After getting a diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes, Lindsay had to reassess her relationship with her body at the age of 69. Vibrant and charismatic, she took her diagnosis in her stride, swimming through her first winter the very next year.
From wacky fashion and hot pants in the 1960s, to aerial slides, cold water and bright clothes in the 2020s, Lindsay tells us what gives her confidence. Our fifth Reimagining Beauty Body Story is all about surviving the menopause, feeling great despite health challenges and rocking vivid lipstick throughout it all.
What does the word beauty mean to you?
I was never beautiful. I’ve been tall for my age with curly hair since I was two and it's the only comment that was ever made about me. It’s still made about me today – I’m still tall with curly hair and I’m 72. So, I was never told I was beautiful like other girls were because my height was so unusual for the 1950s and 60s.
I thought my sister was beautiful and still is. A nice average height, straight-ish hair, lovely eyes, a great bone structure. But I always thought I wasn't beautiful. Looking back at photos you realise you were actually pretty gorgeous, but at the time I don’t think I ever thought that, I just thought I was all legs and all arms and extremely awkward.
When I went to secondary school, the games mistress said that she'd never be able to make anything of me because I couldn't hold tennis racket because my arms were too long; I tripped over the hockey sticks and I tripped over myself running. And that was actually really hurtful. When I was 18 and left the school, she said, oh, we made something of you in the end, and I actually turned around and said, no, you made nothing of me – you destroyed me. Which I thought was quite brave at the time because I was very shy.
But the sea did it for me. I loved to swim and I became a really good dingy sailor and won some national awards. And that's what gave me confidence and made me feel that my body could work and could do things for me.
I still look at men and women and think well, you're gorgeous. But it's only the look and sometimes when they start to talk, you think not. So, I think beauty is not really about how you look. That's a very superficial thing. And in this age of selfies and social media, how you look seems to be the most important initial thing about people – much more than it was in my youth.
I had a great teenage time and had a lot of fun. As I said, I wasn’t beautiful in any sense and I was rather awkward, but I think it's about your personality and if you can shine through, it doesn't matter what you actually look like. I would say, you're either a radiator or a drain and the radiators you want to spend a lot of time with and the drains? Not so much. The drains are quite hard work and they rather bring you down but people have a tough time, and you need to support them. So, I think beauty comes from within.
Do you remember when you first became aware of the concept of beauty?
I suppose it was when I became a teenager, because, for teenagers, how you look is really important. I remember having a lovely friend called Pat. I was terribly honoured that she befriended me because she was completely different and she was beautiful to me. She always wore her uniform in a different way. We all accessorised our uniforms – hitched our skirts up or hitched them down according to the fashions of the day, but Pat did the opposite. She wore her hair down when everybody had plaits; she put her hair in huge plaits around head when they weren’t fashionable. And she just always looked fantastic. She was just one of those joyous people that made you feel better just by looking at her, and I was thought that was beautiful.
Of course, I used to read Jackie magazine, and it was all beautiful long, blonde hair, and Lulu looks and big eyes. I don't think that I ever saw anyone in a magazine with curly hair until the 70s when the Afro came in. Also, what I loved was the sea – sailing, swimming and a bit of water skiing thrown in. And if you've got curly hair, those are the things you should never ever do because they make your hair stand out for your head. I always felt I was like a second Spinnaker on the boat!
People idolise the sixties for fashion, freedom and the women’s lib movement. How was it being a teenager at that time?
You know, compared to what my mother had, it was wonderful. I remember my mother being quite jealous that we had these freedoms, and I loved all the wacky clothes. I was very lucky – I was stick thin. When I was a student, I walked around London in hot pants and bare feet. I could do all that because I had the body and you can get away with a lot when you’re thin, can't you? I cut my hair terribly short. There are people who knew me in the late 60s, early 70s who don't know I ever had curls and I meet them now and they say, oh my god, you've curled your hair. No, I just used to wear it half an inch long.
Beauty now is very much a single look. When you look at magazines, I think however much they try to change it, a certain look prevails and I'm rather sad to see that. It's nice that there’s much more diversity, but it’s still very dull; there isn't a lot of variety.
When I look at teenagers of the day and think what we used to wear, all these amazing colours and shapes and big baggy trousers or tight trousers, or minis, or maxis – it was all fashionable, and it was all fun. I don't feel that there’s quite that freedom anymore. I think we were very lucky in lots of ways. But I think that Instagram and social media generally have meant that girls particularly, want to look the same. And the boys actually to an extent. We did have that a bit but not as much as it is now.
