Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Growing pains

Hello. This is something I wrote in August 1999. I sent it to a magazine in the hope that they might publish it, and send me some money. They didn't, they rejected it, so I can publish it now.

Tucked away at the bottom of a drawer in the old sideboard I inherited from my mother, I came across my old school report from 1959, I was ten years old. On the bottom of the page it says, 'Talkative'. That's what I was, a right chatterbox. I hated to sit still in class, and was forever turning around to talk to my friends. I liked to be the centre of attention and felt happy when I could make people laugh.

Although I was bright and chirpy, there was a sad, unhappy little soul deep inside. It was my appearance which was causing me so much pain, but I managed a brilliant cover up with my incessant talking. There wasn't actually anything physically wrong with me, all the right bits were in the right places, it's just that when beauty was dished out I got the slops. So chatter I did, I needed to make friends.

Not long after I moved to the senior school I started to take an interest in what young girls are supposed to take an interest in, fashion, make up, pop stars, and boys. The boys only seemed to go out with girls who looked pretty, just so they were the envy of all their friends. This would change every week,, competition was fierce. I never did get on the merry go round, they weren't interested in a girl who was chatty and funny. They didn't want someone to go on bike rides with, or someone to collect frogs with, or go fishing with. One girl in our class was actually engaged to a man of 21. She flashed her ring around when the teachers weren't looking, and constantly got into trouble for wearing nail varnish.

I felt some improvements in my appearance were called for, if I didn't do something I would be left on the shelf by the time I was fifteen. I was never going to get a boyfriend, looking like a bean pole, with national health specs and rabbit teeth. Terry was the boy I had my eye on. He was the best looking, and I thought he was kind to ugly people. I was wrong on that last assumption, he laughed his socks off when my friend told him I fancied him. That hurt. I spent a lot of time sobbing into my pillow.

Maybe I couldn't do much about getting my teeth straightened, or chucking the glasses, but I could go down town and visit the make up counter at Woolies with my pocket money. A Panstick was very useful for covering up spots. If I saved up enough I sometimes bought a small block of black mascara, the sort you spit on and apply with a brush. By coating my eye lashes six times and adding dollops of sky blue eye shadow, I thought I could pass for 'Miss Burton upon Trent 1962'.

Something had to be done about my chest as well. It was painfully embarrassing to be the only girl left in the class who didn't have a bra. I begged mum to get me one, but all she kept saying was, 'You don't need one, you haven't got anything to put in it'. I didn't need reminding of this. I knew my equipment was a bit late in coming, but I thought that if I had a bra it would prompt my chest to start blooming. Close inspection every morning was disappointing, I kept wondering if I was ever going to get bosoms. Eventually mum gave in and we went to Marks and Sparks. Once back home I excitedly tried on my new bra. I was so chuffed, now I could be a real woman. As I didn't have anything to push up and push out, I had to make do with a pair of socks. Later on I found that these had a habit of working their way upwards, and eventually popped out of the front of my dress.

My fashion idols at the time were Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw, and Cathy McGowan. They leaped out of the magazine pages, and the television screen. Oh how I wished I could be 'with it', like them, but I had no money to spend on nice dresses. The next best thing was to improvise. I was pretty nifty with a sewing machine, and fabric from the market was dead cheap, I could knock up a mini skirt for five bob. My friends were dead impressed. I could sell them a skirt for 7/6d and buy some more fabric to make my dresses. A basic pattern could be adapted, and a loan of mums Singer treadle machine produced some amazing outfits. So amazing that men on building sites whistled at me. I felt a million dollars.

I enjoyed going to the youth Club, and on a Thursday night there was always a battle between me and mum as to who would wear her trendy calf length leather boots with a heel. She wanted to go to bingo in them, but I usually won. In our family clothes were passed down the generations. I used to claim all mums cast off stockings. All the better if they had two or three ladders in them, at least people would know I was grown up and wearing stockings now. I could usually buy a pair of stiletto shoes from a jumble sale for two shillings. I would totter off to the bus stop to go to town on a Saturday afternoon. This was the highlight of the week as I paraded up and down the High Street, imagining I was in the heart of swinging Soho amongst the boutiques.

After many agonizing years my attempts to create a raving beauty out of an ugly duckling have finally diminished. I did manage to get my teeth done and swap my specs for contact lenses, but my chesticles were never what you might call voluptuous. Now gravity has taken over and everything is plunging south. I finally have to admit defeat.  

I wrote this fifteen years ago, my memories of growing up in the sixties. It's funny thinking about how I have changed. Then I wanted to be like all my pals, wanted to be in fashion, and wanted to look pretty. I desperately wanted to fit in, and be one of the gang. Now I am the complete opposite. I don't need to be fashionable I can wear what I like. I don't need to be one of the gang, I don't have to cosy up to people and seek approval, or impress, and I don't have to be in with the in crowd. It's a liberating feeling.
Toodle pip


  1. A wonderful post Ilona, should be necessary reading for all young gals!
    Look at you now, bursting with joie de vivre and confidence in the decisions you make for your life! Good going I say. JanF

  2. From Margie in Toronto - couldn't agree more with you and JanF - I guess it's one of the comforts of aging in that we are more content in ourselves and perhaps know our worth. Things that used to hurt or that we longed for have all mellowed a bit and we can hopefully look back and laugh.

