Who were you in your twenties?

I wasn’t quite sure. I fancied being the magazine equivalent of Molly Meldrum, interviewing celebrities for a living. So I got a job on a marginal fashion title and moved to Sydney. Not long after, the ’80s recession hit and I was retrenched. It was the week before Christmas, very festive. (Not familiar with the ’80s recession? Google it. Nasty business. Interest rates shot to around 17%. Thousands of people lost jobs and homes. It’s why the over-40s are all nervy now. They remember.) I didn’t get a single job interview for nine months, but spent many eye-opening hours at the Darlinghurst CES. Finally, I scored a gig as a sub-editor on Design Series magazines, which included a title called House Design – very entertaining doing the fact-check phone calls: “This is Alana House from House Design magazine …” There wasn’t much else entertaining about the job, other than meeting one of my still-best friends. Magazines about pools, bathrooms and kitchens are only interesting if you are getting a pool, bathroom or kitchen. And never when you’re 23 and spending your entire disposable income on cowboy boots and frocks. It felt like I’d won the lottery when I nabbed a job at Cosmopolitan. I was hopelessly naive and believed climbing the women’s magazine ladder was about talent. One day, a colleague pulled me aside and suggested I work on my “look” if I wanted to get anywhere. I was horrified. I refused to believe her. But eventually I conceded she was right. Succeeding in the women’s magazine industry is about two things: appearance and talent (often in that order). So I started paying attention to what the fashion editor was wearing and following her lead. I spent nine years at Cosmo, watching young girls come and go. Their bodies would shrink as their wardrobes grew. Being thin was not encouraged. Quite the contrary. My editor, Mia Freedman, was adamant that beauty came in all sizes and insisted on plus-sized models being used in many of the fashion shoots. But the most of the clothes in the fashion department and the models wearing them were the size eight variety (that’s just the way the fashion industry works, sadly). I liked my food too much to shrink to a size eight – my signature dish back then was creamy bacon and mushroom fettucine. But I loved shopping more, so my wardrobe was chockers. Cosmo gave me so many amazing experiences … I travelled to Los Angeles and walked Portia Di Rossi’s dog, shared lunch with Salma Hayek, saw Alyssa Milano stark naked, mortally offended Christina Applegate during her photo shoot by playing a Fat Boy Slim song with the “f” word in it, and enraged Shannen Doherty (not a hard thing to do). One of the most surreal Hollywood moments was going bar-hopping with Kylie Minogue. Kylie was staying with a photographer we knew, so he invited her to dinner with us. She ordered a crème brulee for dessert and I was shocked someone so stunningly tiny – she was literally the size of a small child – actually ate dessert. Waiting in the queue for the bathroom, I struck up a conversation with a woman called Roma Downey. She turned out to be from a TV show called Touched by an Angel. Roma was out on the town with a stretch limo and invited us along for the ride. Kylie asked if anyone wanted a lift with her and the photographer replied: “Why would they want to go wiv you when they can go in a limo?”. Kylie’s tiny head was barely visible over the steering wheel as she tailed our limo to the Chateau Marmont hotel, where we were turned away because it was hosting the Holy Smoke movie premiere party and no-one had heard of Kylie Minogue or Roma. I experienced Kylie’s bad luck with men first-hand that night. She was dating a male model called Slick at the time and called him to ask if he wanted to meet us for a drink. He said he was tired and wanted an early night. Imagine our surprise when we walked into The Sky Bar to find Slick propped up at the bar chatting up a pneumatic blonde … Cosmo also gave me a chance to get creative with what I affectionately call “stunt” journalism, like being a judge at Miss Nude Australia. I was required to give naked women scores out of 10 for their creativity in doing stuff like pouring jugs of milk between their breasts while men cheered … I got to see a lot of vaginas that night … and became quite good at detecting fake boobs by the end of it. I was also a Dyke On A Bike at Mardi Gras – one of the most terrifying experiences of my life – not because I was clutching a large, butch lesbian on the back of a Harley Davidson, but because there were tens of thousands of people lining the streets cheering as we drove past. If I’d been a lesbian, it might have been uplifting, as a straight woman pretending to be a lesbian I felt like a big fraud. Actually, feeling like a big fraud pretty much sums up my 20s. Self-confidence was in short supply, but I learned how to muddle along without it. I became adept at hiding my anxiety – usually with the assistance of enormous amounts of alcohol – while working on a mean jaw grind. I met a nice boy (Husband), bought a house (not with Husband, the idea of a mortgage with his name on it filled him with absolute horror), had a great job. But I still felt like a failure. I was crazy. I wish every fortysomething could give their twentysomething selves a good shake. Make them understand how brilliant it is to be young and healthy and have the world at your feet. Make them stop beating themselves up. Make them believe: you’re doing good.

14 thoughts on “Who were you in your twenties?

  1. Brilliant Alana!!! What an amazing ride you’ve
    had.I LOVED this post!!!
    In my 20’s I landed a plumb job at an amazing private school ( in those days there were NO jobs for grad teachers). I was masquerading as a teacher, but yearned to be in fashion, so designed and made all my teaching clothes (whoopdy do). Finally got my dream fashion buying role at DJs, only to find out I was pregnant! Then pregnant again!!
    So my twenties were full of babies, loads of nappies & questioning my ability as a mum.
    The fashion career was postponed for twenty years whilst mothering took over. Better late than never…I finally started in fashion at 40 something!!

  2. For me, it was ariving in London in the late 70’s. Now that was an eye-opener after growing up in Newcastle and Maitland!

    Aaaaah…to know then what I know now! 🙂

  3. Fantastic post! You’ve really managed to take me back to that feeling of being in my 20s. All that excitement/I want to throw up I’m so nervous/I’m cool/I’m a loser/I’m nice/I’m a bitch … . In terms of work I spent my entire 20s helping to support my parents and travelling from floor to floor at ACP. At my best I was ‘Ab girl’ (had great abs back then) and Miss Posture 2000 (also had great posture). At my worst I was sitting alone at work trying to finish a layout at 3am, working on a network that would randomly crash thus rendering files ‘irretrievable errors’ with the only alternative being to save the file, which would take 15mins (a long wait at 3am). I got to know the Peruvian cleaner very well!
    Thanks for taking me back Alana – makes me realise how great I have it now 🙂

    ps. I can relate to your being House at House – my challenge for a while there was saying, ‘This is APC from ACP’.

  4. I should add that I made some fantastic friends during those years! Some of us burnt out together – bonded for life! 🙂

      • I remember that feature article about the dykes on bikes!

        I blossomed in my twenties once I’d shed myself of lots of religious crap that I was raised with. I felt much more attractive, confident and lovable in my twenties than I ever did in my teens.

        When’s your “Who were you in your 30s and 40s?” articles coming out. I look forward to them.

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