Join me on Sunday 8th June to launch a wonderful new blog …

bec-sparrow-Meet Emma.  She’s my babysitter.

She’s 22. Loves a laugh. Loves to travel. And last year was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma.

Stage 4 melanoma is terminal.

Rather than sit at home all day watching Dr Phil and eating Milo out of the tin (which is possibly what I’d do), Emma’s decided to start writing about her experiences and fundraise for the Melanoma Institute of Australia. This is because Emma is a rolled-gold legend.

Now this is where you all come in.

On Sunday 8th June, Emma is officially launching her brand spanking new blog ‘Dear Melanoma’ and she’ll be joined by me and a few of Brisbane’s favourite writers and radio stars – The Sunday Mail’s Frances Whiting (that’s me and Fran together in that photo on the left), radio host and B Magazine columnist IMG_1706Emily-Jade O’Keeffe, 97.3FM’s Robin Bailey and Pearls of Willsdom blogger Sarah Wills.  Together we plan to  offer Emma some unsolicited advice about writing online and being in the public eye. And just for kicks we’ll share some of our best ever hate mail.

There’ll be a scrumptious morning tea before the festivities kick off … so join us for the morning as we celebrate Emma’s blog and help raise funds for the Melanoma Institute.

Now hands up who’s coming?

 

 

****  THIS EVENT HAS SOLD OUT!  *******

Official Launch of  ‘Dear Melanoma’

Where: The Auditorium, St Aidan’s School, 11 Ruthven St, Corinda

When: 10am- midday,  Sunday 8th June 2014

Tickets: $45 per person includes a scrumptious morning tea

To Book:  To reserve your place, email the number of tickets you want and the names of your guests to Bec@rebeccasparrow.com, then do a direct deposit to the following bank account:

BSB:   124028

ACCOUNT NUMBER:   22171470

ACCOUNT NAME:  Emma Kate betts Supporting Melanoma Institute Australia

All proceeds from the event (which will be nearly every penny) will go to the Melanoma Institute.

When Mothers’ Day becomes a painful reminder of what you don’t have.

I’m sitting here on Saturday morning writing this post.

It’s Mother’s Day tomorrow and truth be told if I could close my eyes and skip a day – jump ahead to Monday and miss Mother’s Day altogether – I would.

 

Mother’s Day is bittersweet for me. And I think that’s probably the same for thousands of women. Women who, like me, have lost a child. Lost a pregnancy. Lost a marriage. Or lost a dream – the dream of motherhood that seems to have sailed on by. Then of course there are the women who have  lost their own mothers, or their relationship with their mothers too.

 

I get it. All of it. Of course I do.

 

I’m heart-burstingly lucky, of course. I have three beautiful happy and healthy children who tomorrow morning will smother me in kisses and cuddles. I’ll be presented with homemade cards, cold tea and a piece of toast suffocated in vegemite.

And then there is of course my husband who will valiantly attempt to give me a rest and keep the kids out of the bedroom for an hour or two but when you have three kids aged 5 and under, that’s like trying to keep One Directioners from Harry Styles.  Who knew motherhood could make you feel like a rock star in your pyjamas?  What an absolute blessing and privilege it is to experience.  To be so adored for simply being you.

So, while I know deep into my very soul how lucky I am to have my gang… A three and a half year old girl is missing today.

 

She should be here but she’s not. And because of that, Mother’s Day, Christmas Day, Easter, Halloween, my birthday, her birthday, every excruciating day of the year is bittersweet for me because one of my children is missing.

My second daughter Georgie was stillborn 10 days before she was due to be delivered in 2010.

 

And I wonder about her now as much as I ever did. Would she and Ava have been close friends? Would her hair have stayed dark? Would she have twirled into my bedroom in that pink and red tutu Ava often wore at three? Or would she have wanted something totally different? That’s what tortures me the most… that I don’t know.

 

And I miss her. A complete stranger and yet my little girl.

That alone makes me want to sob at my desk.

 

And you know what else?  In between the tea and the toast and the cards and the cuddles on Mother’s Day, I will actually spend the day looking for signs from her.

A clue.  A whisper that she is around. It sounds ridiculous, I know. Possibly a little nutty. But that’s how it is. On Mother’s Day more than any other day I crave contact from my missing daughter as though I’m in an episode of Touched by an Angel and not just a mum in the suburbs who spends her days packing lunch boxes and hanging out washing.

So to every woman who faces Mother’s Day with a sense of dread or a strangled heart – I hear you.  I get it.

 

For every woman who is putting on a brave face, who is pretending to be happy for everyone else – I get it.

 

For every woman who spends the day being reminded of what she doesn’t have, for what passed her by – you have my heart.

And I just want you to know this: You’re not alone.

We’re all in this together.



Peaches Geldof’s death is not about you.

Peaches-instagramI felt it. The rumble.  The quiet rage that started to roll yesterday when those initial whispers about the cause of Peaches Geldof’s death started to swirl.

And last night the coroner confirmed it.  The 25-year-old’s unexpected and tragic death on 7th April wasn’t caused by a heart attack from her extreme juice dieting as early reports suggested. Instead the toxicology report has stated what nobody wanted to hear: that due to the levels of heroin in her system Peaches Geldof ‘likely’ died from a heroin overdose.

 

And the anger and disgust at Peaches Geldof – in some circles, amongst some people  – is palpable.

