THE TAIL WAGGING THE DOG & INSTAGRAM

You know that thing when you’re aware things are bad, but you had no idea just how bad?

Like when you take your car for a service and you’re reasonably sure it’s $1000+ bad, but it’s actually http://www.carsales.com.au bad?

Or like when you’re worried that you left the front door unlocked bad but actually you left the oven on and your whole house has burned down bad?

Or like when you think you might’ve forgotten to pack your kid’s lunchbox bad but actually you’ve dropped him off at school on a Saturday, alone and with no lunch, bad?

That’s what it was like when I sat down to write this blog post.

I wanted to write a post about how the use of the word “Instagrammable” annoys me, because it’s a brand, not an adjective.

But before I mouthed off about this English-language interloper, I thought I’d better get my facts straight and do a bit of research via Google. (Also a brand, not a verb).

How long have people been saying this? Am I the only one with a problem with it? What does Urban Dictionary have to say about it?

Imagine my horror, when not only did my search yield no such etymological results, but before I even had the chance to execute the search, the following appeared:

See? So much worse than I thought. Am I feeling lucky, Google? No. No I’m not. I’m feeling really quite depressed about the whole thing.

So apparently ‘Instagrammable’ is a thing and we’re not even debating it anymore.

But these ongoing corporate ambushes on the English language are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the social media behemoth’s impact on the way we live our lives.

What’s truly troubling me is the way that life seems to be shaping itself to be appealing for the sake of Instagram, and not the other way around.

New restaurants and cafes are opening seemingly with the express purpose of looking good with the X-Pro II filter. It’s not even clear whether they serve food.

Tourism websites are providing links to the addresses of all the best street art for the masses to ‘stumble on’ during their travels. Meanwhile, the subversive forefathers of the guerilla art form are turning in their graves.

Bars everywhere are going out of business as the cost of glasses broken by patrons trying to capture that elusive perfect drinking/cheers/Boomerang becomes too prohibitive to go on.

And in the ultimate kick in the teeth, just as the world seems to be cottoning on to these troubling trends, the influencers who were wildly culpable in starting it all, are now making bank by creating content that extols the virtues of the ‘social media detox’ and the benefits of being present and not just ‘doing it for the ‘Gram’.

It’s endlessly frustrating.

Riddle me this: you know how generations before us all smoked, and now with the benefit of hindsight and all our new knowledge we can sit in judgment and say, “How can they not have known how bad it was for them? Tut, tut.”

Is that how my kids are going to feel in fifty years time when they scroll through my Instagram feed? All 18,000 pictures worth?

Meanwhile I’m pacing the nursing home, unable to sit still or focus on my knitting for more than thirty seconds because my mind has been conditioned to expect new content every 4.5 seconds, pausing only to post hilarious Boomerangs with my false teeth?

Full disclosure: I love Instagram. I love the window into my friends’ lives it occasionally provides when I don’t get to see them all the time. I love the fashion/art/food inspiration it can provide when it comes from a place of authenticity. I love the voyeurism allowed by peeping into the lives of famous people whose actual bathroom I’ll likely never have the opportunity to use because of actual organic friendship. I love when someone advertises something to me and I really do want said thing and I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise.

(I dislike the inspirational quotes, though. They can beat it.)

The point is, I don’t want Instagram to go away. I do still want to be able to use it to post pictures of me and future my mates at Sherry O’Clock in the nursing home. #nannasgonewild

I just really detest this all-pervasive, existence-altering, manipulation machine it seems to be fast becoming today. The thing that is compelling marketers to engineer unique ‘Instagrammable’ experiences that really only serve to remind us of how nothing is unique and everyone is cynical and also all these things do is create queues and queues are the worst.

Would it be too much to ask Instagram to go back to being that thing we used on the odd occasion when our lives and thoughts were so unique and fabulous that we just couldn’t help but share them?

I want to go back to that time when our actual lives were all the content we needed because frankly, life was pretty good without trying.

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THE WISDOM OF WAGS

Help! I’ve been following the recent media coverage of NRL WAGs providing ‘advice’ on childhood vaccinations and I rolled my eyes so hard that my eyeballs broke. Anyone know the Instagram handle of a WAG I can consult for this serious medical condition?

