#Issues

Sudha Menon’s Feisty At Fifty Shows That Life Indeed Begins At Fifty

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Feisty at Fifty is a moving personal story and a guide to making the fifties the most fabulous decade of your life. An excerpt from the chapter ‘The Pursuit of Middle-aged Sexiness’:

I was at lunch with the girl gang sometime before I turned fifty and the conversation veered towards how we were ageing and what we would do in our fifties. This particularly deep discussion came after one of the girls, who is on a mission to ‘go white’, turned up looking like a goddess in a loose, flowing summer gown that took the temperature inside the restaurant a few notches up.

Not all of us agreed that she needed to stop colouring her hair. ‘You are only sixty. It is too early to stop colouring,’ one of the girls said. ‘Do it after you have grandchildren,’ another said and soon the topic evolved into the usual ‘how to be fabulous at fifty’ sort of conversation.

The subject of this discussion suddenly stood up and said, ‘Girls, sexy is as sexy does. I feel sexy with white hair. I think this is the most beautiful I have felt in a long time.’

It was around the same time that I also read a book that was all about how forty-plus women need not throw in their hats but can actually transform themselves into these glamorous babes with smoky eyes, sexy clothes, and come-hither painted nails. I have had that book on my mind for the longest time and have made several false starts to getting to be the sexy babe in it. The trouble is, unlike my friend who has found nirvana in her white hair, I’m still searching for mine in malls and stores that stock clothes designed to make every woman look like a diva. Except me, of course. I’m still sitting on the fence about the clothes that are being designed for women today, especially those with the generous curves and the love handles that come along when you hit the mid-forties.

A few months ago, the fledgling, who has been witness to my fashion blues, said to me, ‘Why don’t you just go to the mall one day? And go alone. Take your time to try things on and don’t ask the store staff and your besties for their opinion.’

With that in mind I visited the neighbourhood mall, determined to return with enough gorgeous, glamorous new clothes to get me out of my frumpy-clothes-induced blue funk. First stop was a happening Spanish label that my twenty-six-year old frequents, with collateral damage to my bank balance. She looks like a million bucks in the brand’s clothing, though, and so, like a homing pigeon, I headed towards the store which had SALE emblazoned outside. Whoever said the zero-sized model is passé should check out this store. I searched high and low, pulled out dozens of things lying in bargain boxes and even looked under the table where stuff seemed to have been discarded, but there was nary a piece of clothing to hide my generous, curvaceous assets. Not unless I wanted to outfit myself in prison-uniform striped PJs and oversized shirts to go with them. And that would do nothing for the middle-aged babe that I wanted to be. Besides, I suspected this would drive the spouse out of the bedroom, fearful of my PMS, and I would not blame him.

Ever tried getting into one of those fashionably thin, dangerously low pants that come in the cutest colours? I had to fairly tie myself in knots and consider lying on the trial-room floor to wriggle myself into one, only to be sorely disappointed. Unless I wanted to wear them on my knee, I would have to abandon this fashion trend because the damned things hit a solid roadblock at the thighs.

My Mission Glam has led me up other sartorial paths – with dismal results – in the last couple of years. For instance, a few months ago I noticed a sudden spike in the number of drop-dead glamorous women sporting tops and dresses with what seemed like holes on the sleeves, at the exact point where shoulder joints end and the arms begin. Upon casually mentioning this to the fledgling I was told that this was a new fashion trend and not a hole in the sleeve. ‘They are cold shoulders, Mom!’ I was told with the customary eye roll. In my youth a cold shoulder meant other things: it meant snubbing someone. You never wanted to be at the receiving end of a cold shoulder but these days if you get yourself a cold shoulder you will be one amongst the fashion-forward folks.

My Mission Glam has led me up other sartorial paths – with dismal results – in the last couple of years.

