Ageing today is complex. We know that growing old is a gift reserved for only a lucky few, but we're reminded at every turn that we are rarely as wrinkle-free, plumped-up and young as we should be.
So how is it possible to navigate this complex environment we’re existing in? Is there such a thing as ageing gracefully? Can we love and appreciate ourselves if we desire an occasional (or regular) trip to a facialist, Botox-giver (do they have a name yet) or Ffake-tanner? How do we draw the line between dressing our age without feeling or appearing mumsy? And how do we walk that fine line between embracing our natural selves and letting ourselves go?
Thankfully, Kelly Doust has some answers for us with her latest book, The Power Age. In it, she encourages us to embrace our inner greatness, no matter our vintage, and feel fabulous from the inside out by taking inspiration from the superstars and regular Jo(sephin)es who’ve got it right.
Featuring dozens of interviews and words of wisdom from women working their power age, including former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, designer Leona Edmiston and food legend Maggie Beer, as well as exquisite illustrations by Jessica Guthrie and photographs of the most outstanding of older icons, The Power Age is now our go-to guide to navigating midlife and beyond with power and panache.
We spoke to Kelly about how to make it all work and how to age in the way that feels right for us.
Photography by Amanda Prior | Buy The Power Age – $39.99
What is the ‘power age’? Does the specific age differ for all women?
The Power Age refers to that time in our lives when, as women, we can fully step into our own power and be who we were always meant to be – usually from forty or fifty years of age onwards. It happens earlier for some, but midlife is a particularly potent time for identifying ourselves; we’ve been through enough ups and downs to develop resilience, strength and the ability to focus upon what really matters. It’s also a time when we’re more experienced in our careers, savvier at life, and better at knowing what works for us and what doesn’t. It’s a great time to embrace the lives we’ve created for a whole new stage – or to change everything up.
Tell us about what happens in this period of time (or rather, what can happen, with the right attitude and approach!)
As women we’re often told, both blatantly and subliminally, that a big part of our currency is tied up in our appearance. Ergo, ageing is a negative thing; wrinkles form, bits sag, we’re not as young and lithe as we used to be, perhaps. But there’s a big anti-anti-ageing trend in fully swing and, in actual fact, women in their 50s and 60s are substantially happier than they’ve been for some time. We know happiness and satisfaction dips in our 40s when career and family tend to take centre stage and leave us feeling stretched too thin, but it peaks again in our 50s – despite health concerns and the impact of caring for growing families and ageing parents. This period of life can be a wonderful time to take stock, appreciate all you have and make tweaks so that your life reflects what you imagine. With self-acceptance – learning to like or even love yourself – this can be a better time than any other that’s come before.
So many women experience the ‘invisibility’ that comes with a particular age, that can spark a whole host of emotions. Can you talk to us about this experience?
It’s a commonly-held belief that we become invisible as we age, but what became apparent to me through interviewing dozens of women – both well-known and not-so-well-known – was that visibility is a state of mind, and a reflection of the confidence we feel within. It comes from a sense of personal power or agency. I’ve met women who command a room just by entering it, age irrelevant. It’s all about whether you feel worthy of commanding attention. If you feel people are treating you differently, it’s probably because you’re suffering a crisis of confidence.
Many of us battle between ageing ‘gracefully’ and fighting the clock. How can we embrace the ageing process?
I interviewed such a wide range of women from diverse backgrounds for the book, and they all had their own take and different reactions to the idea of ageing gracefully, and whether to ‘fight it’ or ‘give in’. I wanted to offer a range of ideas to help women navigate this for themselves. Personally, I think we should stop lying about our age or feeling ashamed about it – it should be a badge of pride. I wrote The Power Age because the idea that it’s all downhill after a certain age just wasn’t reflected in the amazing women I knew, and in those around us who are shaping the world in such profound ways. We need to change the conversation. Embrace the ageing process by learning to love who you are, as a complete and complex human being. Fortunately, the years clocking up do their job to hone our instincts, so go with what feels right for you.
Speaking of which, what’s your view on Botox and invasive ‘enhancements’?
No judgement. If something’s undermining your confidence and affecting the way you feel about yourself at work or in social situations, you could explore correcting it. Or not. A word of caution about going overboard, though: aim to look the best you can for your age, rather than trying to look younger. I don’t think we’re fooling anyone when we do that, as much as we think we might be.
How do you suggest we go about discovering/revealing our personal style?
Again, this is more about figuring out what’s right for you, based on how you live and what you love. I don’t believe in clothes being inappropriate after a certain age – if you have fabulous legs, show them off in a short skirt, why not? – but the aim is to find clothes and accessories that will flatter you and make you feel comfortable, rather than highlighting any perceived flaws. Study what it is about certain outfits or images that draws your attention, as there will be many patterns you can work from when shopping for new items. Figure out your style profile and the colours and prints that work best for you. This will save time and money, and make it easier to dismiss those things that aren’t quite right.
Do you have any particular ’style rules of thumb' for dressing as we age?
- Find your own staples – this is the time to stop following trends slavishly, and perhaps add a few new, quality pieces each season to your old favourites.
- Go high-low – mix it up by trying luxury, vintage and streetwear pieces for your own unique look, and never stop experimenting to avoid getting stuck in a style rut.
- Think quality rather than luxury brands – a label doesn’t always mean high quality, and you don’t have to spend a small fortune to find the best pieces.
- As legendary costume designer Edith Head once said, ‘You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it,’ so think ahead and dress for the occasion if you wish to make an impression.
- Show off your best assets and downplay your least favourite.
- Own it. Chutzpah can carry you a hell of a long way.
What about maximising health and wellbeing? What are some of the most sustainable, effective ways you’ve seen this achieved?
Everything in moderation as far as food and drink goes, and taking regular exercise. In those Blue Zone areas with the highest concentration of centenarians who had a great quality of life, the consistent trends were eating a fresh, Mediterranean-style diet and doing lots of incidental exercise on a daily basis. Also feeling part of a community and doing things for others – it’s a great boost to your self-esteem and life satisfaction.
You spoke to a range of incredibly accomplished women for The Power Age. What were some of the greatest lessons you took away from them?
It’s never too late to change direction or take a pivot – a great life is always there for the taking. Stop caring so much about what other people think. Value and back yourself. Be bold. Boomer women have rewritten the script on ageing and are doing so better than any generation that has ever come before, so take heart from that and follow your own path.
Which women inspire you?
There are so many. I love Sarah Jane Adams (@mywrinklesaremystripes on Instagram) for her irreverent approach to style and ageing. And women like Helen Clark, the former PM of New Zealand, who I interviewed for the book. Helen said, ‘I don’t think anyone ever rolled out the red carpet for me. Find resilience and self-esteem, and roll out the red carpet for yourself!’ Maggie Beer, who runs a charity organisation on the smell of an oily rag, has profoundly changed the lives of people in aged care homes by teaching cooks in those facilities to create nourishing food.
If we’re looking to mature with style - what are the three top tips you’d give us?
- Treat yourself like you would a close, treasured friend – other people will say enough unkind things, so don’t talk badly to yourself and especially not out loud.
- Find the good in every situation you find yourself in – bitterness and unhappiness are terribly ageing, and not much fun to be around.
- Never stop being curious or grateful, and you will remain forever youthful in spirit.