 

Like who?

 

Like the people who today and yesterday and on 7th April would have given anything ANYTHING to experience the privilege of being a parent. The people who are desperately trying to conceive, who have faced years of infertility and the rollercoaster of emotion that goes with it. The parents who have suffered the nightmare that is a miscarriage. The trauma that is a stillbirth. Men and women who have spent thousands of dollars on IVF, who have endured cycle after cycle of fertility treatments, who have spent all their savings and borrowed money from family and still have no little baby in their arms to show for it.

 

Damn right those people are angry. Because today they’re thinking about Peaches Geldof who had two beautiful little baby boys (Astala 23 months and Phaedra 11 months) and they’re thinking, “You stupid, stupid selfish addict. You didn’t deserve to have kids.”peaches-instagram-8-380x377

And while I don’t feel that way today, seven years ago I would have. Back then, I was in that angry headspace. (And I ventured there again when I lost my daughter Georgie in 2010.)

 

It took me close to two years to fall pregnant with my daughter Ava. And I remember as each month ticked over, how the anger and resentment and bitterness festered inside me towards women who clearly couldn’t have cared less they were pregnant or mothers.

“How come THEY get to be mothers?’ I remember howling into my pillow at night as I read about cases of child abuse and neglect that would turn your stomach. I ruminated on stories I heard from friends who were midwives about the pregnant women who were turning up to the local public hospital in labour, only to disappear again for 40 minutes to shoot up.  I gritted my teeth when I witnessed parents in shopping centres swearing and berating and manhandling their children.  I quietly seethed about a friend’s cousin who was pregnant and regularly smoking pot.

 

How come THEY get to be parents?

 

I won’t lie to you. It ate away at me.

 

Until I realised that my anger and fury were pointless.

 

Being bitter about someone else’s pregnancy or resentful of the children they have isn’t going to get you pregnant any quicker. Newsflash: Life is not fair. And all that hatred does is drive you crazy and twist your heart.  Plus and this is the harder pill to swallow – it’s not your or my call to decide who is and isn’t ‘worthy’ of being a parent.

And the second thing I realised?

 

Life is hard. People are flawed. And most of us are truly doing our best with what tools we’ve been given in our lives.

 

And where exactly do we draw the line in the ‘blame the mother’ game, anyway?

We can roll our eyes and belittle the memory of Peaches Geldof… but every mother I know lives in a glass house.

 

We can roll our eyes and belittle the memory of Peaches Geldof for being a heroin addict and for putting her drug addiction before her kids – but every mother I know lives in a glass house. Myself included. Lets put down the stones, people.

If you have EVER looked at your mobile phone while driving your kids in the car – you’ve played Russian roulette. If you’d had an accident and died – how would that make you or I different from Peaches Geldof?

 

What of the parent who has two wines and then suddenly leaves to pick up their kids from a party and who has an accident because he or she is over the limit?

Or the parent who suspects their baby car seat isn’t installed properly, that the straps are worn or not tight enough?  Is that a more understandable mistake? Is it really any better?

We screw up. We’re all flawed. We make disastrous judgement calls.

 

So hold fire on your judgement of Peaches Geldof today.  I’m not condoning her actions. No one can condone a mother taking heroin.  Peaches Geldof, I have no doubt, wouldn’t have condoned a mother taking heroin having lost her own mother at the age of eleven because of an overdose.  How could she do that? WHY would you do that? I know that’s what everyone is saying. But the simple truth is some people’s demons are bigger than others. They’re harder to run from no matter how hard you try to reinvent yourself.

So for what it’s worth I’m saying this:  let go of the anger. It’s not about you, or me, or any of us. It’s about a young woman who tried to outrun her family history. And she didn’t make it.  We should only feel sadness.  That’s what I think anyway.

 

Life is hard. People are flawed. And most of us are truly doing our best with what tools we’ve been given.

This post first appeared on Mamamia.com.au

This week a simple bracelet soothed my soul.

bec-sparrowThis week a simple silver bracelet soothed my soul. Let me explain.

When I brought my third baby home from the hospital, I expected to feel many things over that first year. Overwhelmed. Over tired. Over wrought. As well as exhilarated, content and deliriously happy.

All that I expected.

But you know what I didn’t expect? You know what I didn’t see coming?

Envy.

Tell me, where in all those bloody baby books is the chapter on the wild-eyed jealousy you’ll feel towards anyone who has the ability to leave the house at random? Where’s that chapter?

Or maybe it’s just me.

I’ve shuffled through the past nine months, chronically sleep-deprived in baby spew-laden pyjama tops acting as a personal assistant to three children under six and if I’m going to be honest, I’ve had unexpected pangs of industrial strength envy towards my beautiful, talented friends.

The friend who is currently on a major work trip to NEW YORK.

The friend who is planning a family holiday to Europe.

The friend who just signed a major book deal.

The friend who goes to movies and cocktail parties and weekends away on a whim.

The friend who’s been (deservedly) rewarded with a huge promotion.

The friend who took my place on a fabulous Mamamia assignment because I, you know, had a fourteen-week-old croupy newborn at home.

And it’s not that I wasn’t happy for them and their achievements and good fortune. I was. I AM. And it’s not that I would want to take their amazing opportunities/promotions/holidays away from them. I wouldn’t.

 

Bec with Quincy. Photo by Russell Shakespeare.

