Elena Bowes

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

When Sexy is No Longer on the Brain….

October 15th, 2021

It all happens on the five’s, not the zero’s,” my wise friend Stephanie was telling me on the phone. “All the attention is on the zero’s… The big 5-0, the big 6-0, but it’s the fives when our bodies change. Think about it.

Stephanie has a point. In the last few years since I turned 55, I have morphed into a different person. The above photo is pre-55, the old, but still thinks she’s young,  me. My body has changed, and not for the better. Elena Vs Gravity is an uphill battle. On the one hand, it’s depressing to see the sags and wrinkles. On the other hand, I can’t see as well. It’s a bit of a blessing, that aging process —I look worse, but my eye-sight and my memory are slipping too. Yesterday, I kind of forgot to get dressed, but don’t tell anyone.

Thankfully, we’re not the only ones aging in the room—so are our partners. My friend Katie’s husband marvels at his wife’s amazing figure when she exits the shower.

I’m so glad he’s near-sighted, she tells me.

I have a black dress that I bought when I was turning 50. It’s short sleeve, low neck, cinched waist, above the knee—I look at that dress in wonder, like a museum piece from a distant past when sexy was still on the brain. Poor Stretch. I didn’t appreciate that dress until it was too late, until 55 came banging on my door. I should have worn it everywhere—to Whole Foods, to Pilates, to all funerals, including the ones I was crashing. It’s like what Nora Ephron said about bikinis- only she depressingly named 34 as the end of sexy…. Maybe 55 is the new 34?


These days comfort is queen. The wedding dress I wore a few months ago had a bathrobe vibe, in a good way. It was super comfortable with a sash that could be loosened during dessert.

I try to look good without looking too closely. But some days it is important to look closely. Just last week I was eating lunch with some girlfriends when I got some lettuce stuck in my teeth.

To the left, no too far,” guided my friend Gillian, staring closely at my not so pearly whites. One to the right, actually one more- – yeah, you got it, she said, as I feverishly hunted down the offensive green.

That’s because your saliva is thinning- my friend Suzannah nonchalantly offered from across the table. Everything sticks more. Saliva isn’t the only thing thinning, she offered ominously. My hair, not much where I want it- eyebrows and nether regions –  and lots where I don’t – nose and chin.

Note to my daughter’s amazing eyebrows- once upon a time, mine looked like yours…

Maria, the 4th at our table, told us that on a recent visit to the dentist, she learned that she was missing part of a tooth in the back of her mouth.

“Is that from menopause?” she asked her dentist. It wasn’t. But I don’t blame Maria for jumping to that conclusion. Menopause has its daggers out everywhere. And I’m not talking about the ABC’s of Menopause  – the things we all know about- hot flashes, insomnia, low sex drive, forgetfulness. I’m talking about the things I learned the hard ie shocking way – like doing Downward Dog and seeing how my knees resemble the salt flats of Utah-

or brushing my teeth and spotting a few black whiskers in the mirror (assuming I can see that far) or seeing a recent photo of me and thinking:

Have my boobs turned into a shelf?

If I leave you with anything dear readers, invest in a good bra. Nothing says old more than a matronly chest- just like dim lighting and a strategically placed shawl are our friends,  an unsupportive bra and a tight sweater are not.

I decided to look for a more flattering cut on Ines de la Fressange’s range for Uniqlo. I hadn’t gotten far when even Uniqlo was reminding me of the inevitable …

Thanks Uniqlo, like I need YOU telling me my body has changed. Stephanie, my mathematical sage, believes that we over-55ers have no metabolism:

A spin class burns maybe 300 calories. A large oatmeal cookie, which one might feel entitled to eat after that spin class, is 500 calories. You do the math.

Is there any good news? I ask her

There is no good news, she replies. We just have to work on being happy and jolly and loving. And that’s why we get to buy expensive clothes because we need to feel good about ourselves.

My style icon- Atlanta-based fashion designer Ann Mashburn just turned 60.

Her tip: Squint more

When women are in the dressing rooms here, I tell them to step back, away from the mirror, and squint a little when they look at themselves. You can see the proportion better that way. Most people get straight up into the mirror and stand still. Often not good, but more importantly, not true to life. You are not one-dimensional. When people look at you, they don’t see the flat image you’re looking at in the mirror – they experience you in all three dimensions.

Another Mashburn tip: Find Someone Older Whose Look You Admire

Think of someone at least 10 years older than you, whose style you admire. You do not have to be friends with this person (though that helps too,) or even know them personally. But whenever you are feeling sad or shocked by your appearance, you need to conjure up this woman in your head and think about how attractive you find her. Summon that admiration! I tell myself: “I would rather look cool than look young.”

Ann, you might not be ten years older than me (or even ten months) but I am channeling cool you.

Forget trying to look sexy, aim for chic instead, echoes my wise friend Katie. Growing old gracefully is the way to go. Don’t fight it. Embrace it and be grateful for all the good stuff in your life. Celebrate each age.

It sure beats the alternative. Another friend Andrée says that while she felt physically at her best in her twenties, thirties and forties, she felt emotionally and psychologically best in her fifties:

The confidence and wisdom and self-possession that comes with age is so awesome. It’s so profound. Now I wear what makes me feel good and comfortable, and maybe make a little bit of a statement. You’re never fully dressed without a smile. You can be sexy at any age- it’s more about an attitude. I’m confident, I’m beautiful, I love myself- that is sexy and that’s what I think people find sexy too.”

And maybe she’s right. The other day Andrée, who is tall and thin, graced with an athlete’s body, was wearing a pair of wide cut kelly green jeans from Zara, when a much younger man shouted,

Nice pants Aunty!!!

She quickly looked up Aunty on Urban Dictionary…


Made my year!!!

October, 2021