Ever tried ripped jeans? I was in London last year when ripped jeans were absolutely the thing to flaunt and having seen them on hoardings and in every self-respecting store from Zara, Debenhams and M&S to Primark, I decided I would buy myself a pair. I got my prized possession home having burnt up a cool packet on it and was more than hot under the collar when the mother, who sat on a rocking chair, eating fries, looked me up and down the next morning on my way out and said, ‘You need a fresh pair of jeans. You can’t be a famous author and roam around in torn jeans. Somebody might think you are hard up.’ I fled upstairs to get out of my ripped jeans and soon exchanged them for a pair of ‘boyfriend’ jeans instead, though it mystifies me why people have named women’s apparel after men, especially because we all know lots of men who think jeans are things you don’t have to wash. Ever. Eeeks.

I got my prized possession home having burnt up a cool packet on it and was more than hot under the collar when the mother, who sat on a rocking chair, eating fries, looked me up and down the next morning on my way out and said, ‘You need a fresh pair of jeans. You can’t be a famous author and roam around in torn jeans. Somebody might think you are hard up.’

Much as I am a fan of all things trendy, there are days when I wish I was back in a time when things were simpler. In the mid-1980s, when I was stepping into my twenties and starting to wear sarees, things were simpler, or, at least, they were simpler in the Bombay suburb I grew up in. The mother took you to the tailor and got you two blouses: a black and a white. They had high necks and the sleeve length ended at the elbows. You borrowed the saree and even the petticoats – white, black, and maybe a green and a red – from the mother.

Things are different today. My mother almost fell off her armchair the other day when I opened a courier package and out fell a mermaid-shaped lycra petticoat with love handle control features and a padded rear side. I almost died of shock, too, because I had no clue that shopping online for a petticoat would bring home this all-new contraption parading as the humble petticoat.

I had no clue that shopping online for a petticoat would bring home this all-new contraption parading as the humble petticoat.

Have you noticed how good tailors are becoming an endangered species? Turns out most of them prefer to work in air-conditioned malls instead of working for a pittance in their own trade. And the few tailors that are left have been taken over by so-called designers who use the phenomenal skills of said tailors to make big bucks for themselves with the result that a blouse that should cost five hundred rupees to stitch now costs between two and five thousand. I know of one corporate maven who shells out over seven thousand rupees for every blouse she gets tailored!

I was trying to get myself a few blouses made recently because I have eaten myself out of my old ones; the entire exercise left me weak-kneed and quivering with anxiety with the number of decisions I had to make. I could make blouses with a princess cut, empire sleeves, or bell sleeves; blouses can be combined with net, lace, sequins, semi-precious stones, and peek-a-boo design features that can leave the beholder giddy. Meanwhile, I am nursing a frozen shoulder from trying to pull down the zip at the side of blouses, or, worse, zips on the back. My domestic help had to rescue me the other day after I tied myself up in a knot trying to reach my back to pull the zip down on my fancy new blouse. With these new blouses you don’t have to worry about wearing a bra because they come with bra cups. My problem is there has been no cup made that can hold my considerable rogue assets, and, so, I have to make new-fangled blouses that will still allow me to wear the good old bra. The spouse is convinced I have lost it in the quest for my Inner Diva. As for me, I am hoping that the old blouses with front buttons make a comeback.

And while we are at it, can we have bras with front hooks, too, please, please? It is way too much trouble and too much struggle each day to get to the damn hook every morning. It is coming to a stage when I am wishing we have a new braless trend here in India. If Hollywood babes can do it, why can’t we?

As for me, having flirted with daring scooped backs that displayed the ample tyres on my rear side and a kaftan dress that made me resemble a penguin in a flap, I have found peace in the size XL of an Indian brand that makes clever dresses for real women like me. Ah, bliss!

And oh, did I tell you the near orgasmic pleasure of gorging on an almond muffin and a slice of heavenly banana loaf at the cafe on my way out of the mall? Never mind the middle-aged babe. I will make do with the middle-aged part. And that shiny glazed doughnut at that cafe.

Excerpted with permission from Feisty at Fifty: How I Stay Fabulous at Fifty-Plus by Sudha Menon published by Pan Macmillan India. Pages – 248, Price – Rs 350

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