Prior to the broken eyeballs, I watched with interest as two NRL partners – Taylor Winterstein and Shanelle Cartwright – made recent headlines for their public anti-vaccination stance. The media damnation has been vocal and swift with Winterstein in particular being singled out for charging $200 for her ‘seminars’ on the subject.

Any time an anti-vaxxer finds their way out of the wholefoods aisle and into the mainstream media, the frustration and emotion around the topic is almost palpable. What’s interesting in this particular case, is the intersection between this oft-maligned stereotype, and our other stereotypical preoccupation – the Wives and Girlfriends of professional sportsmen.

Many point to the 2006 soccer World Cup as the genesis of our interest in WAGs. Lead by Victoria Beckham and Cheryl Cole, the English partners set fashion trends from their seats in the stands and made headlines from the bars afterwards. They provided a concurrent narrative to the actual game, and to those of us who’ve never quite understood the low-scoring code, it was a welcome enhancement to the tournament.

Fast-forward to 2019, and an interest in the activities of WAGs is not so much a novelty, but a reluctant norm. We even have a shorthand for quantifying a WAGs’ news value through a handy reference to her Instagram followers.

But far from making headlines for drinking Veuve Cliquot straight from the bottle through a straw, WAGs are now using their platform to broadcast their opinions on a broad range of topics – not just the appropriate sunglass lens diameter for this season.

I should know, as a former-NRL-player partner myself I have been particularly mouthy in the past few months about the off-field issues facing the rugby league community at the moment.

I don’t mention my own exploits to give them a subtle plug (though, please, by all means, do have a read), but to make the case for an interest in the activities of those closest to our sporting elite.

The fact is, our sportspeople occupy an elevated position in our shared public consciousness, and in this current culture of encouraged voyeurism, it stands to reason that those adjacent to the famous and infamous will be the subject of some interest too.

I would further argue that in some cases, these opinions could actually be valuable. As WAGs we do develop a very specific almost Neeson-esque set of skills, and it would be foolish to dismiss us all as mere tabloid fodder.

For example, if you want some thoughts on the link between a player’s convoluted pre-game rituals and their actual performance – we can enlighten you. (Spoiler alert, I can assure you, through years of data collection, there is no link between a pre-game beef stroganoff and an increased tackle count.)

Want to know the best way to plan a family holiday for the off-season when you’re not sure if your partner will bomb out of the finals in the first round or go all the way through to the big one and subsequently disappear for a six-week international representative tour at a day’s notice? We’ve got a solution for that.

We can give tips on surviving weekend after weekend on your own with your kids because your partner has a string of away games and as a result of his career you live in a city with no support network to help you keep your sanity and crippling loneliness in check. We’re super-good at that.

Having trouble with the office man-splainer? Our lifetime of experience in nodding politely while dudes tell us ‘how footy works’, despite the fact that we have been forced to eat, sleep and breathe the damn sport from the moment we met our partners makes us experts in the practice.

Struggling with body image? As WAGs the societal expectation that we look a certain way and weigh a certain amount has left many of us with a hugely eroded sense of self-confidence so we’ve certainly got some thoughts we can share with you here.

Someone stole your thunder? Once I grew human-person and had it chopped out of my abdomen, only to have my husband make the New South Wales State of Origin team two days later. As a result, I spent six of the first nine weeks of said human person’s life raising him alone, becoming a parent for the first time alone, all the while fielding hyper-enthusiastic ‘you must be so proud of Ryan’ sentiment. Simply put, I can empathise.

Us WAGs are more just than giant handbags, filled lips and hot air. We have thoughts, feelings and opinions on a far-ranging variety of topics and it’s perhaps not the worst idea in the world to ask us our views on these things from time to time.

That said, maybe just leave the medical advice to the certified health professionals.

#BALANCEFORBETTER

There’s an air of head-scratching and confusion around rugby league at the moment.

What began as a few off-field incidents late last year has developed into a spate of player misbehavior, particularly with regards to the treatment of women. As a result, industry-wide frustration seems to be giving way to a sense of dejected confusion.

How did it come to this?

Commentators across the board have offered theory after theory on where the code has gone wrong, but one thing seems to be beyond argument – rugby league has a problematic relationship with women.

Stripped to its core, rugby league is a celebration of strength, speed and aggression. All characteristics that – rightly or wrongly – are generally associated with men, and have been since time immemorial.

