Miriam Margolyes on nudity, grey hair and bladder control: ‘I’m constantly offending people’ | The last taboo


Miriam Margolyes

My friends and I are on the phone all the time talking about how our bodies are changing, and about our aches and pains, how we feel in the morning and how we feel in the evening. We talk about everything. Many are the same friends I had at Oxford high school; I’m so fond of them.

When you’re a teenager, you’re not so much obsessed with your own body as with other people’s. You notice if someone is prettier, or developing more fully than you – it’s a competitive time in one’s life. Now, we’re all more accepting of ourselves. We see our friends with their wrinkles and grey hair, and realise that we are just the same – it’s liberating!

These days I find myself having to concentrate to hang on to my pee because my bladder is weak. I’m supposed to do pelvic floor exercises, but I often forget.

I’ve always had a head of unruly hair, but these days I have little anywhere else, except on my chin. Some people find it difficult to acknowledge that they have whiskers, but I don’t. When I go on television and I sit in the makeup artist’s chair, the first thing I say is: “Where are your tweezers?”

I’ve got one whisker that’s more of a rope; it’s very, very long. Sometimes I run my hand over my face and it becomes entangled in this length of wire, and I think, how can something that long be growing out of you?

Luckily, I have always had good skin. I remember being drawn in the nude when I was 17 by the artist Augustus John, who said to me: “Your skin takes the light.” It was a very nice compliment.

I’m not prudish about talking about these things, but I seem to be constantly shocking and offending other people. I’m not self-conscious – I’m very conscious of self but I’m not self-conscious.

My mother was a nudist and I’ve inherited that from her. She would go around the house naked, and sometimes give the au pair girls a fright! I have a new extension at home with windows on to the back garden, so these days I have to be aware that the gardener might get quite an eyeful.

I’ve always been frank about bodies and bodily functions. I know people don’t like it, so it amuses me to talk about it. We’re not supposed to dwell on the body too much – it’s the seat of emotions and sexuality, and things British people would rather consign to the dark areas. They don’t want these things brought into the light.

But I’ll happily discuss them. I enjoy body talk! It’s funny and interesting. Everybody’s got a body and everyone has a problem with it – I’ve never met anyone completely satisfied with themselves.

I think we’re all too hung up on our physicality, and things like Instagram aren’t helping – not that I’ve ever been on it. More than ever, we’re being encouraged to look at ourselves in comparison with others, so there’s even more anxiety among young people about how they look. I’m glad that doesn’t apply to me – I’m old now, and just grateful to be here.

While I’m not as fit as I once was, last year was the busiest year I’ve ever had in terms of work. That was pleasing.

As incontinence affects one in three women over 35, we should all be having more open conversations about this everyday condition that impacts women of all ages. Find out more at tena.co.uk/ageless


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