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Sexy at 70 - Angela Neustatter
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Angela Neustatter on BBC Breakfast
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It used to be the beginning of the end. Now it’s just the next stage of life. Writer Angela Neustatter tells Emily Horton why it’s sexy to be 70
Does the mere thought of turning 70 fill you with dread and have you fumbling for the next glass of wine? Are you settling wistfully for a quieter – not to say greyer – existence, as you step into your twilight years?
Hold it there, says author, journalist and septuagenarian Angela Neustatter, who at 70 is enjoying life so much that she has revealed her secrets in print. The Year I Turn: A Quirky A-Z of Ageing is a comprehensive guide to the art of living well for longer.
“When you get older, there is so much negative talk about how difficult and unpleasant life will be. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Some of us reach a later stage of life and find that it feels really good,” says Angela, originally from Ewell. “To quote Mark Twain: ‘Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.’”
The Year I Turn is a collection of Angela’s personal reflections on topics ranging from appearance, identity and maturity to spectacles, sex and the prospect of going ‘six feet under’. Through these witty, thought-provoking musings she urges the older generation to recover some of the vitality and self-confidence of youth.
It is a much needed clarion call. Depression amongst senior citizens – especially new retirees – is a major concern, according to the charity silverlining.org which offers counselling, networking and advice to older people.
“It’s as if, for some people, ageing just gobbles you up and you’re powerless to do much about it,” says Angela.
Daughter of a forensic psychiatrist, Angela grew up with a keen interest in psychology and has written on social and humanitarian issues for the past 50 years.
In meeting its challenges, she believes, we should see ageing as a dynamic process.
“We’ve got to be able to reshape our existence to make sense of a different stage of life,” she says empathetically. “I think there is a great fear of being sucked into this long, dark tunnel, and of what that will mean. Will I lose my appearance? Will my husband run off with someone younger? Will we all turn to gin in desperation?”
Such anxieties can also lead us to adopt what we may regard as age-appropriate behaviour. The approach of Time’s Winged Chariot brings couturial dread: the unspoken fear of ending up as mutton dressed as lamb.
“Oh god, I spent so many years pleasing people and seeking approval! I think we are terrorized as we get older into shrinking away from making fools of ourselves. We dare not risk the clothes we enjoyed wearing when we were younger. It’s as if we might offend someone by looking vibrant.”
Recover your mojo, Angela urges her peers; grab some of the nauseating attention accorded to the lithe and wrinkle-free by an absurdly image-conscious media. Be inspired by the fact that the nominees at this month’s Academy Awards include the glittering likes of Dame Judi Dench (79), Meryl Streep (64) and June Squibb (84).
Not that it’s always easy. Angela herself has been forced to address her own fears; to go in search of what was stopping her from seizing the day. Therapy was helpful, she says, giving her a “tool kit” for dealing with life. She also admits to having had surgery on her eyes and brow in her 40s. Now, however, she has no need of such drastic measures in the search for contentment.
“It was all part of growing up,” she reflects. “I actually quite like myself now. I know it’s impermissible to say that in England, but I do!”
Letting go of her career was upsetting, but she has learnt that self-worth need not depend on other people.
“Your career mustn’t be your entire existence or the basis for your ego,” she explains.
At first she had to discipline herself not to yield to self-pity. Soon, however, she began to grasp the opportunity to step back and fill her life with other things: Pilates, learning to tango, making stained glass.
“I enjoy having time for all those things that I wasn’t able to do before. They make you feel that you belong somewhere other than the workplace.”
Better sex is another plus for those with more time to devote to their partner in retirement.
“We don’t have to get up early now,” says Angela. “I won’t pretend it’s the kind of riotous stuff you see in Hollywood films: it’s what I would call ‘grown-up sex’. But it’s rather nice to have those cosy times in the mornings.”
Here then is a lady with a rallying cry for the older generation; a memo on meaning and fulfilment in later life that owes little to ambition and appearance. So think twice before passing the baton of glam and glee. Some of your very best years may lie beyond the setting sun.
Click here to win a copy of Angela Neustatter's book The Year I Turn: A Quirkey A-Z of Ageing