For­get dic­tates. You can feel al­lur­ing no mat­ter your age,

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - writes Nicky Pel­le­grino.

For­get dic­tates. You can feel al­lur­ing no mat­ter your age, writes Nicky Pel­le­grino.

The other night I went to a party. I wore a dress that reaches my an­kles and but­tons de­murely to the neck. Through the gauzy fab­ric there was a glimpse of my fab­u­lous new Lonely bra and, check­ing my­self in the mir­ror, I re­alised I looked sexy.

This came as some sur­prise, be­cause never in my life have I seen my­self as sexy. In my 20s I didn’t think I was thin or beau­ti­ful enough. In my 30s I was try­ing to es­tab­lish my­self as a nov­el­ist while work­ing full-time (fa­tigue isn’t sexy). In my 40s ditto to all that plus I was com­ing to terms with get­ting wrin­kles. So what has changed in my fifth decade? Why sud­denly do I feel sexy at a time when tra­di­tion­ally women are meant to be any­thing but?

Well, more to the point why not? Surely for 21st cen­tury women lots of things are chang­ing. And be­ing in your 50s and fe­male should free you to ex­plore your own sex­i­ness, if you choose to, in a way it never has be­fore.

No longer are small chil­dren de­pen­dent on you. Ideally you’ve es­tab­lished your­self in your cho­sen ca­reer and cre­ated some fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity (wor­ry­ing about money isn’t sexy). And yes there is the spec­tre of the menopause but the good news is HRT is back on the ta­ble. The North Amer­i­can Menopause So­ci­ety has just up­dated its guide­lines to say that, for many women, the ben­e­fits out­weigh the risks.

For me there is a new ac­cep­tance of my ap­pear­ance. I’ve for­given my­self for the dim­ply, wob­bly bits, happy that my body is mostly healthy and does what it’s sup­posed to. I’m 53 and I gave up on Bo­tox and go out in the sun too much. But I’ve stopped ex­pect­ing to meet the same phys­i­cal stan­dards as fash­ion mod­els and movie stars and I can’t tell you what a re­lief that is.

This feel­ing fine in my own skin, I think there’s some­thing very sexy about that. Okay, so it’s not the sex­i­ness of short skirts and bold cleav­ages. It’s much more about con­ceal­ment and a teas­ing glimpse. Plus a LOT of groom­ing. When I was young I used to wash my hair, cy­cle to work and call that a blow dry. Now I have half the amount of hair and triple the fuss.

Women my age need an ar­moury of prod­ucts and beauty ther­a­pists (may I rec­om­mend Olaplex for dried out mid­dle-aged locks and a re­ally good colourist be­cause a shade too dark or light makes a dif­fer­ence). Di­shev­elled stopped look­ing hot decades ago but, con­versely, it shouldn’t be ob­vi­ous how much ef­fort is be­ing made. It’s only sexy only if it’s a kind of magic trick — lay­ers of makeup that end up seem­ing like none at all, a ca­sual sleek­ness, a sub­tle look­ing like your­self only bet­ter.

French women have un­der­stood all this stuff for years. At 62 I’m sure for­mer Vogue edi­tor Carine Roit­feld feels creaky of hip at times but she smudges on her trade­mark black eye­liner, dons an el­e­gant fit­ted jacket and steps out look­ing smok­ing hot. “The most im­por­tant thing is pos­ture,” she has said. “When you get old it’s the way you walk; the way you stand.”

Is­abelle Hup­pert is 64 and was provoca­tively sexy in di­rec­tor Paul Ver­ho­even’s 2016 movie

Elle. Juli­ette Binoche (53), Vanessa Par­adis (44) and that grand­mere of sex­i­ness Cather­ine Deneuve (73), none of them are both­er­ing to fade into in­vis­i­bil­ity as con­ven­tion once dic­tated.

And what about the ac­tual sex? Well I’m pleased to re­port that some of the long­est mar­ried cou­ples I know are hav­ing the raci­est re­la­tion­ships. They don’t talk about it much; in that brash way we did when we were younger. But they’re still at­tracted to each other and they’re con­fi­dent enough to ask for what they want. They’re do­ing it in in­ter­est­ing places and ex­cit­ing ways. Who has time for pedes­trian any­more? Who can be both­ered wast­ing pre­cious en­ergy on a lack of sat­is­fac­tion?

For sin­gle­tons Tin­der has been a game- changer. I know older women who are do­ing a lot of pelvic floor ex­er­cises while stopped at red lights in their cars. They’re not em­bar­rassed to say yes to sex, nor are they fear­ful of be­ing judged as slutty. They’re hav­ing a good time.

A lot of fuss has been made about the midlife sex­i­ness por­trayed in the show Ap­ple Tree Yard screened by TVNZ. Ac­tress Emily Wat­son (50) plays a sci­en­tist who has sex with a stranger in a broom cup­board then ends up pay­ing a high price for it. Don’t read too much into that. Ap­ple

Tree Yard is a drama and meant to be ex­cit­ing not ac­cu­rately re­flect life. Frankly it’s enough of a break­through that midlife women are on main­stream TV be­ing por­trayed as hav­ing sex lives.

As for me, I’m hardly go­ing around be­ing madly sexy all the time. I trudge through mud to feed out hay to horses, clean the bath­room, cook sup­per, put out the re­cy­cling with­out a hint of it. But then surely at any age sex­i­ness is a state of grace not a way of be­ing?

I’ve never liked peo­ple telling me what I can and can’t do and as I get older I’m be­com­ing even less bid­dable. So I don’t es­pe­cially care what any­one else thinks — or even if they no­tice. I’m the one that mat­ters. And, at 53, I’ll feel sexy if I want to.

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