But as I move around my kitchen in my pyjama pants and old t-shirt sporting hair that hasn’t seen a hairdresser in six months… sometimes, I have those fleeting moments of feeling like I’m the only one on the planet at home, making potato and egg frittatas that Fin throws onto the floor, changing nappies and watching ABC 2 while the rest of the world is HAVING A LIFE.

Having a life while I try not to lose my mind as my five-year-old follows me around narrating her every thought and movement (I’ve said it before, it’s like living with Evan from The Secret Life Of Us).

It goes without saying (but watch! I’m going to say it anyway!) that I wouldn’t trade places with anyone else but sometimes the hamster wheel of being a mum can get a little, err, MONOTONOUS. Actually it’s not the motherhood part that’s a grind, it’s wiping the kitchen benches, doing the laundry, making 3,000 meals a day that gets rather dull.

So yeah, these past nine months, as I’ve scrolled through my Facebook feed staring at my friends’ overseas holiday snaps, their award nominations, their book deals, their work promotions, their outfits that feature zero baby spew, the green-eyed monster has come to visit a few times.

I’m not proud of that fact. I’m just being honest.

But last week, I found a way to get rid of that monster for good. Or at least a way to get over myself and my occasional bouts of envy.

I bought myself a bracelet.

I’d heard on the grapevine about a ‘Milestone’ bracelet that a few friends had bought. It was a very simple silver chain featuring four large silver discs. The idea being that you can engrave onto each side of each disc the major milestones or happiest memories of your life.

For example, one side could be the names of your children or most beloved friends and family. The other side could be the personal and professional milestones of your life.

 

The Milestone Bracelet (since writing this post, Bec’s had her bracelet engraved).milestone-bracelet

One side could be the names of the places you’ve lived, the cities you’ve seen. The other could be the names of your pets or godchildren or favourite books.

One side could be the names of the songs that have been the soundtrack of your life. The other side could be degrees you’ve clocked up or maybe the virtues you most admire

Part of me is tempted to get engraved the day of the week Ava has library at school because it would be a totally handy way to remember.

How you use this bracelet is up to you. You can engrave whatever you like onto it.

So where’s it from?

This is the best bit.

These bracelets are lovingly handmade by Phil, an old horse and cattleman and his wife Robyn who live on a property in Jandowae on the Darling Downs in Queensland.

For the past eight years or more, Queensland farmers like Phil and Robyn have battled floods and drought. Many farms around them have gone under. Add to that the fact that a decade ago, Phil had a stroke and was promptly told he’d never ride a horse again. So to give himself something to do and to give them a hand financially, this former welder started making jewellery.

And while he and Robyn make a whole range of items, there’s something about these simple sterling silver bracelets – these handmade ‘Milestone’ bracelets, as I call them – that hold a bit of magic.

I have no relation to Phil and Robyn. I’ve never met them. I paid for my own bracelet, and trust me I have no financial interest in their silver smithing.

But I’m a bit in love with these bracelets they’ve created. After all, haven’t we all found ourselves lost at some point? In motherhood. Or in a job. Or a bad relationship. I like that these bracelets are a tangible reminder of who you really are.

I bought myself one for my 42nd birthday a few weeks ago. I’m not sure what I’ll get engraved on the discs yet. Whatever I choose, on those days when I’m deep in the trenches of motherhood, when my life seems to be a merry-go-round of fish fingers and nappy changes, I know I’ll be able to look down at this bracelet and remember what I’ve achieved. Who I love. What I hold most dear.

Who knew a simple bracelet could do all that? Those folks at Jandowae are mighty clever indeed.

*This is not a sponsored post! But if you’d like to buy one of Phil and Robyn’s bracelets, they’re $140. And you can email them at hoarepw@bigpond.com

The most shocking part of the Hey Dad! cast interview.

heydad1Last night I watched A Current Affairand frankly, I need to debrief. One thousand different thoughts and emotions are swirling around my head and I don’t even quite know where to start in unpacking it all.

Let’s start with the fact that last night’s show was four years in the making. Or 27 years in the making if we’re going to be honest.

Last night I finally watched the cast of ’80s sitcom Hey Dad! (a show I watched as a teen) reunite and openly discuss the dirty little secret they’d all kept for decades: the lead actor in the show – Robert Hughes who played the affable ‘dad’ Martin Kelly– was in reality a manipulative, cunning paedophile who sexually assaulted children on – and off –  the set.

This week Hughes was found guilty of 10 charges of sexual and indecent assault of young girls – his on-screen daughter and others, including friends of his real-life daughter – dating back to the 1980s. And I’m sitting here thinking about how a young girl – a 10-year-old actress– was sexually abused by a man she trusted. How, somehow, this little girl summoned the inconceivable courage to tell the adults in her life about the abuse, only to have the majority of them fail her. To turn a blind eye. Sarah Monahan’s abuser, you see, was the adult ‘star’ of the series and she was rocking the boat.

acurrentaffairWatching Tracy Grimshaw’s interview, I was deeply affected by two of Sarah’s former co-stars, Ben Oxenbould and Simone Buchanan, and the extraordinary courage and friendship they showed in speaking up and reporting Sarah’s abuse. When every other adult turned their backs on the little girl by pretending not to know or sweeping it under the carpet or saying to her “just don’t sit on his lap anymore”, it was Simone and Ben (who were 18 and 20 at the time) who stepped up, who went to the show’s Executive Producer Gary Reilly and demanded action. Simone and Ben who – when nothing appeared to change – then took turns ‘guarding’ Sarah from her molester so that she was never left alone with a serial paedophile.

