‘I still feel sexy post-50 – why should I stop having fun just because I'm older?’

·5-min read
Suzanne Noble: ‘I’d experienced this bias against older women in my working life as well’
Suzanne Noble: ‘I’d experienced this bias against older women in my working life as well’

I was sitting in my hot tub one afternoon with a group of midlife girlfriends when the conversation turned to something that had bugged me since I reached my 50s. It was the feeling – which, it transpired, my friends also shared – of having somehow become invisible to others.

We felt the world saw women of our age and older as sexless, unattractive and lacking in spark and value. Wrinkled and saggy instead of vital and energetic.

Inside, we felt very differently about ourselves. We still felt sexy and I, for one, had not lost interest in sex. Aged 54, I was actively dating and using sites like Tinder, where I eventually met my partner of three-and-a-half years. I still wanted to have sex and be seen as a sexual being.

Yet after entering the menopause at 50, I had noticed an obvious change in the way I was perceived. Sexual attractiveness is a currency we become accustomed to trading off, but I could tell I just wasn’t sexy to people any more. Previously, whenever I entered a room, I felt like everyone noticed I was there. Once I was post-menopausal, it felt like no-one gave me a second look – or even a first.

You get used to a certain amount of attention and then, just like that, it is gone. I rebelled by dyeing my hair pink in an effort to somehow stand out. But I nonetheless found myself grieving for the period of time when I was sexually attractive and capable of lighting up a room. I knew it was over for good and it took me some time to come to terms with the transition – and to finally emerge the other side of it, armed with the understanding I could be whoever I wanted to be.

Meanwhile, everywhere I looked, I felt the real life experience of midlife women was not being reflected. We were seen as irrelevant and past it, which was so far from how my friends and I felt about ourselves.

Sex itself is a divisive topic among midlife women, I have discovered. Many are quite relieved and grateful to become effectively absolved of sexual responsibility, especially if their past sexual experiences have been poor. Others, like me, think “Why should we stop having fun just because we’re older?”

What we all have in common, however, is a desire to focus on the positive side of ageing and see it better reflected in social attitudes and depictions of older women. We all still have passions, whether carnal or not, yet too often these are overlooked by a culture that insists on fetishising youth.

I’d experienced this bias against older women in my working life as well. I’d been employed in PR and communications but, at 53, I decided to change my career. I sold my house, downsized and moved into the exciting world of tech start-ups, setting up an app called Frugl to help Londoners on a budget find affordable things to do.

Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn there weren’t all that many midlife women working in the East London tech start-up scene in 2014. But I was surprised at first. I was attending networking meetings in Shoreditch, diving right in in my usual enthusiastic way, but finding I was the oldest person in the room on most occasions.

I was constantly coming up against pasty young men making remarks such as: “I can’t imagine my mother doing what you’re doing.” Investors would tell me: “We don’t usually invest in people who look like you.” So although my app itself was popular among users, I couldn’t raise money to save my life. By contrast, there seemed to be lots of young men all around me who were achieving far less but raising far more investment.

So I suppose, over time, I was growing increasingly frustrated by the limits our ageing society bizarrely and paradoxically continues to place on the lives of older women. My friend Rose Rouse, who had been in the hot tub with me that day, in my garden in North London, felt similarly. So in our mid-50s, we decided to be proactive about changing attitudes.

One of our friends in the hot tub had suggested: “We should tell people about the advantages of age.” It instantly struck a chord with me. “That’s a great name,” I said, an idea beginning to form.

I then went away and built a website called Advantages of Age with the tagline ‘live life, love life’. Rose and I launched the site in 2016 to provide a platform for older people who can’t relate to the mainstream narrative around ageing: that it means past it, inadequate and invisible. We celebrate those who want to grow old either gracefully or disgracefully, and we’ve built a feisty and diverse community since then. It’s become a resource for people who are seeking positive role models and affirmation about growing older.

We even won an Arts Council grant, which we used to fund a crazy bus tour around London, our older passengers dressed in flamboyant clothes. We held a racy cabaret evening for older people at a members’ club in East London.

As a society, we’ve still got a long way to go. We’re living longer and longer, and it seems bizarre to me that we would write off such a large proportion of the female population once they reach the menopause.

At 60, I am living my life in just the way I want to. I hope I have helped others to do the same.

As told to Rosa Silverman

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