So in this lead up to International Women’s Day, when we take time to reflect on the strides we have taken towards gender equality, we need to start by acknowledging that because of its fundamental physical nature, the literal rugby league field remains a space where women are separate.

That said, this segmentation along gender lines is no excuse for the fact that even off the field, rugby league remains a male-dominated space. And surely this is where we need to start. If there is a poor or even indifferent attitude towards women within rugby league, it could be because there are simply not enough of us around.

It is important to draw a distinction here between football clubs and football departments. In my sixteen years experience with rugby league clubs I’ve known a great number of women who work in the ‘front office’ of the club – marketing, sponsorship, membership and match day experience, for example. But within the football departments – the players, coaches, medical, strength and conditioning staff – in my experience the number of female staff tends to be much lower. Not zero, but very low.

So for all intents and purposes, the space in which players operate tends to be male-dominated. Which is problematic.

These guys spend all day mostly with other men; working with other men, reporting to other men, in some cases competing with other men.

Often they have come to this industry straight out of high school, maybe even an all-male school, so they have literally never had a female peer or a female boss. They have never had to compete with a woman for anything.

Which is why we are in desperate need of women in football departments and in management. Specifically female trainers, performance staff, referees, coaches, managers, CEOs and board members. We need more women present in the gym, in team reviews, on the sidelines, in boardrooms and on touring buses.

We need this group of young men to understand that women are a vital component of any functional workplace, that they are more than just your mothers, or your sisters, or your potential romantic conquests.

Women need to be not only humanized, but bestowed with intrinsic value that is not relative to the amount of weight they can squat or bench press.

Players need to be shown that the inclusion of women in any environment is one that will enrich the workings of the team. Multiple and diverse viewpoints on any issue can only be beneficial, we know this. #BalanceforBetter, as is the campaign theme for International Women’s Day this year. 

Challengers to this school of thought will point to the fact that there are few women in football departments because rugby league has long been considered the domain of men so there are fewer women applying for the roles in the first place. And when they do, they may not have been afforded the vast experience that their male counterparts have, and their CV is likely to reflect this discrepancy. It is a vicious cycle.

So how do we resolve that?

A mandatory quota system for female staff in football departments might work.

Whilst the merits of quotas have been robustly debated in both the corporate and political spheres, they are already an accepted aspect of rugby league. For example, UK Super League teams are only allowed to register five overseas players at any one time, presumably to protect the homegrown talent pool of the game in the UK, and this is accepted as part and parcel of the game internationally.

I fail to see how the enforcement of a female football staff quota should be seen as any less valuable or necessary.

It’s just one example of a change that could be made.

Plus we do need to approach this issue from the top down. The NRL have done a great job of creating a inclusion framework for the entire rugby league community, but one can’t help but wonder how long this attitude shift in the grassroots of rugby league will take to filter through to the highest, most visible level of professional rugby league in the NRL.

And we don’t really have time to wait. We need to do something. The situation has become pressing. As many have pointed out, there is brand damage being done to our game but what’s far worse is the potential for actual human damage.

Last week the NRL announced a forensic review into NRL culture, with particular regard to the treatment of women. This is welcome recognition that there are changes to be made. I look forward to the findings, and more importantly to a future where in rugby league we can be aspirational in this space, rather than standing around, scratching our collective heads.

CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION

After an NRL off-season replete with player misbehavior and serious accusations, we in the rugby league community have once again found ourselves in the murky debate as to how our game should treat proven perpetrators of violent crime.

Now, in the wake of domestic violence accusations against Cowboys player Ben Barba, both his club and the league have acted – swiftly and decisively. The Cowboys have torn up his one-year contract and the NRL have deregistered him as a professional rugby league player in Australia.

It’s an encouraging step in the right direction.

If the NRL can use this decision as the groundwork for an extensive policy for dealing with convicted violent offenders, then this precedent has the ability to act as deterrent to future would-be offenders. So it’s an integral part of the overall discussion.

But it is only one piece of the puzzle. This is a discussion that must be continued and considerably broadened.

As a case in point: it’s been heartening to see concern for Ben Barba’s partner and children filter through the media coverage of this story. Multiple commentators have raised concern for Ainslie Currie’s mental well-being as a result of the incident and the family’s financial well-being in the wake of the sudden termination of a household income stream.