You want a definition of friendship? Of courage? There it is.

Fortunately, some things have certainly changed in the entertainment industry. There are more laws now. More red-tape when it comes to child actors, chaperones, work hours and safety.

But this culture of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ – shockingly still appears to be alive and well.

This culture of ‘shut up if you want to stay employed’ seems to remain, according to Ben and Simone.

Because last night both actors spoke of the retribution they’ve experienced since going public in their support for Sarah in 2010. The hate mail they received.hey-dad-2

The abuse from members of the public who have bailed them up on the street and accused them of ‘ruining their favourite show’. (I can’t even get my head around that.) And – worst of all – the fact that their industry closed ranks on them.

Sarah Monahan stopped acting after Hey Dad! and left Australia as a young adult. But Simone and Ben stayed and continued to work as actors. Or at least they tried. Last night, both recounted numerous examples of missing out on work after being told by producers or casting agents that they were “tainted” by the scandal and their role in speaking out in support of Sarah.

Simone and Ben blew a whistle. And how incredibly bizarre and troubling that the Australian entertainment industry by and large shunned them. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Don’t rock the boat.

You know what those two could have done? Saved themselves. Not gotten involved. Looked after their own best interests. When you’re an actor, work is hard to come by. Why cause trouble for yourself? Why piss off your boss? Casting agents? Scriptwriters? Lead actors?

Except they didn’t do that. Simone and Ben took a stand. And for that, I want to throw them a ticker-tape parade. I want them to be held up as examples of what it is to be a great human being. They dared to speak up and in doing so, in backing up Sarah’s claims, they helped bring a predator to justice.

In life, there comes a time when we are all forced to ask and answer the questions: What do I stand for? What are my values? Where is my line in the sand?

There comes a time when we have to decide whether we will speak up or sit back. Will we say anything about the bullying we see? About the abuse we notice? About the lies we witness?

I applaud Sarah Monahan for speaking up and for her courage and determination and persistence in bringing Robert Hughes to justice and for shining a light into the dark, dingy crevices of their industry.

By coming forward, Sarah encouraged and inspired Hughes’ numerous other victims in the community to also come forward and tell their truths. Finally, they have been believed and experienced the justice I imagine they craved.

I wish for Sarah a marvellous, happy life.

To Ben Oxenbould and Simone Buchanan, I say this: you are the epitome of integrity and compassion and goodness. I wish that every child who was being abused today had a champion like you, a guardian angel like you both, in their corner. After all, evil flourishes when good men do nothing.

And as for any other adult who knows or suspects instances of child abuse and who are knowingly covering it up? You’re on notice.

At first, I thought this story was about the TV industry. But it’s not. Because the covering up of child sexual abuse is everywhere. In the armed forces. The church. Sporting associations. Schools. Families. Everywhere there are people turning a blind eye. Looking away. Pretending not to notice that a child is being molested. Not wanting to rock the boat. Last night’s episode of A Current Affair will no doubt have left many people wanting to debrief about what unfolded. Today someone knows or suspects that a child is being sexually abused and they need to ask themselves: What are my values? What do I stand for? Where is my line in the sand?

If you know or suspect a child is being sexually assaulted, please call the Police on 000, the Department of Child Services in your state or territory or Bravehearts on 1800 272 831.


This post first appeared on Mamamia.com.au

An 8 year old is sobbing in her bed. And the reason why will floor you.

barbiegirlBefore I tell you why she’s crying, let me tell you about this eight-year-old.

She’s at the top of her Grade 3 class. Loves swimming. And jazz ballet. Can sing every Taylor Swift song off by heart and – even though she says it’s for ‘little kids’ – she’ll often sit down and watch The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on Foxtel in the afternoons. She believes in Santa and Mademoiselle Tooth Fairy and will always ask for a second dessert. And she’s tall and strong with a nose that’s been seasoned with freckles.

And you know why she’s in her bedroom tonight sobbing into a Peppa Pig cushion? Because she’s fat.

Or she thinks she is. Worries that she is. Tonight this eight-year-old became convinced that her perfectly normal round tummy was fat. That her legs – her THIGHS – were fat. And what she wants to be? Oh you already know the answer to that one. She wants to be THIN.

She’s eight.

Her mum – one of my dearest friends – rang me tonight in total absolute shock and bewilderment.

This flip out or meltdown or whatever the hell you call it has come out of nowhere. NOWHERE. (My friend is not a weight-obsessed kind of gal and talk in their house – if body shape has ever come up – has always been about being strong and healthy not thin).

So what caused her daughter to become suddenly obsessed with her thighs? Right now, she still has no idea. A conversation at school amongst one girl or several? An image on TV? In a magazine? On the net? An off-hand remark from a teacher? A classmate? All of the above? None of it?

Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure it matters. Because the message is everywhere. Everywhere you look. Everything you see. Hear.

Thin is best. Better. Thin is hot. Desirable. Pretty. Cool. Thin is successful. Lovable. Acceptable. Perfect.

Fat is bad. Evil. Lazy. A slob. No good. Unloveable. Flawed. Ugly. A loser.

Thin is winning at life.

