I Didn't Go to SpecSavers: On Ageing and Seeing
Or how I got my eyes done
Ageing is so often spoken of as terrible calamity, especially for women. I have lost too many friends to think of ageing as anything but some kind of triumph, especially given all the daft things I have done and continue to do in my life.
No cream will get rid of the “visible signs of ageing”. Some kind of facelift/botox may make me look less tired. A diet and proper exercise routine would definitely help: yada yada yada and if I cared enough or was told by a doctor to do this stuff I probably would. Vanity - and I am vain definitely - is somehow not enough of a motivation.
My job does not depend on how I look – thank the Gods – and I really hate the way every woman is made to feel as though that this is their actual job. If you are an actress/model/influencer ,then maybe it is . Otherwise, surely the goal is to look and feel as good as you can, but only on the days you can be arsed to.
You will never look like you did when you were young, even though mentally you may still be a stroppy teenager. What is the “you” that you are comparing yourself to? An unformed person with unlined skin and a flatter belly? Or are you measuring yourself against impossibly beautiful celebrities? If so, then this is a game you can only lose at. Why play it?
One of the things, that I do in fact mourn from my youth though, is that there were a variety of looks. We loved women with long hair, short hair, frizzy hair, waves, curls, Afros. I watch the girls coming out of school now and there is just the one look. For the white girls that is, there is some imagination for the black girls though they are pressured in different ways of course and for those who cover their hair, I see all kinds of things going on. Huge amounts of make up on gorgeous young faces.
These are mere observations, the subject of racialised beauty standards is not mine today nor perhaps should it ever be but the effort some white women make with lip fillers and bum implants is something we are strangely silent about. What is the connection between systemic racism and this aesthetic? Is that an inappropriate question? If so…well good. None of us live in a vacuum.
Lately, celebrities are talking about ageing though and the menopause and about time! I wrote about it years ago https://www.newstatesman.com/long-reads/2015/08/there-wont-be-blood-suzanne-moore-menopause and I am neither for or against HRT.
As ever, though I would say follow the money. It doesn’t work for everyone and women in the media are invested in this subject now because again their job is still wrapped up with the maintenance of youthfulness. Don’t get me wrong, clearly HRT is a life saver for some and no one should be having to deal it secretly as though it were crack. HRT on private prescription though, which is what most of these media women are on, may be a different ball game to NHS shortages and class and money is part of this, let’s not pretend otherwise.
As for testosterone? Well, I always think fondly of a woman I worked with who was given it to revive her flagging sex drive and marriage. “Does it work?” I asked her . “Oh yes, it’s fantastic” she said “I fancy everyone. Except my husband”.
I am acutely aware of what money can do as I recently went “private” for the first time ever for an eye operation. I believe passionately in the NHS and state education. Someone once accused me of sacrificing my children for the sake of my principles because I did not privately educate my kids. How insane is that? Working in a world of mostly privately educated people, I do indeed see what that education does and the connections it gives you but is it better? Are these people cleverer?
Not in the ways that I value: flexibility of thinking, an understanding of the world as it exists for most people , an ability to deal with difference.
So how did I find myself “going private” and why?
Well, ageing is both a universal and individual experience. What bothers some does not bother others and what has bothered me most is not flab and lines but deteriorating eyesight. I had perfect vision and then like everyone else my age, I was on the reading glasses from the pound shop and it didn’t really matter if I lost them, as they were literally a pound. Until one day, the optician said I needed to get proper glasses and predicted with complete accuracy when that would be. I never minded wearing glasses or thought they looked bad, I just always resented the fact that I had to. My womb stopped working and that was cool but my eyes? This is such a first world problem, I know but there just is something in me that wants to see. That’s all I can say.
I got varifocals which were becoming more and more and expensive and I got used to them. Sort of. I did go to Specsavers – BOGOF – and I also went to a much more expensive place too and I got an anti- blue light protection put in my specs for screens and tinted glasses that would go black in sunlight.
Other friends are much more bothered by the hearing loss that is also completely normal as we age. Noisy pubs and clangy restaurants become impossible but this just isn’t a thing that concerns me too much.
What began to disturb me and made me feel vulnerable was not seeing properly at night, even with my expensive varifocals on. Nothing was in focus. Glasses for me, I realised were always about how I felt and not what I looked like. Indeed, I love wearing sunglasses. Who doesn’t? It’s just now, they had to be prescription ones.
