My mother was in Padua for the mud. A once a year pilgrimage usually made around October to help her pursue a lifelong quest for cosmetic immortality. The mud, she believes, is the perfect end of season treatment for yet another year of lifts, nips and tucks to an already enhanced and overstretched body. Mother hopes that by lying in the grey steaming goo she will achieve a blending of her various surgical procedures, resulting in a seamless unity that will leave her body unscarred and vigorously under fifty. She is, as of this month, seventy-eight years old.
I still remember the day my mother decided she was not going to do old age. We had been out walking. I in my new summer frock and blouse, her in a blue low-cut dress that matched the colour of her eyes and set off her shining, raven hair. She was, even then, a testimony to hair dye, make-up, and anti-wrinkle cream. The men she had been hoping to attract, however, were looking at me. I was thirteen – tall, in the first blush of youth, and my boobs, bigger than my mother’s, were pushing up and out in a manner even my prim white blouse could not hide.
When we returned home, she grabbed me in icy fury and told me never again, in public, to call her Mummy or Mother, and in future to dress in a manner that suited my age. In my dazed incomprehension of her anger, the irony of her dress and age rules were lost on me. Later I would understand it was from this episode that sprang a lifetime of matriarchal competition, which for my mother would become pathological, and for me would define the argument for therapy, mainly mine.
As I grew up, my mother refused to grow older. She divorced my father, packed me off to a convent school, launched into a string of affairs with younger men, and had her first body overhaul. After that she went in pursuit of older, wealthier males, the kind who sought firm female flesh and were willing to pay for it.
Now, some forty years later, I looked fifty-three and my mother, to my mind, looked like nothing on earth.
The last time I went to the airport to collect her from Padua, she came striding into the arrivals lounge, first class of course, looking like a decaying wax model on day release from Madame Tussauds. Her hairline had been pulled back so far it ran an equator over the top of her head, disguised by an Alice Band. Firmly planted on top of the band was a leather John Lennon cap. Her face was heavily made up to hide the stretched shininess of her skin. Her eyes glared out through two scalpel-carved slits, over which false eyebrows replaced the reality that had followed her hairline. Brash red lips botoxed into a permanent pout completed the mask.
She wore a light tweed trouser suit to cover her legs, shiny brown ankle boots to hide her feet, and she carried an art house leather handbag to round off the attempt at a young fashion look. It was, however, her chest that really caught the eye. Thrust out in front of her, under a burnt orange mohair jumper, rode an enhanced bosom that for all the world resembled two rocket nose cones hiding from NASA.
The entire ensemble was striking if somewhat unnerving. It was rather like meeting an alien from one of those 1950s B-grade science fiction movies, where they had landed, done their best to resemble humans, but had not quite managed it. To avoid the risk of damage to this façade, her kisses of greeting were reduced to social pecks in the air. Actual contact was not encouraged unless you were male. In which case she would be very encouraging indeed.
This year our meeting at arrivals would be different. She could not fail to see my boob reduction. Over the years mine had gone on growing naturally, but with age had begun to resemble two soft old jellies that performed a tired rumba over my chest while I jogged along on my exercise regime.
The knife had solved the problem and I was comfortably reduced. Shopping for underwear had become a rejuvenated pleasure. Bras could now enhance rather than contain. Twinsets were a possibility. Lace a temptation.
The irony of the situation was not lost on me. We would again, mother and daughter, be stepping out with boobs on the agenda. Hers for competition with youth, mine for competitive comfort. Large was bizarre and small was beautiful. I had flipped the competition on its head and swapped old psychological scars for new scars of my own choosing. Her scars were old and desperate. I was in great shape and the men still looked.
What would Mummy say now?
Check-out one of our other 5 min reads – Abi Hynes’ Ready or Not.