Except you and I both know all of that is a load of BS. So here’s what I want to say to that fierce and funny and spirited eight-year-old in my life.

Thin means nothing. Thin, fat, short, tall… it’s all irrelevant.

It’s a shape. Not a character trait.

Kiddo, having a thigh gap or a bikini bridge doesn’t magically make you a better person. It won’t help you get an A+ in  that 1,000-word assignment on Hamlet that you’re going to have to write in Year 11. It’s not going to get you a higher Year 12 score. Or get you into the traineeship or uni course you want to do. It’s not going to help you save up for that trip to London. It won’t make it easier to learn how to make a mean apple pie. Or be the deciding factor on whether that amazing girl or guy you meet at your work mixed netball game asks you out. Nobody is asked on a date simply because of a thigh gap. NOBODY.

Being ‘thin’ won’t automatically make you wiser. Or kinder. Or more compassionate. Or better able to tell a joke and make a roomful of people laugh. In exactly the same way, the width of your wrists or the length of your earlobes don’t hold that super power either.

Thinness is not a pre-requisite for success. Or for happiness.

 

Remind me how a thigh gap or a bikini bridge is a guarantee of a more beautiful existence?

  • When I worked as the editor of one of Australia’s most successful travel magazines travelling the world for free, I didn’t have a thigh gap.
  • When I lived in London for 12 months with my best friend Nicky and had so many nights where we laughed until we cried  – I didn’t have a thigh gap.
  • When I was hired to write episodes of the kids TV show The Shak – I didn’t have a thigh gap.
  • When I got my first novel published and it made the best-seller list and I sold the movie rights and my next book was published in the US and then debuted as a stage play – I didn’t have a thigh gap. When I met my gorgeous husband Brad – I didn’t have a thigh gap.

I’ve never had a thigh gap. In fact, I’ve had the opposite most of my life. I’ve had a thigh merge. Not that that’s relevant either. Despite what advertising wants you to believe my body shape (which has yo-yo’d over the years) has influenced pretty much nothing in my life. Shocking but true.

Think about it. When Tina Fey and Amy Poehler wowed the entire world with their super smart, oh-so-funny hosting of The Golden Globes, the size of their thighs didn’t play a role. Having a thigh gap or not doesn’t make Tina and Amy’s joke about George Clooney any more or less funny. Adele didn’t need a thigh gap to win 10 Grammys. And I’m pretty sure Dr Fiona Wood didn’t need one in order to invent spray-on skin for burns victim.

You with me?

So remind me again how being thin (or short or tall or curvy) is the key to a better life? Remind me how a thigh gap or a bikini bridge is a guarantee of a more beautiful existence?

Oh, that’s right. It isn’t. They aren’t.

Body shape is just one aspect of who you are.  Sure strive to be strong and healthy so that your body will do the things you want it to do. But that’s where the conversation should end.

But but but.

You want to be popular? Fine. Be a good listener. Laugh easily and often. Be kind. Walk through your life with integrity and compassion. You want to be successful? Great! Work hard. Give back. Travel. Read. Volunteer.

You want to have a life filled with joy?  Surround yourself with people who call forth your best. Practice gratitude. And always, always my darling girl, go for a second dessert.

It’s that simple. No, really. It is.

This post first appeared on Mamamia.com.au



Ageing isn’t something to be feared. It’s a privilege.

bec-sparrow-I’m about to tell you a story.

 

It’s the story of a global television legend, a world-famous actress and a 22-year-old Australian babysitter – my babysitter – called Emma. In January, Emma was given about three months to live. More on my beautiful friend Emma in a moment.

 

You see, this week Oprah sat down to do a one-on-one interview with Cameron Diaz. The topic? Beauty, ageing and the pressure on women to forever look 25-years-old.  (I wanted to do a fist pump even before I’d even seen 30 seconds of this interview, quite frankly.)

 

There’s a reason Oprah chose Diaz to talk to about this subject. The 42-year-old actress has been on record for a long time as saying she refuses to do Botox and recently penned the New York Times bestselling The Body Book on beauty, fitness and ageing.

 

Anyway.

 

So, OW and CD sat down to discuss ageing, specifically the nonsensical expression that has spawned an entire industry: “anti-ageing”. And you know things get feisty because Oprah swears right off the bat.

 

Here’s my favourite part of the interview (thanks to The Huffington Post):

 

As the actress writes in her New York Times bestseller The Body Book, Diaz says there’s no such thing as “anti-ageing.” Oprah emphatically agrees during their interview for “Oprah Prime” and shares Diaz’s frustration over the idea that ageing should (or even can) be avoided. “As somebody who just turned 60… it just pisses me off,” Oprah says.

 

“It’s almost as if we have failed if we don’t remain 25 for the rest of our lives. Like we are failures… Oh, I’m sorry, I apologize,” Diaz says sarcastically. “I wasn’t able to defy nature.”

 

AMEN to that.

 

I applaud Diaz for drawing a line in the sand and flipping the bird to anyone who expects her to cross it.

 

Here’s the thing though: we all need to draw that line in the sand.  We all have a role to play in this anti-ageing crap and we need to stop buying into it. What do I mean? We need to stop whinging, whining and despairing about getting old.

 

So it’s at this point that I want to talk to you about my friend Emma.1069882_741595892541784_1874552962_n

 

Emma is 22. She’s smart as a whip, funny, wry, feisty, (like me) loves a good maxi dress, and has a penchant for super cute stationery.

