“When I was a teenager I was a sister and daughter,” announces the middle aged woman on stage, whose toned legs and prettily streaked hair reaching past her shoulders add to her relaxed, sexy look. “Then in my 20s I was a wife. By the time I reached my 30s I was a mother. Now, at 50…” – she pauses, looking out at the sea of women, also clicking over to their next half century on earth – “I finally became me.” Nods and empathetic laughter ripple through the audience. “I liberated and freed myself!” The room breaks out into hearty, ‘hell yeah’ applause.

I’m at the fourth annual Silver Sirens event in the penthouse of the Art Deco MCA Gallery on Sydney Harbour, flooded by glorious Opera House views, as ferries toot their comings and goings outside. A few hundred women who would once have been referred to as (whisper it) d’un certain âge, have gathered to explore what it means to reach the big 5-0. By outlining her life in decades with themes, Mariam Mourad wasn’t merely reminiscing, but declaring: I finally made it, I earned the right to be 50, hear me roar.

As a variety of female speakers shared their wit and wisdom on stage over the day, or in the case of Dahlia Dior performed the work of soaring female chanteuses such as Edith Piaf, there was no talk of ‘anti-aging’ or ‘turning back the clock’. Instead, these authors, activists, TV hosts and entrepreneurs spoke of what they had learned over the decades and how it had made their lives so much better.

Some, like Executive Director at the Victorian Women’s Trust, Mary Crooks had embraced activism: her life’s mission is to banish the shadows of shame and ignorance that enshroud menstruation. A Q & A in which young Gen Z university graduates interviewed accomplished elders in their seventies shone a light on the potential joys of mentoring younger women rather than seeing them as a sexual threat.

As speaker after speaker challenged dated and disempowering tropes about older women being invisible or past their use by date, they were met with rapturous applause and defiant laughter, from ladies who are clearly not going to go quietly into the next decade, or even the one after that.

The Silver Sirens philosophy transcends the idea of merely ‘coping’ with the challenges of ageing, as fertility wanes and our bodies and faces shapeshift away from young babehood. It clearly intends to overwrite the ageing-is-scary blueprint entirely, essentially encouraging women to rethink this terror of ageing as a deficit and something to dread. Rather, the annual Silver Sirens speaker event and online membership resource invites its growing community to embrace this inevitable life phase as a profound part of life’s journey – exploratively, even joyously.

As someone who has been running from ageing all her adult life, this literally blows my mind. As a former high fashion model, ageing was the one crime you could not commit. I had already been through an existential crisis once before in my tender mid-20s, as I aged out of an industry that feted youthful perfection – reframed by the worldly sophistication and visual creativity of a designer’s vision. A pretty unbeatable combination.

Back in the nineties, long before social media clarion calls such as #bestager #over50 and #over50style ricocheted around social media, becoming older (and no longer being the new girl in town) stripped me of my income, identity, professional community and sense of worth. One’s status and identity as a model is wrapped up entirely in how you look; when you spend your teenage years marinating in the brutal ‘pick me pick me’ culture of constant casting calls, being considered fabulous is paramount – and addictive. You internalise this and it lingers long after you drift back to being a muggle again.

During my thirties and – gulp – 40s, it was hard to conceive of accepting, let alone celebrating, ageing. When I was younger, the abstract notion of women at 50 and beyond was imbued with a kind of campy Sunset Boulevard faded glamour. Ageing divas in turbans having meltdowns, tossing down highballs at noon and paying gigolos to keep them company as they cling to their sexual allure… Implicit in all this of course is the utter determination to dodge destiny and the older female archetype: the crone.

Yet now, as I cross the rubicon into my fifties, the actual reality is dawning on me. I am so free. After years of renovating and riding the property rollercoaster, I own my own home – no flatmates, no landlady.

Just lots of dancing in my underwear! My son, now a lovely young man, has flown the coop, freeing me of the all pervasive responsibilities of parenting a young child as a single mum. Rather than being buffeted by the winds, I have matured and figured out how to be the architect of my own adult life, yet I still feel vital, able bodied and fancy free. Moving out of the city and renovating a bushland property was a dream come true and I just upped and did it.

Why did no-one tell me that 50+ was going to be so supremely awesome? I realise that so much of my dread was based on the deep, core societal pressures underpinning my own negative internal dialogue. This wasn’t an external Weinstein or Epstein bogeyman instilling terror in me; I was doing this to myself.

Yet the Silver Sirens audience members reflected back a different, dynamic vision of what fifty looks like, innately elegant in the way they carried themselves. Whether dressed with devil-may-care bohemian flamboyance or a more sleek corporate style, these dynamic, gorgeous women moved through the room with that warmth and ease that bubbles up in female only spaces, mingling with strangers.

I only have to look at the fellow fifty-somethings in my own inner circle to find magnificence. Whether in publishing, media or mental health, they have trained and achieved mastery in their professions and are having themselves a ball socially. One wears vampire fangs around her neck and dates a man fifteen years younger. Another runs a $50 million company, lives in two hemispheres and has just lost 20 kilos.

Faith Agugu, my dear friend and the founder of Silver Sirens, is the ultimate poster girl for the empowered ageing that she espouses. Compassionate, committed and radiating equal parts energy and grace, Agugu has spearheaded the movement as a true calling, after observing how many female clients in her private counselling practice were experiencing age as something to ignore or even fear, blinding them to their own accomplishments, sexiness and worth.

Agugu’s true calling is to shepherd women into their ‘third age’ as a renaissance of self, and the messaging arrives right on schedule. My generation of fifty-something women are giving the concept of ageing itself a makeover.

50+ women dominate the numbers for adventure travel, have even more aggregate power than Millennials and are more culturally visible and expressed than at any time in history. The year she hit 50, performer Jennifer Lopez revelled in her own high octane sexuality and body positivity by playing a pole dancing stripper in $105 million hit Hustlers (2019); 1980s supermodel Paulina Porizkova is unofficial leader of the ‘grey pride movement’, fighting ageism through visibility by posing nude on the cover of Los Angeles Magazine; instagram accounts such as @grombre and @grayhairandtattoes showcase and celebrate grey hair as a funky, natural phenomenon, not the beginning of the end.

The timely Silver Sirens movement has tapped into our need for an alternative model. The idea that female ageing, once considered the ultimate disappearing act, could actually become a quest to find more authenticity, abundance, fulfilment and joy, is a game changer for my generation of women, paving the way for the young women who will inherit our legacy.

Agugu is banking on it. Professionally at her peak, she retrained as a counsellor after helming her own PR and Management Agency in the fashion world for two decades, and is now in the best relationship of her life. Walkley Award winning journalist Tracey Spicer, looking sensational in a glossy, tapered satin shirt and trousers, her blonde hair now flecked with gleaming silver, spoke at the 2021 Silver Sirens event about the ageism that she had encountered in her TV career and how she fought back tooth and claw.

I felt electrified by the silver sirens around me, my tribe. These lithe, Pilates-toned sea goddesses with wavy hair and bright eyes, brimming with energy, looked like they could stride the earth in seven league boots.

No girl in her right mind would fear this future.

 

To find out more visit Silver Sirens website: www.silversirens.org
FB: https://www.facebook.com/redefiningageing
Instagram: @silversirens_redefiningageing

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