  3. I believe you are beautiful-truly beautiful-just as you are.

  4. Great post!
    Sorry that you were hurt in the past, but I'm glad that you are comfortable with who you are now. We think you are pretty amazing!

  5. Marvelous. I agree, with Jan, every young girl should read this post. Your blog is very interesting and I enjoy seeing the English country side. My experiences were different but I remember not fitting in with the 'in' crowd. So glad I too became my own person. Hooray for individualism. Patty Mc

  6. I've seen the pictures you posted of yourself as a teenager. You were, as you say chatty and funny too. I certainly would have said yes to a date with you....
    Paul H

  7. Beautiful bit of prose. It is so funny how life and time changes our perspective on life. If only we had the wisdom back when we were young that we have now it would save so much heartache.
    Beauty truly is skin deep. A persons true beauty shines through in so many ways and they are the folk make the best friends.
    Like you, I have stopped worrying about what I look like to the outside world. We can't change things, we just make the best of what we have. Being happy and content in our own skin is important.

  8. Isn't it funny! I've always liked your red hair ( I've got very dark hair) and your colouring.

  9. Lovely post. Great thing I remember about the 60's though was that flat chests and not much of a waist went well with the fashions then! I also suffered with specs and teeth, but the lack of figure and luckily having long hair helped me kid my teenaged self that I was a sixties chick. I loved the music and graphics then and into the seventies; the excitement of a new Beatles or Cream album - the latest single by Bob Dylan, seeing Pink Floyd live - I feel very lucky to have been there then! (Never was pretty though). Barbara (previously littlegrebe, but Google Chrome fell out with my computer!)

  10. What a delightful piece, and now your blogger friends get to enjoy it. Oh the frustrations of growing up and trying to be one of the "in" crowd. How silly, when we are much better off to be our individual self. Thanks for sharing this. I think all teenagers need to read it.

  11. I was a ugly duckling who never turned into a swan, but as I tell my husband, I don't have to worry about losing my beauty. how bad must that be.He always says I'm lovely. Least flat chests were the in thing when we were 16 yrs.

  12. How I can relate to this piece. I too was born in 1949 and always felt somehow left behind but I was too shy and quiet! I had boobs and hated them! I wanted to be slim and wear the 60's shift dresses and make up, but my mother would never let me wear the make up and I felt too bosomy for the shapeless dresses. We are never satisfied are we :) Now I don't really worry about what others think of me. I found my place in the world and am quite content. Well done for putting teenage discontent into such eloquent words.

  13. I was the proverbial ugly ducking who did turn into a swan. It wasn't nice the way I was treated at school for being in nhs glasses and fat, I was a nice child and people laughed at me for it. On the other hand lots of people aren't nice if you are considered pretty. Women don't like you, it's hard to make friends and men are not interested in you for your personality. You tend to go unloved. You don't get the jobs if women are the ones interviewing, as they usually are in the work I do. It's better as I get older I find and that is good.

    I am still the same person as the plain little girl no one liked as she was 'poor and dirty'. I gained some confidence when I was seen as pretty, only to have it knocked back out of me. Looking nice was my only value it seemed. Well, I'm older now and not at all afraid of loosing looks as they have hampered as well as helped. Perhaps old age brings equality. I don't belong to anyone or anywhere but I am content within myself.

  14. Wonderful post. Yes. I remember the same angst of growing up. It is really sad that life has to be so full of these issues. My grandson is now going through his own set of issues. It repeats itself each generation just small changes in the social issues. Thanks for sharing.

  15. I well remember those same feelings but I was on the large side. Lost weight at 14 but still the sixties were for the stick thin. I never was. In my 60's I am more content than ever.

  16. I've always been tall so i used to get called at school.
    My name has always been a source of fun, wheres the other 5 they'd shout, Dave Clark if you've not guessed. It still raises a titter among people of a certain age as i'm asked if i feel glad all over.

  17. You didn't publish my comment :-(

    1. Hello. You haven't added your name so I don't know who you are. Are you the reader that does editing for a job? If so, I did publish your comment, and my reply, but later decided to delete both. I got your message, took on board what you said, and made a note of your advice. As it was aimed directly at me it wasn't necessary for the whole world to see it. An email would have been better, address on the sidebar.

      Thank you for your comments, I read them all, but I reserve the right not to publish every one.

  18. None of us are ever satisfied with our looks as young women. I was tall, heavy, stick straight hair and glasses. I look back at photos of myself then and realize I was actually not "that bad", but didn't fit in with all the thin, blond California girls. Happier with myself at 55 than ever before. BTW...I have always admired your English fair skin and would kill for your strong, slim legs!

  19. Isn`t it amazing how many of us can relate to your post? And equally amazing is the fact that we all seem to have grown wiser with age and became independent and individual souls to boot.