 

She happens to be my babysitter and is an expert at wrangling Fin and successfully stopping him from eating 37 cheese sticks in one sitting.  She’s a good woman.

 

She also happens to have been diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma (a diagnosis which in Em’s case is unrelated to sun damage, just so you know).

 

Stage 4 melanoma is terminal.

 

That diagnosis was delivered to Em in August 2013. In January this year, Emma’s doctors gave her just three months to live. We’re hoping, hoping a trial drug will extend that by a few months. But right now, Emma isn’t allowing herself to assume she’ll still be here at Christmas.

 

Do I even need to point out how utterly f*cked that is?

 

So now this beautiful girl who has spent the past few years volunteering in East Timor is now being forced to plan her funeral. Instead of planning her future with Serge (the love of her life whom she married last week), Emma is now coming to terms with the fact she won’t get to grow old.

 

So here’s the thing.

 

When it comes to our feelings about ageing, we need to say we’re not going to do this dance anymore.

 

We’re not going to stress and angst about looking old. Or not looking young.  We’re going to get over it. Suck it up.

 

Because while we’re whinging and sooking about turning 30 or 40 or 50 or whatever number freaks you out, Emma would give anything – do anything – to have another year with her husband, her sisters, her nieces and nephews, her mum and dad, her best friend.

 

While we’re complaining about crow’s feet or grey hair or varicose veins, Emma is wishing this whole damn diagnosis was a bad dream she could wake up from.

 

She’s TWENTY-TWO.

 

While we’re fearing old age and trying to run from it, Emma wishes she could run towards it.

 

Growing old is a privilege. And it’s not guaranteed for any of us.

 

Let me say that again.

 

Growing old is a privilege. A gift.  And it’s not guaranteed for any of us. Complaining about ageing is disrespectful to all those women, men and children who right now, today, know they won’t see out their next birthday.

 

Emma’s life is worth far more than merely serving as some kind of cautionary tale for the rest of us about having skin cancer checks (although I urge you to do that nonetheless).

 

But her story is the reality check many of us need to GET A GRIP.

 

Don’t be anti-ageing. It’s pointless.

 

 This post first appeared on Mamamia.com.au

 

I still choose you.

photo 3Sometimes I look at my wedding photo and I don’t recognise the bride smiling back at me.

And I suspect she wouldn’t recognise me either.

She’s 34. I’m 42.

That woman in the photo? She gets eight hours of sleep per night.

I average 5.

She goes to the gym every day.  Casually strolls around Asian grocery stores looking for things like Shaoxing Rice Wine and Gai Lan.   She goes to the movies A LOT. And out to dinner on a whim.  And RSVPS ‘yes’ to book launches and housewarmings. That woman in the photo with the shining, happy eyes and the pretty beaded dress? She’s never really experienced heartbreak or loss. She reads books and meditates and just ten days before this photo was taken was drinking martinis in a bar on 31st Street in New York.  I can see in her face the hopefulness for her future with her new husband. She’s carefree and happy and hold the phone:  I don’t think she even knows what Spanx are. WHAT. THE. HELL?

Since that photo was taken I’ve had four children. I’ve moved house six times. I’ve cooked more fish fingers than I care to think about.  I’ve been blindsided by a tragedy that brought me to my knees.  I’ve fallen deeply, madly in love with my children and yet fantasised about escaping to a hotel alone.  I don’t run anymore or walk  - I rush.  I wear flat shoes and maxi dresses and loose flowing tops to hide my stomach. And I write down the names of reliable babysitters the way I used to scribble down the titles of new books to read.

Our lives are so different.  And sometimes I look at that girl in the frame and I miss her.  And really it’s not her life that I miss (well, okay yeah sometimes I do really, really miss that old life).  But what I really miss is who I was back then, on that day. How I felt. So if I could go back and recreate that day when that photo was taken – my wedding day – I would. I SO would. In a heartbeat.weddingroof

And it’s not about the dress (which was not even a wedding dress. It was a pretty cream beaded dress I bough off the rack in a little clothing shop). It’s not about being a princess for a day as I’m not the princess type. It’s not about the hair and the makeup and the attention.

It’s because on that day I gave myself over to joy. One hundred percent.  I wasn’t thinking about mortgage payments or worrying about who was going to pick Ava up from drama or whether or not Quincy or Fin has a cold. I didn’t know about Facebook status updates and Twitter trolls didn’t exist.

It was a day that was just about Brad and me – the two of us. It was about how we felt about each other and how in love – how full of hope – we were.  It was a time when we were each the centre of the other’s world. When we were excited about the adventure that lay ahead.

Our wedding day was the most marvellous, magical day.  And THAT’S what I want to recapture.

There were lanterns swinging in the breeze. And sixty of our favourite people were with us on that rooftop under a beautiful piercing blue sky. Stevie Wonder’s feel-good tunes filled the air. My childhood friends Katie and Nic stood by my side.  Cocktails and champagne flowed. My dad gave me away. My mum looked the most beautiful she had ever been.

And I swirled around that rooftop like a spinning top talking and laughing and dancing with Brad and our friends.

We were giddy with joy.

I know you can’t go back in time. Nor would I want to.

