On Turning Sixty

In March 2020, I turned 60. I had a big party planned six months earlier, as we were in lockdown, and I wanted to allow guests to fix a date in their diary. Friends commented on my forward planning and enjoying having an event to look forward to.

I envisaged singing, dancing, a gorgeous vanilla sponge cake, delicious cocktails surrounded by all the people I know and love. I didn’t want to hide my light under a bushel or pretend I was anything other than my age. When you co-run an organisation about the positives of growing older, it’s essential to walk the walk and talk the talk. Turning 60 is a milestone birthday, and I wanted a big, f*** off party in which to celebrate it.

It didn’t happen. Instead, I took my newly acquired Oyster 60+ card, entered the underground and spent a rainy Monday visiting a handful of friends across London with a keto-friendly chocolate cake cut into slices. I arrived home at 7.30 pm to finish the celebrations with my partner Bob. We ordered a takeaway pizza and burrata, joining a dozen friends from across the world via Zoom, who stopped in to wish me a Happy Birthday. I felt cheated and underwhelmed, the previous two decades celebration held in clubs complete with drinking, dancing and lively conversation.

On reflection, turning sixty hasn’t felt nearly as dramatic as turning forty or even fifty. At forty, I had recently gotten divorced and spent the next ten years perpetually in heat, exploring sexual avenues that were extreme by most people’s standards. At fifty, menopause arrived and with it, hot flashes, sleepless nights and my libido going off a cliff which took about three years to accept. I sold my house, moved my career into technology and, with it, encountered ageism for the first time. Setting up Advantages of Age with Rose, more by accident than design, was a turning point that opened up opportunities and a whole new friendship group. By sixty, I am comfortable in my skin which may not be as dramatic as turning forty or fifty but is a boon.

I’m in a better place mentally, moving forwards financially after some rocky starts. I’m settled in a good way. I’ve rediscovered my voice and taken up jazz singing again after a 35-year lapse, and it feels good to be engaging with that side of my creative life again. I like the attention and the occasional praise. Occasionally I consider all the mad escapades and the frankly dangerous circumstances in which I would often find myself, especially in my forties, and wonder whether there’s any of that younger me still left. While the desire for that outrageous behaviour no longer holds the same attraction for me, I’m not quite ready to let go of the thrill that comes when stepping into the unknown.

The ongoing battle to be in better shape continues. This week a pair of jeans I have struggled to get anywhere close to buttoning slipped on without a hint of fat spilling over the sides. It has taken ten months of changing my eating habits, exercise and daily listens of a ‘Thinking Slimmer’ audio download to achieve this personal goal. I have lived in tent-shaped dresses the past year when I have a wardrobe full of figure-hugging clothes.

Last week I decided to take frumpy ole me in hand, not in an attempt to turn back the clock but to reflect the older but still glamorous me and become more visible. I hired a former stylist I met while working as an entertainment publicist in the 90s; I wanted a ‘look’ for performing jazz & blues. Standing in my bedroom, watching her dig into my wardrobe to find suitable clothes, retrieving dresses and high shoes from my younger days was a form of therapy. ‘I’ve never seen you look like this,’ she said as I paraded around in 4″ heels, a tight red ruched dress, flower in my hair. I almost didn’t recognise myself.

She issued me with a set of instructions.

Cut my hair shorter into a graduated bob.
Trim and tint my eyebrows.
Buy a new colour of blush – something with a pink tint.
Obtain new shoes, with a wedge heel but comfortable.

‘I want glamour,’ she said. ‘Older woman glamour. Sexy, a bit louche. I want to see you perched on a high stool, leaning back but with attitude.’ I looked in the mirror and saw a different me. Yes, I thought. I’ve still got ‘it.’ Issuing me with a shopping list and a recommendation to turn three dresses into pencil skirts has led to a new feeling. I am developing a persona who is me with all the lived experience, the awareness and the self-confidence that has taken me all of sixty years to acquire. I’m well aware it’s an ongoing process.

Although sixty and I had a crap start, I’m aiming to make up for it now, starting with these shoes. Wowza!

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