Wednesday, 2 November 2022

Healthy Limits

This is what 50 looked like for me (plus lipstick)

When I was young and thin and angry, I worked in a passport office, which meant that I knew how old all the applicants were. The contrast between women who had recently turned 40 interested me; I discerned two groups, whom I dubbed "The Hockey Moms" and "The Fighters." 

The Hockey Moms had short hair, wore glasses, were dowdies. The Fighters dyed their long tresses, applied makeup, presumably wore contact lenses, and dressed well. The Hockey Moms were soft; the Fighters were sharp. I worked out for 3 hours a day, every second day, ate a low-fat diet, and weighed 117 lbs. I was definitely on the side of the Fighters in that I planned to be one when I were as old as they.

Now I am a decade past 40 and five pounds overweight and a lot happier than I was as a 20-something. I have long hair (albeit greying), which I rather eccentrically braid most of the time, but I wear glasses and I have largely given up make-up. I wear gym clothes to the gym but wear long skirts into town. I am trying to imagine how I will appear to the 20-somethings in the North York passport office when I get my own passport renewed. Not a Hockey Mom--and my apologies to real Hockey Moms, by the way--but not a Fighter either. 

However,  they would be wrong. I have become another kind of Fighter--not a woman who fights Nature for herself but a woman who fights herself for Nature. I wear glasses and eschew make-up because I can't justify to myself the mandatory use of plastic these entail. It wasn't just the solution bottles that weighed upon my conscience and fill the earth; it was the lenses themselves and their hygienic little plastic packets. I still have a lipstick on the go; we'll see if I can hold out against the temptation to buy another when it's done. 

And that points away from the one personal battle against plastic to the Great War humans are fighting against the boundaries of what it is to be human. We are part of Creation--called to be the stewards of Creation--but we carry on as if we were gods. We trespass over every border we encounter, and I can think of no more obvious example of this than engaging in in vitro fertilisation; I'm too used to the concept of murder. It is written on our hearts that it is for Almighty God to decide when a human life ends; it is necessary only now to assert that it is Almighty God's prerogative to decide how a human life begins. 

(This is not to dunk on so-called test tube babies themselves, by the way. They are just as innocent of their origins as babies conceived in rape.)

Another bizarrely god-like thing we're doing lately is attempting to turn boys into girls, men into women, and vice versa. Our God never did such a thing; it was Hera who, according to the story, turned Teresius into a woman and then back into a man. Yes, there are very rare exceptions to the rule (baby boys with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome brought up believing they are girls), but otherwise it is impossible for a male to become a woman or for a female to become a man.  

So far so Catholic, but what about the war against ageing I found so compelling when I was young?

Attempting to appear younger than we are by whatever means is an age-old pursuit, and as we in the West have always prized youth in women, growing old gracefully--by which I mean willingly--is decidedly counter-cultural. But I think this is something worth exploring because there is a real limit to youth and a limit to which we should go in attempting to transgress the borders. We wouldn't bathe in the blood of virgins, but have you checked that your skin cream doesn't include fetal cells? Saint Thomas Aquinas was not keen on cosmetics except to cover real disfigurement; I can only imagine what he would have made of Neocutis.

If any of this talk of limits sounds faintly familiar, it will be because this post was inspired by Paul Kingsnorth's Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist. I heartily recommend this book--with the caveat that he wrote it before he (spoiler alert) converted to Christianity, so expect some mild rudeness about religious faith. Naturally Kingsnorth did not write about Woman's fight against aging (or, for that matter, her fertility or her infertility or her genetics or men who call themselves women). However, he is very keen on the idea of human beings keeping within the limits of humanity and not continuing carrying on as if we were gods, treating the rest of Creation as if we were the terrorists of Mount Olympus. 


  1. A lot of celebrities have 'had work done' so to speak and they nearly always end up looking odd, and insincere.

    1. It's terribly sad for them--and for us, who compare ourselves and others to them--isn't it? Mrs McL

  2. I hope one day Catholics - maybe I mean just Anglophone Catholics- thoroughly internalize their professed belief in the incalculable value of human; that new life comes into this world only through God’s will and that therefore it is virtuous to respect God’s sole prerogative to decree the end of its time in this world. The current situation where pro-life Catholics praise protections for human life in the womb, vulnerable through no action of its own, and simultaneously militate against protections for those vulnerable to disease is dangerous, I think.

    When I say “protections,” I emphatically do not mean vaccine mandates. For 2+ years I have watched pro-life groups, publications, and individuals, oppose and encourage others to oppose, every possible measure against the spread of disease, including something as inarguably morally neutral as improved ventilation in buildings. I’m married to a PROM baby, who also is uniquely vulnerable, through no fault of his own, to Covid, due to a heart injury from a previous infection by a very common virus, so neither the humanity of the unborn, nor the humanity of the more mature is an abstraction to me. I hope I live to see the day when we neither murder the vulnerable unborn, nor treat those vulnerable outside the womb as expendable.

