by NIKKI GEMMELL
“For me, there are only two kinds of women – goddesses and doormats.”
Ah, the wisdom of Picasso, and it’s well documented he liked them submissive; if they weren’t that at the start of a relationship he’d try to crack them with his cruelty. I thought of this at a gathering of Australian women earlier this year for InStyle magazine; not a doormat among them.
“I want to be you when I grow up,” declared M.C. Jessica Rowe to an older woman among the crowd; cue a stirring of concurrence, a collective girl-crush. The recipient? Jana Wendt. And this with a posse of youthful gorgeousness in the mix – the Mirandas Kerr and Otto, Asher Keddie, Megan Washington. But what was extraordinary: the women who’d been around the block a few times, yet could still rock a black velvet sheath, were getting the lion’s share of the adulation. Middle-aged chicks who were the embodiment of confidence, intelligence, poise, contentment and sheer damned hotness; women completely comfortable in their skin.
All this as I career towards the wintry side of the mid-40s. But it’s not that at all! OK, it feels like there are more eyelids than there used to be and the grey hairs are shooting most unbecomingly heavenward as if they’re already craning for the light, but I don’t see these as years of decline, at all. They’re about burgeoning freedom and power. You see, my speciality once was niceness, acquiesce, the big yes, until I was worn thin from it. Now I’ve found the power of “no”. Am no longer cowed by what people think; still buy Topshop shoes alongside the teenagers, still sneak a banana Paddle Pop now and then, still dance up a storm to James on the iPod: “She only comes when she’s on top.” Apparently 50th birthdays are more fun than 40ths – because you’re much lighter, relaxed. There’s less angst about what you haven’t achieved yet; the intensity of the baby years, for many, has passed and you no longer feel shunted aside from your own life. You’ve reclaimed it, joyously; you’re at peace.
As for those men with their dramatically younger women beside them: they don’t look empowered anymore, they look sad. He may think it’s a sign of his virility, we see it as a sign of insecurity. The real power, mate, is having the confidence to exist comfortably alongside the voice, brains and beauty of one of these lionesses of the new era; not to be threatened but enhanced by them.
Earlier this year I saw Jane Birkin on stage. As she appeared you could feel the collective sigh from women across the audience – we wanted to be her. She was in loose black pants and a blazer and what looked like a lover’s white shirt. As the evening wore on the jacket was discarded and the shirt loosened, revealing a peek of the coolest bra; pale with thick black piping. This was a 65-year-old who looked like she loved laughing in bed – still. She was an appreciator; chatting infectiously about Serge Gainsbourg and love and grandkids, her enthusiasm ardent, giggly, youthful. What a life she’s led and she zings with it; it’s a welling of experience and endurance and warmth and grace. You’re our future, I thought, a future way of being; you’re blazing the path, girl. Alongside Jana and Quentin and Michelle. Goddesses, the lot of you.
This post first appeared in The Weekend Australian Magazine and has been republished with full permission.
Nikki Gemmell is the best-selling author of several novels, including Cleave, The Bride Stripped Bare, With My Body, and The Book of Rapture. She returned from London to live in Australia last year and her column appears weekly in The Weekend Australian Magazine.
Earlier this year, Stylelist rounded up their favourite ever quotes about ageing gracefully. They got everyone from Helen Gurley Brown to Taylor Swift. Take a look:
What are you loving about growing older? Who are the older women you admire?