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How does it feel to look good naked at 61?

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”OFFS why does women ‘empowerment’ always have to involve them getting their kit off?” This was one of the responses on the Wearing Wellbeing Facebook page to a call for volunteers for – “A TASTEFUL (yes they did use capital letters) nude shoot for a piece about women and body confidence”.

Why did I jump at the chance? Well, primarily it was to see if I really had embraced acceptance of my older self. Also, I reasoned it would be useful research for my project, The Invisibility Myth. What I didn’t immediately get was the wider picture. I believe there’s a need for people to see normal body-confident golden agers and younger women who are embracing their natural body changes not fighting them; the softening, the battle scars of survival and of a life lived.

Our bodies are the manifestation of any issues that we normally conceal under clothes and makeup. Strip those away, and we have to face who we really are, no hiding. For me at 61 years old, this was an important part of my personal development. Holding a mirror up to see if my acceptance of my physical is actually real now. I’m no longer that young, confident self-made woman who lost her way in her 40s under the weight of fluctuating hormones and major life changes. I’ve been on a postmenopausal rebirth since the age of 50 and am, at 61 in a place where I’ve grown into my own skin and made peace with who I was then and who I am now, even though it requires constant vigilance!

I arrive at a photographic studio in Hoxton, East London feeling a tad apprehensive. It’s not about getting naked per-se, more an in-built unease and cynicism about the media and how I will be portrayed. Although the accompanying interview for the article has been read over the phone to me and I am happy with it, I know it’s not been edited yet, so it could all go tits up – literally! I walk into the groovy reception area, where there is a beautiful young woman with vitiligo, (I later find out she is one of the models) quietly feeding her week old baby girl. Not what I was expecting to see.

Friendly young hair and makeup ladies bustle around behind flimsy curtains preening a small group of women, before they shyly shrug off their robes to pose in the white, brightly lit studio space. I go hot and panicky. In those first few minutes, I think about bolting, but pause instead to chat with a simply AMAZING looking 87 year old woman. YES 87 with spiky red and white hair carefully arranged to hide her hearing aids. She is wondering out loud whether or not to keep her flesh-coloured thong on (it would be retouched out post shoot) for the benefit of her grandchildren. I laugh, gulp, take stock, calm down and get a grip.

Before I can think too hard I take my clothes off, put a thong, fluffy robe and slippers on… and suddenly there is a pause for lunch and chat. I recognize one of the models is a lady I met on the AoA OUTageous Bus Tour. It all begins to feel so normal, in a surreal kind of way. The (male) photographer and his young assistant join us and are so affable and confidence inspiring, I feel myself starting to warm to the occasion. The only covering our bodies have under our white robes is a thin coat of shimmering skin buffing cream applied with a body mitt (yeah there was much joking about nooks, crannies and creases!).

By the time it comes for post-lunch action, we three 87, 61 and 30-year-old women have bonded and the group shots of our bodies (think Dove commercial-esque) become a hilarious, really quite touching celebratory experience rather than a daunting on. We are stripped literally and metaphorically of anything to hide behind and I feel an endorphin flood of love and respect for these strangers with whom I am engaging in such an intimate unforgettable moment.

The photographer is happy to show us some of the results as the shoot progressed – he really knew his stuff. There was one shot of me sitting on the floor, my modesty carefully arranged intact, that I had to admit was wonderful.  It remains to be seen what the finished article and photos will look like, but whatever, I stand firm that my decision to do it was right. I leave the studio with a big smile on my face, feeling euphoric and proud of myself. I believe the other women feel the same. My reward is to trot down to the 24 hour Brick Lane Bagel Bakery (oh how many times I went there after all night benders in my youth!) to scoff a lox bagel AND a wedge of cheesecake, before meeting friends for a well-earned drinkiepoos. What started as something well outside my comfort zone, ended as an adventure. I am so pleased to have felt the fear of and done anyway.

In a time when we are all going to live longer and longer, I’m now in my Golden Age and quite frankly I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks when the article comes out. I have earned the right to live out my years in as self-determining and visible way as I choose, for as long as this beautiful body of mine holds up, until I shuffle off this mortal coil. If it’s not your thing – step away and please refrain from judgment – the latter just perpetuates the myth that the only way forward is for us to be tucked away out of sight and invisible.  Ain’t happening on my watch. How about yours?

I Am 60 and Visible – fuck the Invisibility Myth

1 Minute Read

I invite you to sit back comfortably with a libation of choice, for I would like to tell you a little story about an obsession of mine – The Invisibility Myth. And how I have made myself visible.