    1. Are the objections to improved ventilation in buildings online? If so, I'd like to read them! I am all for improved ventilation in buildings myself, plus frequent handwashing. If there's anything I have taken away from the massive reduction in flu during the COVID emergency, it's that it is a very good idea to wash my hands whenever I come home from anywhere. --Mrs McL.

  3. The objections to measures to improve ventilation that I witnessed were in the context of local governance. The debate is online, but not in print format. I’m being deliberately vague because, after some sober thought, I’ve decided not to share it. This is for 2 reasons: 1) Although the debate was made public, it was made public for a local audience. In the US we’ve seen destructive consequences from allowing local meetings (e.g. of the school boards) to become infected by non-local controversies, and I would not like to see my local governance be further negatively impacted by concerns not related to local conditions*. 2) The internet is public and I don’t feel comfortable semi “doxxing” private individuals involved the debate. Nor am I interested in revealing my precise geographical location. I’m not even interested in exposing the local politician whose stance I find objectionable. The only consequence to him should be that he is voted out of office on Tuesday**.

    So, I suppose, you and any readers may consider my statement about opposition to improved ventilation unsubstantiated and false, if you like.


    *I have been attending to local government meetings closely for the past 2+ years, so as to manage risk to my husband (made some public vows to that effect, and I take them seriously.) My local representative attends St. XXX Catholic Church, a piece of information I am privy to because “he” has brought whatever the talkers at St. XXX’s have recently read online to most of the public health meetings over the past 2 years – e.g. ‘they tell me over at St. XXX's that wearing masks causes people to re-breathe their own carbon monoxide [sic!].’

    **This is very very very unlikely, but I plan to do my part.

  4. Here ( is a piece from a Catholic pro-life source that supports my initial point (ventilation is, however, not mentioned). The author advocates against any measures of disease control in the general public, would remove most protections against exposure for my high-risk husband and even forbid him (and me) from taking some measures to protect him. The author assumes that only those over 70 or obese are at risk.

    Of course, if it were a matter of risk to my husband 40+ years ago (while he was still in utero), the publication would take an entirely different attitude towards protecting his life.

    This is dangerous. Ontology, as you point out, is essential truth, at least to Catholics. (Yes, I did that on purpose, but I also can’t think of another word.)

    Either a human life has the value inherent to an ensouled body created by God in His image and after His likeness from the moment it is brought into being, or at some point, that value is diminished or not applicable. (And therefore, it is acceptable for people to usurp the prerogative God and influence the end of a human being’s earthly tenure.) The implications of either position are world-altering. I hate to see pro-lifers promulgate the latter. -EA

    1. Are you sure you have the right link? I am well-acquainted with the thought of Dr. Paul Alexander and he is adamant (here as well as elsewhere) that the vulnerable must be protected. In this article, he writes "the elderly, high-risk, and vulnerable people (those with underlying medical conditions, obese persons). Double and triple protections in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, assisted-living facilities, care homes, and in private households." His objections were that healthy people were being put at risk by the COVID measures and that the focus of COVID measures should be to protect those who were/are indeed vulnerable. Dr Alexander is very repetitive: protect those who really are vulnerable, do not treat everyone the same, don't give the COVID jabs to children, is his constant refrain.

      I'm in a bit of a bubble, so I'm not sure if it is widely known and accepted (not the same thing) that the current COVID jabs do not prevent transmission of the virus. What does? Having had to read dozens of article on this topic, I'm not convinced mask-wearing in public is anything other than a security blanket/nightlight. I wore mine because it had become the convention, and I didn't want to make people uncomfortable (Scotland) or be yelled at (Italy). It was nice to pretend they kept me safe, and at least my wasn't made in China (etc.).

      One thing I wondered, during the COVID emergency, was whether or not an elderly person had ever caught the flu or a very bad cold from me and subsequently died from it. That was a sobering thought, especially as I had discovered that hundreds of thousands of people die from flu every year. However, for 100 years (counting the Spanish Flu as flu), the British economy (the one I currently know the most about) has never been shut down for it. The ills the COVID shutdowns have caused are enumerated elsewhere, so I won't go into it except to note that, as a result, inflation has skyrocketed in the UK and thus the interest rate for mortgages is now 6%, which will be awful for middle-aged homeowners who lose their jobs in the next 2 or 3 years.

      That said, the lesson of the high mortality rate from flu--and perhaps the COVID emergency--is that government, churches, businesses, and individuals should not encourage "powering through" illness to go out in public. People SHOULD consider immunocompromised people like your husband before deciding if they are well enough to leave their homes.