Like many current and former NRL partners, I know what it’s like to depend solely on a partner’s income. It’s stressful enough when it comes time to renegotiate contracts that you’ve long known are expiring; I cannot imagine what it must be like to have the rug pulled out from under you in this abrupt manner.

This is an opportunity to broaden the conversation. Not only the conversation around what we can do now for Ainslie Currie and her children, but how we can continue to improve if we face this situation again in the future.

Here’s what might seem like a disconnected example: I have long believed that NRL players should have a fixed day off. A weekday, which is selected by the club at the start of the year, and remains the same week-in, week-out, regardless of whether it’s preseason, standard competition or finals.

Bear with me.

As it stands, NRL clubs dictate players’ week-to-week schedules within a few restrictions negotiated and set by the Rugby League Players Association. NRL clubs are not bound to provide their players (or their families) with a standard recurring day each week when they are guaranteed no commitments. They have days off, yes, but they float around and are different week-to-week.

So how would this make a real difference?

Firstly, it would force players to recognise that they must co-exist with many other working components of a functioning society, thus going some way to negating this unreasonable expectation that players’ families will simply be ‘on tap’ to pick up the slack of family-life and household management. It forces players to see their families and partners as people who deserve not only their time, but some semblance of certainty in their day-to-day lives.

To simplify: hey guys, there are other people in your world that need to be able to rely on you. We know people love footy and stuff but is it so high stakes that we must be on-call seven days a week in the event of an emergency meeting about a referee crackdown on playing the ball correctly?

Secondly, it gives players a better opportunity to plan for life after football. They could study, maybe even in an actual face-to-face setting where they venture out into the world, meet people from different backgrounds and generally get a small glimpse into how another section of society operates. They could use the time to commit to half a day of regular work experience – a much more appealing prospect to any employer, surely.

Crucially, a standard day off removes a huge barrier to partners of footballers with children having gainful employment. Under the current model, given the fluidity of players’ schedules, the level of childcare required to cover all of the possible scenarios for even having a part-time job, can be financially prohibitive. Couple that with the regular travel and the fact that many families have taken contracts in cities where they have no other family support, and it’s no surprise to me that most of the partners I’ve met either don’t work, or work in the gig economy. If we could just have one day of certainty, it would make some financial contribution or even financial independence seem that much more attainable.

And this is where it all ties together.

If players are given more realistic opportunities to work towards life after football, they’d be better equipped if football life ends abruptly, whatever the circumstances.

If partners are given time and space to earn something of a living, to create meaningful professional networks, then in these horrible situations, perhaps the financial stress at least might be somewhat alleviated.

But most importantly, if we can make big, cultural changes that communicate to everyone in the game that you must give something back to the people that support you endlessly in achieving your dreams, then perhaps it will go some way to creating an attitude shift towards partners, families and anyone outside of the rugby league sphere with regards to their intrinsic worth.

I know this might be fanciful and I know it assumes a lot of players’ and partners’ individual choices. And there is certainly no suggestion that giving players a Tuesday off will signal the end to our problems.

But it could make a difference. It is one of many relatively simple but fundamental changes that just might go some way to contributing to a better future for our game and everyone it involves. There are many more ideas out there, we just need to keep talking about it.

I DON’T BELIEVE IN LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

I was listening to a comedy podcast recently, as I do sometimes to escape my children, when the conversation ironically turned to children.

In this case, the non-parent comedian host enthusiastically imagined what it must be like to meet your child for the first time, that instant you become a parent. They went on to assume that it must be an almost inarticulable, supernatural moment in a person’s life, comparable to nothing.

At this point I waited for the parent-comedian guest to inject a bit of reality into the situation. To set the record straight once and for all. To say something to which I could relate.

Because if you can’t rely on a comedian to tell the gritty, subversive truth then who can you trust?

No one, apparently, because in this case, and time and time again, I find the description of this moment is the same (or some variation thereof):

“I did not know true love until that very moment.”(Presumably with apologies to anyone they had claimed to love before.)

“I knew in that instant that I would die a thousand deaths for that child.” (Needlessly macabre, in my opinion.)

“It was like a black hole opened up in the delivery suite and I had been transported to another dimension where I became a living, but beatific mother-angel whose hair is made of hugs.”