When during the last couple of check- ups, the optician said that I had the beginnings of cataracts, I was bemused. All that meant ,was that in a few years time I may get them and in that case you have an NHS operation so you don’t actually go blind.
Cataract surgery is when they remove the natural lens which has become opaque and replace it with an intraocular lens.
So I went to Moorfields, a place that I have spent a lot of time in, as one of my children had several operations there, to see what could be done. Lasers would not be enough. Lots of tests and the surgeon was charming, funny and reassuring and told me what would work and what to expect. They would burn out my lens and put in the varifocal lens INSIDE MY EYES. There were several places that offered cheaper options, but I implicitly trust Moorfields and this guy was one of the top guys.
Should I spend all this money on myself? Actually, my glasses were becoming more and more expensive and I don’t even have fancy frames. Maybe I could justify it that way? I imagined that I would still need reading glasses anyway.
I decided to go for it and was frankly terrified. I would be awake when they did this thing and imagined I would probably be in pain for days after. The only thing, the doctor said , that I must not do after was deep sea diving. Phew! I knew I would be flying a few days later and that he said that would be no problem.
The mind does what the mind does though and although the guy was a top surgeon I became obsessed with the idea that he could have a seizure or heart attack while doing the things, I did not want to think about ,to my eyes. On confessing this to one of my kids, they were hardly helpful as they had heard of a surgeon who did in fact have Tourette’s but always remained calm during operations. I don’t even know if this is true . Or disablist? More than likely. All I know, is that I am not brave and find the dental hygienist akin to medieval torture.
When I went into hospital at 8am, it was shocking that there was no bed and just a chair. What kind of operation was this? Obviously, I had asked for sedation. “We will put something in the back of your hand” said the surgeon who I had now secretly diagnosed with epilepsy, which he was clearly unable to disclose to me . Anaesthetic eye drops were put in as soon as I arrived, and I was told to select my lunch.
“I have a very high tolerance, bang it in” I said to the anaesthetist who must have heard that a million times before and then I became worried that he and not the surgeon was going to do the op. He explained that he was not the surgeon while I explained the drugs were doing nothing. The worst bit was when – I dunno they put something over your face to keep your eyes open - which felt strange but not painful. Then the thing is being done to you and seriously you don’t feel a thing. Lights flash and you think “Is this the bit where they are putting something actually inside my eyes?” but you feel nothing. It takes about 25 min tops and I chatted away about the war in Ukraine the whole time, in a way that was probably deeply annoying while also asking for more “sedation” even though they had finished.
Then a blanket round me as I felt a bit cold and back in my room for a sandwich. The nurse gave me drops and I went home at noon ,had a gin and tonic and a nap and that was really it.
I woke up expecting blurred vision and pain and there was none. I could see. I could read immediately without glasses, though I kept reaching for them. No direct sunlight for a while so I felt quite mysterious wearing sunglasses for two weeks especially in Albania where I went for a minibreak.
What can I say? It worked and far better than I ever thought it would and it really didn’t hurt. God medicine is wonderful. Imagine, in another era, in other parts of the world, cataracts which are incredibly common, mean people just slowly go blind.
The moral of this is two fold: do not be scared, if this is offered to you or you are thinking about it and also that ageing in an individual process. What matters to you may not matter to some. Do the things that you deem important to you : there are no rights and wrongs here.
Sure, I read all the anti-ageing advice that I ignore just like every other sucker and I only have a small amount of wisdom to impart.
If your teeth are bad fix them, that is kind of half your face. Go back to college or learn a new skill any way you can. Keep your brain nimble.
Probably for the money I spent, I could have had an eye lift or some other cosmetic surgery but why? What is important to me is not what you see when you look at me but what I see when I look at the world.
Now I can see clearly. It’s a bloody miracle.
Prof Kathleen Stock’s Substack. A fine mind , a dry wit and god you can exhilarate in the freedom she has away from the captivity of academia
The Worst Person In the World.
A film by Joachim Trier. A wonderful central performance by Renate Reinsve drifting into her 30s, never finishing anything. A movie about love and loss , sad and brilliant with a couple of stunning set pieces.