Sharon Stone says Britain's a better place for a woman to hit middle-age than the US

Middle age ain't what it used to be. Sharon Stone believes that emotionally and physically, she's in better shape than she was at 20. Anne Garvey asks other women of a certain age if they feel the same way
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The Independent Online

'I am better at 48 than I ever was at 20," Sharon Stone announced as she promoted Basic Instinct 2 last week. "This is a period when I think women become the most interesting. They are sexual in a very different and alluring way."

Well, that may be the case now, but 20 years ago we were the middle-aged - the least enviable group in society, the butt of jokes about big bottoms and sagging assets. "Nobody loves a fairy when she's 40", sneered the seaside postcard.

Whatever Sharon says about Britain being a better place for a woman to hit middle-age than the US - "We tend to erase women after 40" - it was American baby boomers who led the way in refusing to be margin- alised. They declined to slip into a uniform of classic caramel separates and headed instead for a wardrobe of Calvin Klein and Michael Kors.

Boundaries between ages started to slip. On her 50th birthday in 1983, Gloria Steinem, the legendary feminist and founder of Ms magazine, was confronted with a battery of admirers chorusing admiringly: "You don't look 50." She snapped back: "This is how 50 looks!" Today 48 looks like Sharon Stone.

But it isn't easy. You have to accept that the youthful face has gone for ever. As someone who's been there, I know that 48 can be a panicky time. There's no getting away from it: the lines and the grey hair. Worse, a sudden new light reveals a shocking new range of collapse. I recall looking at my chin in a window. It had changed. I thought there must be some mistake and hurried off to the lavatory to check but ... yes, there it was, a sort of floppy bit where all had been trim and taut.

At 48, there are real limits. You can be adventurous, wear city shorts if you have the legs for them, but if you mess with Boho you'll look vagrant bag lady. You have to settle for looking good for your age. While few admit to surgery, many women are sliding off to have their eye bags removed. We are willing to grow older but we want to slow it down. It's as if the mind cannot keep up with the changing face.

Looking at a picture of myself at 20 I marvel at the fabulous skin. But being older is just so much better. You speak out without agonies of self-reproach. You level with people without self-recrimination. The compensation for knowing the future is truncated is that you make the best of every day. You stop moaning about what's not perfect. I feel a tenderness for the 20-year-old in the picture but I don't envy her an ounce of her perfect body.

Women of our age have usually done lots. Been through marriages, brought up children, looked after aged relatives. Diving off for a ruinously expensive face treatment or splurging on a Vivienne Westwood frock should be part of it all. Because if anyone can be allowed to say: "We deserve it", it is surely us.

HELEN CORNFORD

'My philosophy is to take a risk every day'

Helen Cornford, who married for the second time last year, has three teenage children. She runs a small country hotel in north Kent.

At 48 you're just not worried about what everyone thinks. You don't need approval. I bought a flat in Cannes last week. The Notaire asked " Don't you have your husband's permission?" and I thought, "No, those days are long gone."

At 20 I was fearful and very needy. Now my philosophy is to take a risk every day, something fun like picking up people waiting for a bus. The 20-year-old me would have thought: "Ooh what if something happens?" Today's me thinks: "I can deal with anything that happens."

At my age you really have the best of all worlds. I am still vigorous, fit and healthy and I can go where I like, when I like. Even the looks issue doesn't worry me. Standards are higher these days but there are more treatments that work. Hairdressers have you emerging like a show pony after one touch-up session. It's magical. Not botox though, it made me look silly, a waste of £400. Anyway, I don't want to look younger, just good for my age. What matters is confidence, how you inspire others. Men are more attracted to me now than they ever were.

"You're so old" say my children when raging at me . "But this is my house and you are still going to school," I reply.

ANNE PAGE

'The lost youth is an asset, you will try anything'

Anne Page works as an architect in Cambridge. She and her husband, David, have two grown-up children.

At 20 I was a drooping, sad little person who gazed at the ground and tried to melt into the background. I was convinced everyone was more interesting than me. Today it is quite different. It's shoulders back and facing the world with poise and more confidence than I could ever have imagined.

I have been married to the same man all my adult life but I have changed. Recently I took myself back to university and knocked off two degrees in English Literature. At my age, children gone, there is no reason why I shouldn't start on the book I have been longing to write. That is what is great about being late forties. You still have the energy and verve to at last get on with things. You are also aware that time is not on your side and the urgency to stop putting things off is acute. Even the lost youth is an asset. You do think you will try anything if they will let you have the chance.

I used to go on building sites for work and cringe at the barrage of sexual comments. Today I don't get that and I welcome the release from being made to conform to those expectations. I now have authority. As you lose that youthful look, you become more striking. You can project yourself as you are - a far more convincing person.

ROSALIND BOWN

'For older women, sexiness is about experience, presence and confidence'

Rosalind Bown owns Bowns designer clothes shop in Cambridge. She has a 15-year-old daughter with her partner of 20 years, and a son by her first marriage.

Emancipation and equality hadn't got into gear when I was 20. I couldn't wait to get into the wifely role and have a baby. Two years later the baby was in the nursery and I was out getting a degree in fashion, which proves how deluded I was.

I love being my age. I wear what looks good. If it's something new, I try to use my judgement. "I can't wear that at my age" has to be one of the saddest sayings I hear in my shop.

I want to feel the joy of life. I adore the rapture of a Handel opera or pictures by Patrick Caulfield, but I've just booked the Stones concert. I will be one of the younger members of the audience! I only eat food I really enjoy. I have to stay slim in my business, but I adore oysters, gorgeous smoked salmon blinis, marinaded beef and some smashing wine every night. Keeping it all lovely means you don't stuff down any old thing.

Grey hair and wrinkles happen. You settle into it. I have done teeth whitening and hair tinting, and I am open to feel-good techniques. I am not preoccupied with preserving youth. For older women, sexiness is about experience, presence and confidence and it's much more potent for that.

JANE HENDERSON

'I am answerable to no one, I work for myself'

Jane Henderson is a podiatrist in Sheffield. She is separated and has three adult children.

At 20 I was married with a baby, living in a tough area. My husband was a driver and I cleaned when I wasn't a full-time mother. It hasn't been easy - the struggle out of low-paid jobs and cramped housing. The fight against entrenched attitudes has been as fierce. My generation of working-class women cooked, cleaned, sewed and went out to work. We had the worst of both worlds. Things have changed for the better and my life has altered with them.

Today, after 29 years of marriage, I am contentedly separated from my husband. We have dinner together every week and our children and two grandchildren are the focus of our lives. But I am answerable to no one. I have grafted all my life for others. Now I work for myself. I own my own house and a half share in a country cottage. I don't have to tell anyone what I do.

I work hard not to look my age. I go to the gym fanatically and cycle competitively. I eat only organic food - the key to good skin and stable weight. I have a non-surgical face-lift every month. It hasn't come to the knife yet but when the time comes I shall consider it.

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