremely reasonable price, with friendly atmosphere, decent coffee and not too much chit-chat (I needed to focus on Anna Karenina, the trashy magazines and at one point, even have a little nap – because going to the hairdresser’s is just so relaxing).

In my heart of hearts, I know this longish, blondish thing is a stop-gap measure only. I have a dream hairstyle. I keep telling myself I can only have it when I lose five kilograms/turn forty/publish a book. It’s a style with gravitas, that says “you are a grown-up now”. It is a complete crop, in the style of Judi Dench. It would mean losing the tresses that have been with me – on and off – since childhood and the thought makes me anxious. Is my hair my security blanket? Would I feel too naked if I cropped it all off? Would I have to wash behind my ears a little more assidiously?

I remember going to a woman’s 40th birthday when I was still a student. It was a lunch for her female family members and friends. She was very slim and lovely, with a mane of dark hair. To this party, she wore an almost completely transparent white dress with nothing on underneath but a G-string. She looked stunning but also rather sad. I remember thinking, “When I’m forty, I want to have accepted the beginning of the aging process, and not be fighting it quite so nakedly.” Well, here I am brinking forty, and um, still highlighting my hair and wearing it long. It’s pretty darn girlish. It’s the hair equivalent of a see-through dress, Botox or a boob job.

I’ve had deep discussions with some girlfriends about the long hair/growing older thing and in principle I’ve agreed with them that long, grey hair can be lovely and elegant. Mine just wants to be really, really short. I just have to get up the courage to part with it.