So, the 60s were liberating, they were wonderful. And I was a really lucky to be there and I can still dance on a table in a mini skirt!
When you reflect on your experience and then on that of your children and grandchildren, how do you think it's changed?
I'm very lucky to have three children and 10 grandchildren in England and in Australia. And they're all absolutely gorgeous in different ways. I try to never say, ‘you're beautiful’ because I think it's a word that is totally misused and misrepresented.
So, they're just fabulous and they're awesome. I love the word awesome. They’re also very supportive of me and tell me if I look ridiculous, but also don't mind me looking a bit different. They’re quite happy about that, which I think is amazing and lovely. And since I became a Type 1 Diabetic, they've reinforced that more because I lost my confidence a bit, and I have to wear a white Libra on my arm all the time, which you see in the pictures.
I'm not perhaps the best Type 1 Diabetic in the world. I don't control it very well. So, I struggle a bit and they're really supportive of that. And the other thing that I find absolutely amazing is that if I have to inject myself on the beach, by the lake, in the pub, at a wedding, nobody turns a hair. I'm not sure that would have happened in the 60s and 70s.
So, it's easy to say that things aren't good now with social media and so on, but actually lots of things are so much better. People are terribly accepting of things now that perhaps we were not nearly so accepting of when I was young. It was fun, but I don't think we understood disability. We didn't understand that everybody is different and everybody has needs and lots of those are hidden. I think we were open, perhaps, but not in a very pleasant way and not in the way we are now. So, I think that's wonderful.
You were diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in your late 60s. What happened?
I was very ill the year I was 68 and then, just before my 69th birthday I began to loose significant weight. I thought it was just me being really clever with my diet and getting away with cheating. But it wasn't; it was my body shutting down. Then I did a couple of big walks – I was very lucky to survive those, wasn’t I? But then I had to be rushed into hospital.
The medics were amazing. It took three days to take me out of Diabetic Ketoacidosis, which is what happens when you become a type one diabetic and don't know, and therefore have got no insulin, so the sugar is rushing around your body and it's not absorbed in the cells, it’s not being used. You just feel absolutely wretched and tired.
So, literally a week before my 69th birthday, I became a Type 1 Diabetic, which was quite a shock. I was a nurse, so I knew about it but I hadn't ever had to deal with it personally. It turns out I'm very lucky that my body hadn't turned on itself years ago because the first five years of my life, I spent every winter in an oxygen tent with pneumonia. I was very lucky that that didn't destroy the beta cells in my pancreas.
So, here I am. I had to wait to 69 to get it. I'd rather not have got it, but if you're going to have it at five or 69, older is probably better. I've had to learn to adapt and inject myself between six and eight times a day.
How does diabetes affect your swimming?
Cold water swimming is fascinating. If it's very cold, my blood sugars go up really high, dangerously high, and then suddenly my body thinks, oh no, she's just exercising, and they drop like a stone. So, I can go hypo (very low blood sugars) very quickly. So, I have to be very careful, wear a watch and when it's very cold stay in for no more than 10 minutes. When it’s moderate temperatures, it's quarter of an hour and then I come out and check myself.
If the water’s really warm, it's actually gone the other way. So, swimming off the Australian Barrier Reef and the waters were 29 degrees, my sugars dropped really, really fast and I had to swim back to the boat and get some assistance and some dextrose gel down me.
I've learnt the way my body works so that's fascinating. I've learnt that actually, you can do anything, you just have to have the people around you who can support you if you need it. I don't take a risk; I don't go out deep with nobody around because it wouldn't be fair on anybody else. If I'm going on a longer swim, I always have a Dextrogel tube tucked into the boob part of my swimsuit or my tow float. When I ran the London Marathon when I was 50, I actually had a mobile phone and a lipstick in my in my bra, I've got very big boobs, now I have a Dextrogel tube, so 20 years on things have changed a bit but not a lot – I still keep everything in my bra or my swimsuit.
So, yes, it affects my life, obviously, of course it does, and little things make it change very quickly, but you can manage it and everybody can do it. You don't have to be clever and you don't have to be special, you just have to want to do something. And every day is a blessing because I nearly lost my life and I'm very, very lucky to be here.