But I would like to go back to that rooftop, with the lanterns and the music and all our family and friends and I would like to look at Brad and say, “I still choose you. Despite everything. Because of everything. I still choose you.  Let’s dance.”

“I didn’t know Charlotte Dawson but this is why I cried for her today.”

CharlotteI had a hot and cold relationship with Charlotte Dawson.

 

Don’t get me wrong, we never met. But when she first came to my attention on Australia’s Next Top Model (ANTM)– I wasn’t a fan.

 

I had vague memories of Charlotte being married to troubled Olympic swimmer Scott Miller at some point and I was aware she’d been a sometimes panellist on Beauty and The Beast with the late Stan Zemaneck years earlier but I’d never given her a passing thought (other than thinking she was extraordinarily beautiful). But  when she came to my attention on ANTM?  If I’m going to be honest, she irritated me.

 

Who is this woman? Why is she so mean to the teenage entrants?

 

That’s what I thought of Charlotte Dawson. In a nutshell: not much.

 

But my opinion changed. And I can tell you the exact date it changed: 28th August 2011.

 

Charlotte sat down with Mia to do a one-on-one interview for this very website and that’s when I saw the real Charlotte Dawson – a fragile, seeringly honest, loving, self-deprecating soul with a generous laugh. A woman who just like the rest of us was out there, doing her best and trying hard to be a contributor rather than a critic.

 

 

 

I sat at home that day, ready to roll my eyes and instead was mesmerised by her.  Instead I wanted to be her friend.  There she was, sitting on the floor of the Mamamia office, make-up free, hair pulled back and wearing simple – if not daggy – clothes. She talked openly and honestly – sometimes uncomfortably – about her history of failed relationships and her inability to choose the right partner, her reconciliation with the fact she would never be a mother, her feelings about aging in an industry that values only the very young and the paper thin. I watched her talk freely about her use of Botox, her experiences with online bullying, her fierce support of gay right and the mothering and nurturing (clearly rarely caught on camera) that she gave the ANTM entrants. I would never have guessed it was Charlotte who was the mother hen to those girls, dishing out the tough love and reality checks along with big doses of love to the young entrants.

 

So on 28th August 2011, I became a fan. And from then on I went out of my way to read interviews Charlotte gave in the media to learn more about her. That’s where I read about the fact she was sexually abused as a child at the hands of an elderly neighbour.  About her teenage birth mother who gave her up for adoption. About her difficult relationship with her stepfather. And her pattern for choosing (according to her therapist) narccisistic men

 

This morning I heard the news that Charlotte Dawson was found dead. And I cried at my desk.

 

Why? I don’t even know how to explain it.

 

We weren’t friends by any means. We exchanged a few messages on Twitter over the years – most frequently a message of support from one to the other when things had turned ugly and abuse was flying at either of us for one reason or another. But truth be told she wouldn’t have known me in a line-up.  I could have walked past her on the street and she’d have been oblivious to my presence.

 

So why the tears?

 

Because I feel we let her down.  As a society. As human beings, quite frankly.  She was so frequently pummelled on social media – the target of the most hateful, vicious messages.  And having been the target myself on some occasions – let me tell you, it’s hard for the abuse not to swirl in your head long after you’ve read it.  It’s hard for your spirit not to be irrevocably punctured; for your self-esteem not to permanently fractured when people are cajoling you to hang yourself. Or calling you a whore.  (And on that subject can I just say how the hell do we expect teenagers to brush off this type of abuse when we, as adults, can’t?)  Anyway.  So Charlotte was frequently attacked online and we tut-tutted and agreed that social media is awful and said, ‘Oh my God, poor Charlotte’ but then more often than not we followed it with, ‘Well what is she DOING on Twitter? She needs to stop responding”. That’s right, we told CHARLOTTE DAWSON to get off social media rather than the parasites and miscreants who have turned platforms like Twitter and Facebook into the cowardly bully’s paradise.

 

So why the tears?

 

Because we are so bloody pathetic when it comes to understanding mental illness in this country which is RIDICULOUS. You know why? Because we’re surrounded by it. At least HALF the people in my friendship group are on some form of anti-depression or anti-anxiety medication.  You’d never know, of course. Because still now it’s this big, shameful secret.  But it’s not rare. It’s not an affliction of the weak. Or the fragile. It’s one in five Australians. You with me?  According to the Black Dog Institute “One in five (20%) Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year. The most common mental illnesses are depressive, anxiety and substance use disorder.”

 

dawson1 I didnt know Charlotte Dawson but this is why I cried for her today.

Charlotte, after last years Twitter saga on Sixty Minutes

 

So we don’t need all these hushed tones when we talk about depression or people with depression. Most of us have it, have had it or will have it at some point.  Of course we will. Life is bloody tough at times.  And at some point we will each be brought to our knees. I’ve had a bout of depression in my life.  Charlotte battled depression for years. Is that any surprise given her childhood?  She talked openly and honestly about her struggle with the black dog and I think many of us responded by making her feel less than when instead she should have been applauded for her honesty. We should have responded not just with open minds but with open hearts and arms.

 

So why the tears?

 

You know what? I don’t know. I guess I worry that this morning her heart ached with pain and loneliness and maybe life looked impossibly bleak. I’m sad because I worry that she felt like she was of no use or not wanted or had nothing to offer. I’m sad because whether her death was deliberate or accidental – the result is the same: we lost her.

