For as long as I can remember my mum and I have received comments on how similar we look, from the harmless – "Don't you look alike!" – to the slightly insidious: "Are you sisters?"
Lately, after a two-year pandemic-induced break from seeing family friends, comments are directed more at me than at her, and the tonal shift is noticeable. "God, haven't you turned into your mother!"
Yes, Brenda, I have aged a bit. And that's totally okay. Naturally, more lines on my face and the exciting debut of a few temple greys will make me look more like my 58-year-old mum, who I have resembled all my life anyway. I feel more like myself now than ever before, too.
They're right, though – I really do look a lot like Mum. It's startling. I walked past a bus stop the other day and caught my reflection in the glass. I did a double take because I thought it was my mother staring back at me. We're a similar height, have the same shoulder-length, mousy hair, the same strong nose, thin lips, blue-green eyes, average build.
I'm about to turn 30, which, ludicrously, my FYP constantly reminds me is ancient. The algorithm has figured out that I'm 29 and force-feeds me posts like this one, and this one. In an environment that prematurely places me as someone who is no longer young – "You look 30" is often slung as an insult on TikTok – the affairs of ageing have accelerated. My mother and I are now experiencing some facets concurrently, and we compare notes. We're considering the same tweakments, we swap skincare parables and trade products. We discovered gua sha at the same time and have joyfully witnessed our jawlines emerging together. We were getting ready to go out to dinner recently, squeezed next to each other at her vanity, and my eyes flicked between her face and mine. It was like looking into a funhouse mirror that reveals the future. I think she's beautiful but that's beside the point – there's reassurance in the calming inevitability of it all.
It's more than skin deep. My mum and I don't just look alike, we are alike. We share the same good bits: values, loyalty, sense of humour. We also share the same insistence on praise, the same insomnia and the same impatience. There are material differences, too, of course. She loves Brazil nuts and cassis, I can't stomach either. She's tone deaf and loves yoga, I'm a singer and can't touch my toes (which pains me).
But the similarities outnumber the distinctions. It's spooky. Every so often we'll have the impulse to pick up the phone to call each other at exactly the same moment and find the line engaged. Or we'll discover we gave someone the exact same piece of advice, separately. We unknowingly bought the same jumper recently and wore it at the same time.
All this probably stems from my esteem for her. I've admired her since before I understood what admiration is and as I navigated my 20s I likely strived unconsciously to echo the rhythms of her organised, successful, grown-up life into my considerably messier one. To me, parallelling a parent holds the same kind of comfort as watching a movie you've seen before (a common self-soothing technique that anxious people like me will be familiar with): you won't be surprised by the ending and can steel yourself for when Bambi's mum dies.
This experience is far from universal. Google 'turning into mother' and one of the first articles that comes up is on how to avoid turning into your mother. I am grateful and privileged to have a maternal figure who is present, and here, and whose qualities I am glad to enjoy. When you think about it, the inherently negative connotations that come along with the phrase seem deeply rooted in both misogyny and ageism – a critique of motherhood itself. Just let us age and grow imperfectly into our similarly imperfect older family members – it's not like we can avoid it, whether we are actively trying to mimic them or not.
But is it inevitable? It's also commonly held that young kids are the world's best copycats, and this is where a lifelong path of parental mimicry begins. Further research is lacking but one piece comes in the odd shape of a study conducted by a Harley Street doctor. In 2013 Dr Julian De Silva surveyed 2,000 people and concluded that, on average, most of us notice that we have turned into our mothers aged 33. The main 'triggers' are having a child of our own, lifestyle choices or when we start to look more like our parents, as Marie Claire reported at the time.
There is also a school of thought that something deeply embedded in our brains – the ancestral, unavoidable twist of DNA – is at play here, too. Neuroscientist Dr Stephanie Cacioppo (who has a memoir coming out this year called Wired For Love which explores how love works in the brain) has researched this. "The more a woman identifies with her mother (or perceives herself in her mother), the more a similar self-expansion (and self-integration) process occurs," she said in 2015. "We identified overlapping brain areas for such simulation process and love, which could explain why this matching process tends to occur in love, including maternal love."
In other words, perhaps it is because we are so close – in everything from appearance to jumper preference – that I am predisposed to become increasingly similar to my mum. Although, as I reach the grand old age of 30, I've also (finally!) come to celebrate the differences more frequently and actively praise what makes me unique. My total inability to do yoga is no big deal. I'm a good singer, instead.
It's no small irony that a favourite poem of hers is that Philip Larkin one that goes: "They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had, and add some extra, just for you." So Mum, on Mother's Day, a quick note to say it's probably time to let Larkin go. I embrace all that you are, and welcome adding my own beautiful flaws into the mix.