I’m so determined that every day I should do something and have fun and smile and enjoy it. And so, I just take sensible precautions. But I know there are lots of people with Type 1 Diabetes who find it very hard and are embarrassed about injecting, are embarrassed about checking themselves and nervous of what might happen, and all I can say is, just come swimming because it’s the most wonderful community.
You approach the lake that I swim in regularly and all you can hear is laughter and chat. There are men and women there and we're just smiling and laughing. Some can barely swim and some can swim brilliantly and swim the channel and do amazing things. It doesn't matter and nobody cares.
The people at the lake are wonderful. I feel quite happy to say to people, I've got this problem and if there's nobody there who knows me, I just say to somebody, I'm just getting the lake, I'm a Type 1 Diabetic, there’s pink bag here with a small can of coke. When I get out, if you think I’m behaving rather peculiarly, just make me drink it. And they usually say, it's fine, I'm a consultant at the hospital!
Lots of women reading this will be in the menopause zone. You’re so vibrant post-menopause – can you give us all some hope about aging?
Yes, I started my periods very early and then I started the menopause very early. I had 12 years of hot flashes and night sweats and tried everything plus HRT. I tried every homoeopathic remedy in the book and it was the most awful time. Going to bed wrapped in a towel is not pleasant. So, I feel so sorry for anybody who’s going through it – but you do come out the other end and it gets better.
Post-menopause, they say you’ll start to age very rapidly. But I don't think I did particularly. I didn't notice anything particularly different. It’s lovely now. No periods, no hot sweats. Funnily enough, I do get hot flashes but that's caused by my blood sugars going high. So, sometimes I feel like I've gone back into the menopause but I know I just need some insulin so it's ok, it's treatable.
So, I think that being old can be wonderful. I'm actually quite enjoying it. Nothing works quite like it did. I certainly don't look like I would like to look – just lots of wrinkles and saggy skin and all those things – nobody wants those, but actually, I just don't look in mirrors apart from to put on lipstick.
I used to be a believer in the power of mascara and then I got to 60 and believed in the power of lipstick. So, every morning I put lipstick on. People, can't believe it. I turn up at the lake at six o'clock in the morning for a swim and I've got lipstick on. I do not go anywhere – I don't even go downstairs – without lipstick on. I love it because I put it on and that's me ready to go. I can do anything. It doesn't matter what I'm wearing or how I feel – it makes me feel better. It's quite bright. It's not shrinking violet stuff. It's the real thing.
If you want me to tell you about my arthritic hands and aches and pains, I will. But who would want to hear about it? How boring. So, you know, my body works, I can do things I want. I can still walk and run not so well as I used to, ok. I can swim. At 72 I can do most things. I can still dance; I can still have fun and that's really all that matters. Everybody can do something – it doesn't matter what your limitations are, what you have to look at is what you can do.
I appreciate that when I get into the sea, people aren't looking at me and thinking, oh my god, what an amazing figure. What they’re thinking is, oh my gosh, what an old lady getting in but, you know, I don't hear it. I don't give a toss what anybody else thinks anymore.
My only concern is that I don't embarrass people. If I'm going out, I don't want to be that old lady who just looks an embarrassment. So, I aim to not embarrass but to make myself feel happy so that mostly means bright colours. Slightly wacky clothing. And I try and do everything in my life to make me smile and make other people smile, so my clothes usually reflect that a little bit.
True to form you picked the brightest D&B swimsuit – how did it feel to model it?
I still can't believe that I did it. I think most people thought it was hilarious. I just think it's a bit surreal and I loved doing it. It was great fun and luckily it was a fabulous day and the sun was shining. I don't feel like I had anything to lose, maybe that's what comes with being 72.
I was very shy when I was young. So, I would certainly not have done it as a teenager. I may have done it in middle age, though probably not. I'd probably have been too embarrassed about the rolls of fat around my middle and perceived problems that aren't actually problems. The fat’s what keeps me afloat.
So yes, I really enjoyed it and I think anything I get offered to do I'm going to say yes to. So, for our 50th wedding anniversary our children are paying for us to do the aerial slide at the Eden Project – my husband's not so keen. People say why do you want to do that at your age and my answer to that really is, well, why not?
I'll be terrified of course. There might be other things I wouldn't want do like abseiling and I really don't want to jump off a perfectly serviceable aeroplane even with a parachute But, if you want to do it, even it makes you a bit frightened, go for it.
I guess a lot of people would say that about outdoor swimming. Have you always swum all year around?