I have attained the ripe age of sixty years, marking it with a symbolic tattoo of phoenix wings soaring high from my wrist and on-going celebrations. I elected to string them out as long as possible, feeling justifiable self-congratulations for having survived. I left home at seventeen and made my way in the big scary world without support. I manage to live comfortably in my own skin without recourse to excessive self-loathing and embrace changes of direction as new life adventures. I try to stretch my mind in ways that my body is reluctant to embrace these days without chemical help…

Yep, I believe the post-war baby boom of 1956 was a good vintage and worthy of a few glasses of fizz …That is, according to the thoughts of Chairman Jeanie, as I am lovingly known in my family. Others would have you and I believe otherwise. Much of the media and some of my contemporaries, think that post-50 women become invisible.  Many believe this happens as early as 40 – across the board in shops, bars, restaurants, clubs, transport, the workplace, sexually…Hmmm I haven’t put this theory to the empirical test by shoplifting, walking out of bars etc. without paying, but I have added it to my ’to do’ list. I am guessing I will report back from the confinement imposed by my ankle tag or open prison cell.

So, what is the story here?

I stopped bitching and embarked on a journey to show that I/we are only as invisible as I/we choose to be, or allow others to make us feel. Hence The Invisibility Myth was conceived.

What happened next?

Well, I started a blog, upped my social media profile, created a website (with a liddle, iddy bit of help from the young uns in my life) and started researching. I prepared to be shot down – 270 Instagram and 300 Twitter followers hardly invites much in the way of global media debate, but my naivity and vanity gave me expectations way beyond my pay grade (£0), and status as the kick-starter of a global movement, with only a few cosmetic surgeons and dodgy pharmacists commenting on my enthusiastic postings and tweets!

Aannnd so? Action.

Whilst en route to a Colour Walk (a whole other story) in Spitalfields, I spied an advertisement for models wanted of all ages and sizes. I had vague thoughts of it being a niche porn portal, but I felt protected as the application form was online. I filled it in – the theory being that if I am invisible, they would not get back to me once they saw my age. I uploaded a Facebook profile pic and pressed send.

Eeeek. A week later found me on my way to a photographic studio in London, fresh faced as requested (pah, as if – had to put on lippy, or else I felt naked), pulling a suitcase full of clothes, for a day long suitability photo shoot, ready to be participant and observer in my own story. The people there were fascinated by my honesty in that I said it was book research that motivated me to respond to their ad, not a desire to be the next Advanced Style Plus-sized Model. (Yes, anything over a size 10 is plus size in model terms! grrr.)

What did it feel like to face up to the scrutiny of the camera lens? The thing is, I was only in competition with myself. The young girls who came and went throughout the day were another tale – happiness, tears, desperation. Self-esteem inflated/shot down.

The work

I had a hilarious day full of big hair and makeup. I laughed as I watched my face being used as the canvas in my own self-portrait. (Oh, hello eyes and eyebrows I struggle to find nowadays.) My hair was lacquered, back-combed and curled to frame my newly defined face. It made me think of the reveal in the Gok Wan show How To Look Good Naked. Newly re-imagined, I then dressed in the clothes I felt most ‘me’ in and went outside to start the shoot. The photographer was used to getting people to feel at ease in front of the camera, and I was quickly strutting my sixty year old stuff like a pro! Three more changes of clothes and increasingly glam rock makeup and I was ready to keep going all night. But alas, I had to reluctantly share the limelight with the three year olds. I felt a tad resentful to be honest…until I heard the start of a mini tantrum that is.

The outcome?

After a while sitting around (no food available in the studio – good job I had snacks in my bag – I was the only one eating), I was called in to the debrief. I was shocked to hear that they were proposing to take me on. My face and bod is being put out there. Who knows if anything will come of it, but I sure as hell was true to my determination to be visible. I floated out of that studio on a cloud of disbelief. Grinning like the loony, now overly visible, clown-makeup- wearing-bag lady you avoid talking to on the tube,I was engaging with everyone who would do eye contact, keen to share my news.

I hope that I have illustrated a point here. Invisibility is a choice, not inevitable. It is fed by the oxygen we choose to feed it.

Opportunities are always there to take you out of the shadows, you just have to in the title words of Susan Jeffers’ 1987 book – Feel the fear and do it anyway. I’m now engaged in gathering material for a book, The Invisibility Myth, from ‘extraordinary ordinary’ posts by fifty women from all over the world. So many diverse inspiring stories are arriving of lives being inhabited to the fullest.

We post-menopausal women have never had it so good – the possibility of many years between 60 and eternity to rock and roll, aided by a whole plethora of drugs to keep us kicking with the rest and best of them, till the final curtain call. I’m choosing to embrace it and planning what I can get up to next.  Are you? I hope so.

Surprise Me

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