I had to stop and think the other day. How old am I again? I thought I was 36, but it turns out I'm actually 37. Which, when you think about it, is pretty damn old.

I remember when my mom was 37, when my aunt was 37, when my best friend was 37 - and they seemed kinda middle-aged. Now it's my turn. And I've come to the horrifying realization that 37 is way past your best-by date.

You see chicks my age that look incredible - you see women twice my age who are equally impressive. (I comfort myself by knowing they've had years more than me to get like that!) But it seems as if I've never really had a "best at" age.

When I was in my teens I was a barefoot tomboy with scabs on my knees, then a newly-moved-to-South-Africa quiet and somewhat ill kid (the change from tropical to Cape Town, from bushveld lifestyle to Mowbray city living did strange things to my health). In high school I was never one of the beautiful in-crowd people. I was the arty-farty, poetry-writing slightly plump outsider with glasses, too shy to stand up and say a thing. In college I stayed at home - not in a dorm, so my social life wasn't what it could have been. I had enough issues figuring out who I was that I constantly felt awkward, and looked it too. From college it was straight into single-parenthood and a continuing slog to survive, no time or cash to really spend on me. And now I'm working so hard I barely have a moment to glance in the mirror to make sure there's no e-waste dirt on my face before I head out the front door. More often than not Favourite Man and The Kid are faced with an un-made-up face, hair pulled harshly back into a plait, torn jeans and a shirt made for grimy work.

It seems like I never got it right - like I never had the time to become the nubile teen, the hot college chick, the 20-something party animal, or at-her-prime 30-ish woman who could pull off what everyone else did.

And now I'm 37 - past my best-by date. It's harder to lose excess baggage on the thighs. The boobs will never again be perky. Greys are over-ruling blondes. Those laugh lines and worry lines are permanent fixtures.

It's easy at 37 to wonder if a tuck, a lift and a snip might help. Against plastic surgery my whole life, I'm suddenly pondering its merits. Perusing the hair-colour aisle. Eyeing designer lingerie (that lifts and supports), wondering if I can convince my feet to walk in high-heels more regularly - if I can find some that fit.

Who among us doesn't want to turn heads? To look stunning all the time? To wake up beautiful instead of bleary-eyed and crumpled? To feel gorgeous constantly and exude it like a spotlight?

Perhaps it's mass media dictating how we should look and be. Every day the internet throws gorgeous young things barely out of school onto my screen - long lean legs, flat stomach, firm butt and boobs you can crack a hard-boiled egg on. These are the "norm" - the thing the media tells us we should be, should spend our lives aspiring to. The faces that sell the anti-aging creams, the potions, the lotions and yes, the surgery. We see celebrities at their best on the red carpet, or the carefully photoshopped covers staring back from the Checkers aisle. Our own harried and careworn reflections look nothing like that.

Yet I know that the Inside Me has a beauty the outside can't portray - that the strength of this woman under the skin has been bought with a high price, been moulded and made through trial by fire. I have scars and stories and experience and a personality that may not always show - but they're there for the discovering if you look deep enough, if you're willing to ask and listen, if you have the patience to really hear.

And if I don't turn heads? If I'm truly past my best-by date? It's the real me that's going to last, although my nipples may eventually hit my knees.

That's what this 37-year-old needs drummed into her head when she next stands naked in front of the bathroom mirror and starts to get critical or discouraged.

Still there's a part of me that wonders if my best-by is still coming. If, perhaps, I can one day be a hot 70-year-old...