The moments that both my children were born were two of the most significant of my life. But I cannot relate to this effusive and melodramatic sentiment.

When my first was born, I remember hearing him scream for the first time and feeling almost giddy with relief. Pregnancy is basically nine long months of cautionary tales as to what can and will go wrong with the birth of your baby. So when mine came into the world shouting and in full health, I could’ve jumped for joy, were I not numb from the waist down from the spinal block.

I also remember feeling a sort of obligatory, non-negotiable love, but this decision to love him was made long before his actual arrival. I wouldn’t have attempted having a child if I wasn’t prepared to love it unconditionally and so this process started well before his birth, even before his conception.

Finally, I remember being overwhelmed by the biological wonder of it all. Contrary to what my year nine science teacher would have me believe, one cannot fall pregnant simply by thinking about having unprotected sex, and frankly in our case, the birth of our first child felt like the hugely impressive culmination of a very concerted effort. Borderline miraculous, even.

But I do confess, there were definitely no birds singing, harps playing, swirling mists of sparkling fairy-fog or even emoji-esque heart-eyes.

As a result, these proclamations have always made me feel a little alienated. It’s almost like some elaborate, global ruse where the rest of the world feigns wonderment at this particular experience just to pull the wool over my eyes. I suspect the same about cricket, to be honest.

However, the more probable (and less narcissistic) explanation is just that we are all different. And more than that, whilst becoming a parent changes parts of you, I believe your fundamental self is still the same.

If Sex and the City’s Samantha had experienced birth, you can bet she would’ve experienced it in her own Samantha-like way, and not suddenly become all Charlotte about the whole thing.

Personally, I didn’t fall head-over-heels in love with my husband at first sight either. And he took slightly longer than mere minutes to become reliant on me. It was a slow and steady ramping up of emotion over months and then years, which ultimately culminated in the beginning of this process again through our children.

Which is exactly the point. Although the love I felt for my children on the day they were born was somewhat obligatory and decidedly unmagical, I have fallen more deeply in love with them each day since. Which I now realise is my modus operandi – slow and steady wins the race.

Although my heart didn’t explode with cardiovascular manifestations of unearthly adoration, I love those two more and more as time goes by. They are actually the best. With each experience that becomes less like one person facilitating the lives of two others, and more like three people enjoying life together, I edge a little bit more toward what I assume is this giddy elation noted by my fellow new parents. And better yet, I don’t know where it ends. I sincerely hope it doesn’t.

THE RULES DON’T APPLY TO US

I have quite literally lost count of the number of NRL players who are currently accused of assaulting women over the years.

Until October this year, my husband Ryan (Hoffman) was an NRL player, and had been for 16 seasons. So as part of this community, it is particularly heartbreaking.

To be clear, from this point on, I refer to these incidents in general. No one specific. I have no interest in muddying the issue by quibbling over the facts of individual cases. The fact is, violence happens.

It is frightening, appalling, and as violence always is, utterly unacceptable.

And it needs to be said, this is not a football issue. Torn up contracts, missed training sessions and stalled careers all pale in comparison to the actual, human cost paid by victims of violence and abuse.

Unfortunately, allegations of violence against women by football players are nothing new and over time there has been much conjecture as to the root of the issue.

Some argue that rugby league is simply a microcosm of society, and that violence against women is present in society, therefore, it is present in rugby league. Add to this, the fact that rugby league is lousy with males of a certain age, and some even make the argument that if there is an over-representation of violence, it’s down to some skewed demographics.

But, whilst rugby league is one of the few industries laden with men between the ages of 18 and 35, it is also one of the few industries that address the issue of violence against women head-on.

In recent times, players have actually be made to attend training (during their paid working hours) where in a variety of creative and engaging ways, they are taught in no uncertain terms, that violence against women is never okay.

Sure, many professional workplaces have anti-discrimination and bullying training, but these are a bunch of blokes who are annually reminded specifically that violence, or any kind of abuse against women, is not acceptable.

Let me just say that again: it is someone’s job to sit down with groups of fully functioning adult human beings, and make sure they understand that it is wrong to hurt women.

It’s a sad state of affairs, but if it goes any way to helping protect at-risk women then I’m glad that this type of training exists.

