THE BLOG

Age-old Secret Out of the Bag

17/03/2014 14:14 GMT | Updated 17/05/2014 10:59 BST

When my maternal grandmother was my age, she kept quiet about it. No one, not even my mother, had a clue when she hit fifty, but just about everyone knows I am past fifty-one.

Mama's age, however, was not to be discussed. Not ever! It just wasn't the done thing to ask a woman her age in her day, or for her to tell it. Such talk was cheap ... perhaps unspeakable.

Not surprisingly, because at a certain age, women were typecast: too old to wear this length skirt or that length hair; or to do this or that; the main that being too old to have children.

In short, women became passées having reached a certain age, whether married or single. Of course, a single woman was openly ostracised, pigeonholed as an old maid, for example.

In a recent article in The Sunday Times, Tracy Emin proposed that remnants of this type of scorn still exist. Since men are primal about procreation, she says, they inherently ignore women when they reach a certain age (beyond child-bearing years). As a single woman who does not have children, Miss Emin says she feels the invisibility.

Though I'm child-free and past child-bearing, I can't relate to this, and somehow doubt that my grandma could have either, considering that after my grandfather died prematurely, she had at least one up-close-and-personal male friend.

She didn't talk about this either.

Anyhow, sometimes I wonder if Mama is looking over my shoulder, thinking I'm out of my wits promulgating my age, irrespective of out-of-date stereotypes.

Let's face it, I don't hesitate to tell my age. Admittedly, I rather like talking about it. And it's just as well since the media have long opened the door on the subject, making it rather fashionable.

From Tracy Emin to journalist and feminist Angela Neustter, to the woman in the streets, women are outing their feelings about ageing, from the negative to the positive ... except for the lady who'd rather lie under oath than admit her age. That's okay too. It's a woman's right.

In any case, however, as I look around, I can't help but notice a younger-looking middle-aged and older generation, too. Not all these women are talking the talk, but they are certainly walking the walk, and looking good while doing so.

Most recently, age popped up when my BFF and I were shopping in London. The young shop assistant was agog that we were her mum's age.

'No way,' she said. 'My mum is not as hot as you two!'

With compliments like that, Grandma might finally understand my position, and forgive me for telling all. Yes, I do like talking about the subject, and not just peripherally, but getting underneath the skin of it as well.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not looking forward to growing old gracefully and quietly; that is, no more so than the L'Oreal models. In my thirties, I naively said to a remarkably beautiful woman in her mid-fifties that she couldn't expect to look fantastic forever.

'Why not?' she asked.

I didn't have an answer then and still don't. Today, she is seventy and counting, and looking better than ever.

Through her and others like her, I have come to understand that ageing well is as much about the mental as it is the physical, if not more so.

But the physical is not to be sneezed at. Looking good and feeling good work interdependently. Angela Nuestatter writes about this in her book The Year I turn ... A Quirky A to Z of Ageing. So what if she wears clothing that might be considered age-inappropriate by others!

In this vein, I encouraged my ninety-six-year-old mother-in-law to go to the beauty salon until the bitter end, though she didn't need much coaxing. I hasten to add that my mother, who's nearly eighty, doesn't either ... need coaxing, that is.

Another thing I've learned about ageing is that physical vitality does not flow as freely as it once did. It sort of trickles, and needs to be stored and used strategically.

When my sister, now approaching fifty, experienced what turned out to be sciatica, one of her doctors said it was arthritis; a part of ageing. Right! This sent me back to a time when I thought that I'd never run again, owing to bad knees. A doctor said a similar thing to me, but after I went off to see a specialist, I physically overcame the problem. But it wasn't until I approached the sport mentally that I really triumphed.

After a run, I feel great as opposed to mentally exhausted, which I felt when I believed I was too old to run. Furthermore, on running days, I get the most out of my mind. I'm not ready for a marathon yet, but who says an over-fifty can't run a marathon ... or two or three?

One friend in her mid-fifties runs three to four major road races per year.

Realistically, I am not suggesting that ageing of itself doesn't cause fundamental changes to the mind and body. So it does, but it doesn't necessarily dictate when a person ceases to stop looking and feeling good. It doesn't insist that we stop living, if you will.

And it certainly doesn't determine whether a woman is noticeable or not. That, I think, is up to the individual.

My grandmother would agree with this, for sure. But would she agree to tell her age were she alive today? Umm, as I think of the now 106-year-old Irene Sinclair, who modelled for Dove when she was 96 years, I'd like to think so. I met her at a gala dinner and she was as full of joie de vivre as the youngest guest, if not more.

Through her and other lesser-known elderly women, it's becoming clear that ageing well is a mark of superiority. There is nothing inferior about it. No wonder I enjoy talking about it!