I’ve always swum a lot, but not much in the winter. And then my daughter and I decided we would swim all through the winter at Clevedon Marine Lake. We were going to start in September 2018, but because I had been quite ill, I said, let's wait until spring, but that was when I got diagnosed with diabetes.
So, we didn't start until the following October after I'd been to Australia to see my Australian family, so when we started it was actually quite cold. It was wonderful because we swam with a lovely coach who helped us and told us how to manage getting in and out of cold water, which made such a huge difference as I was a bit nervous about what it would do to my blood sugars because I didn't know.
I'd already swum a lot in England and Australia, but in the summer. So, knowing you were going to go through the winter and that the water would go down to one, two, three degrees was different, and that it would be cold getting changed on the side with no protection. Anyway, we just did it. We kept going and we both loved it. It just makes us feel happy. We just can't stop grinning for the rest of the day.
I cannot explain why I've always loved water, but I now love going in the cold water too. If you see pictures of me, I'm always smiling and that's genuine. It's just this thing that creates laughter.
What advice would you give someone who’s not comfortable in their body or in a swimming costume?
I'm not just saying this because Deakin & Blue put me on their website, but invest in a good costume, especially when you're not a teenager without any lumps and bumps, when you've got a bit of shape. I've got big boobs. It's lovely to have something that does actually support you, especially if you're trying to swim better.
It probably doesn't matter too much if you're just bobbing around. I do keep trying to swim better and faster, and I think having something that really holds you is good, especially in the sea when it's very lumpy and wavy. I still love wearing a bikini and that really comes from being very tall. Swimsuits are often not long enough but the Deakin & Blue suit fitted beautifully. I have lost a bikini top in the surf when I was a teenager. It would not be a good look to lose one now!
I think to feel confident in yourself, you have to find something that makes you feel better. So, like I said for me putting a lipstick on in the morning. I try and wear colour. Even if I wear dark colours in the winter, I try to put something bright over it. Something a bit funky, charity shops are brilliant for finding some silly little bit of extra funkiness that just lifts your mood. I find that if you put colour on it immediately lifts your spirits.
I've always swum, so swimming was an easy option for me. I know loads of people who've started and loved it, and I think it's just about doing something where other people say, oh, do you do that? Oh, I wouldn't do that. That's quite a nice feeling. It makes you feel better about yourself, makes you feel that you have got something to offer. I do lots of volunteering and that also gives you exactly the same buzz.
But the swimming is for me, and it keeps me mobile. And I think that's really important as you get older. When I'm in the water, I do sort of Pilates stretches while I’m supported by the water. So, I think you just have to find something that makes you feel better.
In the water, we're all equal. And that's the wonderful thing. It doesn't matter what shape you are, what age you are, what size you are, what bits of you work and bits of you don't work – if enough of you works to float, then you're in and that's wonderful. It’s just lovely to be there and the water looks after you. So just be careful and sensible, but we should all be that anyway, shouldn't we?
Lindsay wears The X-Back Swimsuit in Scarlet in size 12 Hendricks and The Essential Swimsuit in Cobalt in size 14 Hendricks.
Read the other Body Stories in our Reimaging Beauty series:
"Just as some people are hard-wired to think they’re not beautiful, I think that I am and no one's ever going to persuade me that I'm not." Read Ellie's story
"I don't see beauty as being traditional beauty. I think that's because I live with a quite obvious physical difference, so I don't conform to any of the so-called normal beauty standards." Read Mary's story
"It makes me really angry and sad that we live in this culture where we’re told that fat equals unhealthy to the point that people don't want to do the things that will make them healthy because they think they have no place there." Read Rowan's story
"It's not often what I look like that makes me feel good or bad about my body, it’s how it feels like it's working. Has it been used and do I feel fit, do I feel capable? I think that I stand up straighter when I'm feeling accomplished like when I’ve swum a cold kilometre." Read Lucy's story
“We, as grown-ups, have a responsibility to young people today… to show them that beautiful isn’t what they see on a curated, filtered phone screen. Beautiful is a lust for life. Beautiful is freedom from the shackles of media driven expectation. Beautiful is taking up the space you deserve. Beautiful is running into the sea in your pants.” Read Vix’s story
"I know that overcoming mental health is not to be sniffed at, as it were, but it's quite hard to quantify how difficult a struggle it is. You can't see it." Read Hannah's Story