That said, the existence of this training is the reason I don’t buy the whole, ‘it happens in the world so it happens in rugby league’ argument. This is a group of men who are privileged by education, when others are not. There is never any excuse, but it is particularly true here.

So why does it continue to happen?

There may never be an answer to that question, but I have some thoughts.

If there is one resounding frustration I have with rugby league, and professional sport in general, it’s that footballers and football clubs seem to abide by a different set of rules to the rest of us.

There are examples everywhere, some advantageous, some detrimental, some innocuous and some really, bloody serious.

Footballers don’t line up to get into nightclubs. Footballers don’t get sick leave, parental leave or public holidays. Footballers get to jump medical queues. Footballers are customarily encouraged (or not discouraged) to go out and drink to excess in a celebration of a job well done. In some cases, footballers don’t have to pay for their education. Or their shoes. Or their clothes. Or their cars. Footballers are subject to physical and mental working conditions that in any other workplace would be considered unsafe at best. Footballers play ‘pranks’ on one another in the workplace that are the textbook definition of harassment, whereas others in the real world have been disciplined for much, much less.

“Yeah, but that’s just footy, it’s different,” they say. For the forty-five-thousandth time.

The point is, in a variety of ways, rugby league – and particularly the playing group – has long been a space that only teeters on the cusp of professionalism and as a result, the normal rules – workplace, societal and otherwise – don’t always apply.

I am constantly comparing what I know of the footy club environment to the experience I’ve had in non-football workplaces and time and time again I get the same argument: “it’s apples and oranges.”

But should it be? For me, this constant, underlying message that professional sport is an island is highly problematic. Hey you with the professional rugby league career – you are not like everyone else, you are special, you are above the rules.

And perhaps, over time, this relentless elevation of footballers above others, this constant operation within a space that proudly compares to no other, communicates a subconscious message about obedience that in some outposts then becomes dangerously twisted: I know the rules, but they don’t apply to me. If I break the rules, there’ll be no real consequences.

It might be a long bow to draw. But to be fair, nothing else is working. Not education. Not punishment. Not that thing where you simply rely on people to do the right thing and then get on with your life. Something has to change.

Because when you consider this culture of nonconformity, within an industry that is fundamentally built on aggression, filled with young men whose needs are daily elevated above everyone around them, and where women are never – ever – seen as peers, then perhaps we start to get a sense of some of the factors that contribute to a much larger issue.

There is no easy fix here. This idolisation of sportspeople and pedestalling of their achievements is deeply ingrained not only in the industry itself but also in society’s obsession with it. This is not going to change any time soon.

But given the diabolical consequences that are being faced by women everywhere, both involved in the industry and beyond, it would be great to see NRL clubs backing up their anti-violence training with some changes to approach and therefore to the powerful subconscious messaging. Step up the professionalism. Stamp out the larrikin culture. Put women in positions of real power. Align your behavioural policies with those of the rest of professional Australia. Simply put, send the message – the rules absolutely apply to you too.

AGEING IS A THING

It’s my birthday today. I’m 36.

I love my birthday. I tend to impose a lot of rules on myself in my day-to-day life and I lift all of them at once on my birthday. It’s the best. So regardless of anything else that happens – dinners, parties, presents – I know that at the very least, I can have carbs for all three meals if I want. Or I can have a wine or two, even if it’s a Tuesday. Or I can watch television during the day. Somebody stop me.

Recently I’ve been trying to be more open about my age. I’ve never been hugely coy about it, but I’ve definitely been going out of my way to say it out loud more and more.

I have two motivations for this:

  • It’s a bit like Dumbledore encouraging people to use Voldemort’s real name – saying it out loud takes the fear away. (Which admittedly, is a reference that probably dates me quite accurately with my having to say my actual age at all); and
  • I’m increasingly aware that it is apparently not okay that I am ageing, and facing up to this reality at every incidental opportunity helps me keep my sanity in a world that seems to insist that I remain youthful at all costs.

Let me give you an example.

At the beginning of 2015, my family and I moved to Auckland and we lived there for three years. One of the most striking things I noticed when we moved back to Melbourne, was how many of my local shops and businesses had been replaced by pseudo-medical skin care clinics.

