Fiftysomething: the age

At 51, Helen Mirren has been voted the sexiest woman on TV. Better stil l, not only does she look great, she looks 51 Emma Cook met four other women who have learned that experience and confidence are worth a thousand face-lifts
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RACHEL SCOTT, 53

Divorced with three children, she lives in Dorset.

ON LOOKS:

I had more reason to be pleased with my looks when I was 20 years old, but I feel more sure of myself now. And I'm not affected by images of younger-looking women. That's for people who feel it's still within their grasp. I'm not competing to look like that anymore.

ON SEX:

It gets rarer, obviously, if you live on your own. It is certainly as enjoyable as ever. And I get better at asking for what I want. This may sound absurd, but I feel so much more confident taking off my clothes now than when I was 20. It's because I'm not trying to be something I am not.

ON MEN:

In middle-age there are fewer men around and that does leave me with a smaller field. And I've got more choosy. People I love at the moment are my children and my female friends. In the past, I might have preferred to be on my own than admit that there wasn't a man in my life. Ringing a friend for company on Saturday night was somehow embarrassing. But now I've found a new intimacy in female friendship.

ON FAMILY:

My children and I are mostly independent of each other. I'm quite capable of managing things and they're the same. Sometimes I can provide practical help in a way someone else wouldn't be able to. We all feel pretty free of each other. So, when we're with each other, it's because we really want to be.

ON WORK:

When my children left home I felt not just, "What do I do now", but "Who am I?" It was an identity crisis. For a time I took up a training in psychotherapy - perhaps because instinctively I needed more people to look after. Now I'm looking at the possibility of selling antiques.

Susi Rogol, 51 Married with two children, she edits a retirement association magazine and lives in London.

ON LOOKS:

I've gone through that stage of, "Oh my wrinkles are bad and my breasts are sagging." It's not important to me - I think I look better these days because I'm more sure of myself.

ON SEX:

Sex is much more fulfilling. You can actually laugh about it. There's not this constant theme that you have to perform - you can have a giggle. There's also more tenderness.

ON MEN:

With my husband, the relationship has improved. You get better at accepting someone else's views. When you're young, it's terribly important to win every battle. Now I've lost that need with him to have the last word. Also, I used to rage if he didn't like something - say my shoes or hair. Now it doesn't bother me - it's coming to terms with who you are.

ON FAMILY:

The downside is watching my parents, now in their eighties, not being able to do the things they used to. It's an awareness of the vulnerability of the generation ahead of you. But I'm also more accepting with my daughter now. I used to expect her to do everything better than anyone else because that's what I'd expect from myself. You learn to want what makes them happy.

ON WORK:

Situations that could have upset me in my twenties and thirties don't bother me now - if someone is very critical of what I do I can sit and listen to them, whereas years ago I'd have taken it very personally. I feel I'm probably old enough to be mother of everyone I deal with, which hasn't been a problem at all. I also feel more confident about holding my own - when I was younger I felt I had to say the right thing rather than what I really thought.

Senga Irvine, 51

Divorced with one daughter, she is a secretary for a publishing company and lives in Kent.

ON LOOKS:

I'm aware that I need more cream to keep the wrinkles at bay, but it certainly doesn't depress me. If I look through magazines I never want to look like any of the images, perhaps because I'm happy within myself.

ON SEX:

I still feel as attracted to men as I ever did. I'll say to my daughter, "I really like so-and-so on television". Sex isn't as important to me at the present time but if I met someone it would be 100 per cent important.

ON MEN:

It is very difficult for women in their late forties and early fifties to meet men. You are also so involved with work, family and home that it's difficult to make time. Also, I still think men are looking for women who are younger. Perhaps it's better to go for someone ten years older. Then it wouldn't be you looking in th e mirror for lines. I don't think my attitude to love has changed. If I met the right man it wouldn't be hard to fall in love. Although, at this age, I do have more of an idea of what I like and what I don't like.

ON FAMILY: I would like to see more of my family and be closer to them - which is an age thing, perhaps. But I still feel my mum is on the end of the phone when I need her, even though she's in her eighties.

ON WORK: I do enjoy working more than I used to. I'm more confident and feel more able to deal with people at all levels.

Hilly Faunch, 53

Married with no children. She is an administrative manager for Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital and lives in south-west London.

ON LOOKS: From 47 onwards I feel everything has fallen from the top to the bottom. You do look at yourself and think things are changing. And it annoys me that women's magazines are aimed only at the 25 to 30-year olds. But I don't actually want to look younger. I 'm happy with my appearance. I do what I do to myself to please only myself and my husband.

ON SEX: The sexual side has changed - it's not so intense, you don't feel, "Oh my God, magazines say we should be doing it at least every other night." It's still as satisfying and as you get older you don't always wait for them to come to you - I approach my hu sband more.

ON MEN: In my marriage, we have developed a terrific friendship that's grown over the years. We're still learning about each other. There's a deep love and we trust each other implicitly.

ON FAMILY: We decided not to have children years ago, but now you do wonder where we'd be today if we had had them. I wouldn't call it regret but there's a little spark, I suppose. Friends have got grandchildren and sometimes you think it would have been nice.

ON WORK: I've been doing the job for 25 years and I do feel more relaxed about it. I've been through the struggles and the long hours. Now I'm looking forward to retiring.

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