 

I believe Charlotte Dawson was a  woman with a big heart who was in fact incredibly gracious and loving. And I worry she died without knowing that she was greatly valued and respected and wanted.

 

I wish I had a clever way to wrap up this column.  A wise message.  A moral to the story. But I don’t. I’m just sad because today Charlotte Dawson is gone.

This post first appeared on Mamamia.

This woman is more than brave …

red-dressI want you to do something. I want you to look at a photo. And I want you to tell me what you see.

I’ll give you a heads up before you scroll down. The photo is of a naked woman. Yep, naked. Still willing to look?

Let me tell you something else about the naked woman you are about to see: she’s a breast cancer warrior. The body you are about to look at has a tapestry of scars. You see, there is a story to be told underneath that red dress.

This week Brisbane woman, mother of four, Beth Whaanga, took a deep breath and did something daring. God, more than daring. “Daring” doesn’t do this justice. What Beth did was allow herself to be completely vulnerable. What she did was extraordinarily, breathtakingly brave and generous and courageous and if I had a bloody thesaurus I would insert 1000 more words.

Because Beth took off her clothes and allowed herself to be photographed by her long-time friend and photographer Nadia Mascot for a project they are calling “Under The Red Dress”. In a bid to educate women about breast cancer. In a bid to start a conversation about how cancer surgeries change your body and the way you feel about yourself. In a bid to say – that woman you see at the school gate, that co-worker in the department near you – it’s entirely possible her body looks like this. It’s entirely possible their bodies tell a story that belies their outward appearance.

What’s Beth’s story? Well she was diagnosed with breast cancer last year on her 32nd birthday. She was later told she carries the BRCA2 gene. So in November she went through a double mastectomy and a total hysterectomy. And now her body tells the tale …

Beth Red Dress 2 BEC: This woman is more than brave.

Here’s what Beth had to say on Facebook when she uploaded the images for her friends to see:

“WARNING. These images are confronting and contain topless material. They are not in anyway meant to be sexual. The aim of this project is to raise awareness for breast cancer. If you find these images offensive please hide them from your feed.

Each day we walk past people. These individuals appear normal but under their clothing sometimes their bodies tell a different story. Nadia Masot and I aim to find others who are willing to participate in our project so that we might show others that cancer effects everyone. The old and the young, age does not matter, self-examination is vital. It can happen to you.”

And this from Nadia:

“In my own work as a photographer, I became thirsty to share imagery with more meaning and purpose. This was sparked by a private health battle of my own. I want to be able to help people through my talents. Beth’s journey through her diagnosis and surgery touched me and I felt like I had something to say.   As we were doing the shoot, I felt inspired that this should not stop here.  We pass people in the street every day and only see their veneer. What they feel comfortable showing to the world often tells a different story to their private battles.  ‘Under the Red Dress’ is a project which attempts to tell those silent stories that people are not only wanting to tell, but that people want to hear. Everybody likes to be reminded that the person next door is only human, as they are.”

Beth Red Dress 6 BEC: This woman is more than brave.

So these photos – they’re  what I’ve been staring at for the past hour. Photographs of a body that has endured a total bilateral mastectomy. A breast reconstruction. A naval reconstruction. A total hysterectomy. The ravages of rapid weight loss on her skin. On-going hair loss.

That’s what I’m staring at and yet – that’s not what I’m seeing.

What I see in each of those images is a woman who is strong. Gutsy. Determined. A fighter. I see a mother. A sister-in-law. A wife. A daughter. A best-friend.  I see a woman who is beautiful not despite of her scars but because of them. A woman who is prepared to step into her own vulnerability in a bid to help other women. To remind them to do self-exams, to be breast-aware, to help start a conversation about the insidiousness of breast cancer.

That’s what I see when I look at those naked photos of Beth Whaanga.  But not everyone sees that. Some of Beth’s friends didn’t see that.

In fact, when Beth posted these images on Facebook, 103 of them UNFRIENDED her immediately. Some felt the images were inappropriate or even pornographic.

Beth Red Dress 4 BEC: This woman is more than brave.

When I first heard this I was baffled. Then angry. But actually I get it. I do. It’s frightening. Unsettling. Disconcerting. And maybe some of you reading this now feel the same.  Maybe you know someone who has had similar cancer surgeries. Maybe breast cancer runs in your family. Maybe you’re overdue to have a breast exam. Or felt a lump recently and don’t’ want to have to think about. Maybe you just don’t want to be damn well reminded about breast cancer. And the easiest thing right now is to look away. Turn your head. Unfriend the woman who posted those confronting images. I get it.

But I’m asking you to look back at Beth.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer for women in Australia.

I’m asking you to look back at Beth.

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.

I’m asking you to look back.

Beth Red Dress 5 BEC: This woman is more than brave.

Because Beth needs our support. She doesn’t need to feel in any way ashamed for doing something so gusty and brave. For doing something intended to help save lives.

And Beth, I have a message for you: if by doing these photos and sharing them on Facebook means that one life is saved, if just one woman does a breast exam or goes to have her mammogram  or decides to go to the doctor to talk about a small lump they noticed last month because you had the courage to have these photos taken and to share them with the world … well, then you’re more than just brave. You’re a hero in my books.

If you’d like to get involved in the Under The Red Dress project, check out their Facebook page here.

This post first appeared on Mamamia. It was republished on Huffington Post UK and Huffington Post Canada with full permission.