I say pseudo-medical because in my research I looked at a few websites and one of them had a picture of a staff member wearing a lab coat (the definition of science and medicine), paired with some super cute open-toe high heels (not at all science-y – or hygienic – as it happens).

You know the ones I mean, they have white sterile walls, impossibly beautiful front-of-house staff and passive aggressive shop window advertising that makes you feel inadequate and like shit, basically.

For me, this is a terrifying trend.

When I was younger there were already so many expectations on me with regards to the minimum-level of effort I had to put into my appearance: wear clothes (legal requirement, no actual objections here), said clothes should be nice and preferably gender normative (murkier), cleanse, exfoliate, tone, moisturise and make up face, cut, file and polish nails, wash, cut, dye and style hair, remove other offensive hair (where offence is caused solely by natural growth location), tan said hairless skin… the list seemed endless. It was then, and continues to be now, completely overwhelming and takes a financial toll that I have never really been comfortable enduring.

And just when I felt mildly comfortable with my tenuous grasp on meeting all of these requirements, I find I can’t swing a cat without hitting one of these skin care clinics and feeling like I’ve fallen behind, yet again.

I know these places have always existed, my concern is the terrifying normalisation of them. They are in your local Westfield – in multiple quantities. They’re in your neighbourhood strip of shops, in between the dentist and the milk bar. And it is this very relocation of them from the high streets of Toorak and South Yarra, into the mainstream that sends the message that this is what everyone is doing now. It’s not enough to pull the hairs out of your legs with boiling hot strips of wax. You’re meant to be blasting them out from the roots with lasers. It’s not enough to fill your enlarged pores with Spakfilla/make up, you’re meant to be shrinking them away with a patented combination of skin needling and chemical peels.

The presence in our actual lives of these and other services is then underscored by the relentless touting of them in the media (social and otherwise), as well as the very limited representation of women that seem to embrace the natural ageing process. All put together, it’s a powerful subconscious message and a toxic cocktail for anyone trying to live their life with any semblance of self-esteem.

Because all these things that we do, from the simple, to the pseudo-medical, to the actual-medical are aimed at the same objective: stop/slow/disguise/deny the process of ageing. Some of them are actually even marketed in those exact words. Which seems ridiculous to me because WE ALL AGE. It is possibly one of the only truly universal human conditions. Ageing is an actual thing that happens, and it’s nobody’s fault. Can we just say that again? Ageing is not your fault. It’s the way we are designed. I can’t work out at what point we let it become a thing for which we felt the need to apologise.

It got me to thinking about what life would be like for my three-year-old daughter when she grows up and what her list of self-maintenance expectations might look like.

And then I thought, screw her: this is actually a problem for me, right now. In the present.

Because the thing is, although I am aware of the collective effect of all these sub-conscious messages, I’m not immune.

I try to imagine how ridiculous it would be if I saw monkeys in the wild daily disguising their grey patches of fur with sticky leaves or some other such garbage, I use this approach to contextualise the unnecessary complication of it, but to be honest, I’m only partly successful. Some of these ‘beauty’ requirements are so deeply ingrained in me that I’ve given up any hope of ever getting them out of my system so I just carry on with them, to save myself the heartache not only of doing the required beauty maintenance, but of having to berate myself in the process.

So what I do hope for my daughter, is that she grows up to either be better at managing (read: ignoring) these expectations than me, or that she grows up to be one of these people who genuinely enjoy these processes. And I know that these people exist. I know plenty of people personally who get a lot of joy out of the process of self-care and out of finding a way to feel comfortable in their skin. Literally. It just took me until very recently to realise that I am not one of them and that’s okay.

Which brings me back to my birthday. I’ve always loved my birthday but it’s really only this year that I’ve worked out why. I love my birthday because it’s the one opportunity I get to celebrate the ageing process. It’s the one day in 365 when the world congratulates me for ageing, rather than tut-tut-tutting at me for it. My birthday is a day when I call a ceasefire on the warfare between my human-ness (who absolutely ages) and my brain (who is conditioned to be in denial). It is a celebration of an alternative view: that it’s okay to embrace your age. It’s my birthday, I’m 36, and I’m not sorry.

(Also I really like the presents.)

PS In the words of Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich, although more-widely publicized by Baz Luhrmann: wear sunscreen. Obviously, I am not railing against those things we do that stop us from dying prematurely. K?