Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Can a Sexagenarian Be Sexy?

August 5th, 2022

Two months ago, I turned 60, and next month I will be a grandmother. (My daughter Kate below)

These two milestones have contributed to a minor identity crisis. I’d like to say midlife crisis, but that ship has sailed. In my fifties chasing youth seemed ok. After all, 40 wasn’t that long ago. But at 60? Sixty isn’t young. And if it isn’t young, it isn’t sexy, right?

Sixty makes me think of my sweet grandmother Bowesie who had short silver hair and always wore a slip underneath her prim dresses, sensible pumps (navy blue or black) and had a hankie tucked into her sleeve. Bowesie was many wonderful things; smart, kind, calm, loving, an excellent domino player—but being sexy wasn’t on the list.

I know times have changed. Tom Cruise is also 60, born the same year as Stretch and me. Cruise’s six pack was a marvel to behold in the new Top Gun movie. But it also looked kind of unnatural, like he didn’t just roll out of bed, have a bowl of Cornflakes, and walk onto the set with that iron board tumtum.

I went to see my dermatologist last week for a skin cancer checkup, arguably at the low end of sexy things to do on a Tuesday.

‘I’ve had a great day,” my dermatologist beamed. “I feel in the zone. I’ve just injected several patients, including a top Vogue beauty editor with Botox and fillers. They all look twenty years younger than when they came in.”

I guess sixty is the new forty, literally. I could see she was excited. I wanted to share her excitement, but really, her news just made me feel tired.

Who wants to look 20 years younger? I thought to myself. Ten maybe but twenty?

My friend Melanie agreed when we discussed it later.

“The effort required is exhausting, expensive, time consuming, and ultimately disappointing,” she pointed out.

People begin to age the minute they are born. It happens to all of us. I don’t want 60 to be the new 40. I want 60 to be the new 60.  I want to be proud of the life that I’ve led, the life that is visible on my face and body.  I want to be like those French women who wear skimpy bikinis on the beach and don’t care that their bodies sag a bit. Their bodies attest to the life they’ve led. I want a rest from chasing youth. I want to be comfortable and happy in my 60-year-old skin.

But I don’t want to trade in sexy for sensible. No way! My tombstone will read-

Here lies one formerly hot, now quite cold, mama.

I went to my first Rolling Stones concert this summer. I wasn’t particularly excited (Stretch bought the tickets) thinking Mick is 78, they’ll probably be wheeling him onto the stage. OMG, how wrong I was. Sir Mick was an inspiration. He moved like a thirty-year-old, backwards, forwards, sideways. He swaggered and gyrated. His skin was craggy, but who cares. He didn’t seem to. And if we’re honest, when wasn’t it craggy? The point was he was having a blast.

Turns out Mick does a lot to stay so fit. He runs daily, practices ballet, kickboxing, cycling, Pilates, yoga, weight training, and dynamic stretching. He took up aerial yoga at 73. He meditates, takes vitamins and eats healthy foods. He has the occasional beer.

I’m not sure I could replicate that lifestyle. On the plus side I never drink beer (much prefer tequila). But I just don’t have the time for Mick’s exercise regiment in between naps, New Yorker cartoons, and playing  Wordle which, alone can take me a good three hours. And then there’s catching up on my favorite TV show, Grace & Frankie.

Geriatric psychiatrist Dr Gary Kennedy at the Montefiore Institute in New York reassured me that as long as I don’t want to be a rockstar, 30 minutes of exercise a day is sufficient. Phew!

 “To live your best life, I tell my patients to have their coffee in the morning and then go for a 30-minute walk.”  Exercise builds neurons in our brains, I was told. The brain is more than a computer, it is also a muscle.

Mick is impressive not just because he can walk backwards on a narrow stage while singing (I tried it on our diving board, it’s really hard), but because he is still relevant after fifty years in the public eye. He isn’t an invisible grandpa. Mick contributes to society. Everyone around us at the concert was grinning, clapping, singing and swaying to the music. We were all having fun. Maybe I should become a rockstar?

 A Yale study found that people who view aging positively were less likely to develop dementia. That could be a major reason to embrace getting older. You’re less likely to lose your mind.

Have I mentioned I can’t wait to turn 70!?!

August, 2022