Why 60 is the body satisfaction sweet spot

·7 min read
Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren

Having almost died, what I look like suddenly seems less important

By Justin Webb, 60

A few years ago, I nearly died. A blocked major artery, pains running from chest to arm, the oddness of being potentially gravely ill when you are the picture of massive rumbustious male health. Gravely ill when you feel as though you are in your prime and a picture of beach-ready bounciness. One minute dashing up the stairs; the next googling ‘heart attack,’ and telling your wife you might not be back for supper.

Surviving led to two conclusions. First, the rumbustiousness was even more of an illusion than it had been in the past. Second, that this new life – fixed up with a stent like an old building given a new steel girder – is not all bad. No, I would go further: it’s great.

Suddenly, aged 60, the expectations that (in my mind) others had of me, have melted away. I held hands with a nurse shortly after the operation and realised that she had no idea, as she took this frail older man back to his bed, that I had so recently been so full of beans, so youthful. It was a fleeting touch that reset an entire mental image I had of myself, from fantasy to reality. But also, and crucially, from an image that came with a need to perform to an image that was not hard to maintain because it was, well, true.

Justin Webb: ‘These are the years we expect men to be achieving, competing, succeeding but at the same time the physical decline becomes obvious’ - Rii Schroer for The Telegraph
Justin Webb: ‘These are the years we expect men to be achieving, competing, succeeding but at the same time the physical decline becomes obvious’ - Rii Schroer for The Telegraph

That previous self-image was anything but life-enhancing. The study findings about men in their 40s feeling body conscious are spot on. When you are truly young as a man you can be yourself, but as the years mount up so does the pressure to be James Bond. I spent my 30s and early 40s in war zones; eating erratically and unhealthily, drinking too much red wine, always having to feign physical vitality. It’s sapping and in the end depressing. These are the years we expect men to be achieving, competing, succeeding but at the same time the physical decline becomes obvious. When I gave it up for breakfast TV, I remember imagining I might occasionally stay up all night – it would be a breeze. The one time it happened was ghastly, covered up by highly efficient make-up artists, and never repeated.

I am an older man but still some way, I hope, from elderly. I can hear the thunder at life’s summer party, but not yet feel the drops of rain from the storm to come. Meanwhile I am reaping the benefits of having made it this far. Having the opportunity and space to be comfortable with the body I have. Having fixed the inside – the important bit you might say – the outside seems far less important. And as soon as something becomes less important you can, of course, be more relaxed about it.

I am writing this on a beach wearing fluorescent orange bathing trunks that don’t match my blue T-shirt or, indeed, my grey hair. Who cares? Here in Corfu there are dozens of similar chaps in various states of wardrobe disarray. We have survived and, to varying extents, prospered. Our children – if we are lucky – are off the books financially, or at least able to earn their own pocket money.

So we 60-plus fellows can spend any spare dosh on bathing trunks or gym memberships. We are free to think a bit more about ourselves. Grooming is probably too strong a word, at least for me, but men of my age have the time, if they want it, to spend on doing what they can to keep their bodies as well maintained as they can be.

Walking the dog in the park the other day, I bumped into my friend the BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. He was with his new companion: sleek and highly strung, oddly heavy. An electric bike, Jeremy explained, which allows him to go further and faster, but not sweat the hills. That’s where we are, and it’s not a bad place to be.

When I was in my 20s, I never expected to still be turning heads at 63

By Siân Lloyd, 63

This week my partner and I went to London for a few days to see friends. We haven’t been out much recently, so there were a couple of things I had to get readjusted to – getting wolf-whistled being one!

When I was in my 20s, I never expected to still be turning heads at 63. By her 60s my mother had firmly settled into old age, wearing twinsets and pearls, and thinking that fun part of her life was behind her.

My attitude couldn’t be more different: despite the wrinkles and extra pounds round my waist, I have never felt more confident in how I look. I don’t think of myself as looking old, either: I wear skinny jeans and rub elbows with teenagers when I’m out shopping.

Siân Lloyd: ‘I look at friends in their 20s and 30s and don’t envy them at all’
Siân Lloyd: ‘I look at friends in their 20s and 30s and don’t envy them at all’

I have always been relatively confident in my looks, but in recent years I’ve noticed a new sense of carefreeness that I didn’t have before. When I was first doing ITV weather reports in the 1990s, I was in hair and make-up for over an hour before going on camera. I never counted calories, but I would be bothered if my jeans felt a little tight.

I might have a few more lines now, but it takes me fewer than 20 minutes to get ready. And I couldn’t care less if I put on a few pounds: I’ll just buy bigger jeans. If I’m fit enough to climb the mountains near where I live in Wales, and cycle around London, what does it matter?

Part of that confidence is down to the huge shift in attitudes towards older women over the past couple of decades. A few months ago I was doing some filming for Netflix, which required me to present a slightly racy version of a weather report. I was working with Chloe Veitch, a presenter in her mid-20s, and at the end, the script required us to say that we were “too hot”.

In the 1990s, there was no way you’d have seen that: one woman in her 20s and another in her 60s, both being called “hot”. But watching that clip back, I agree. I do look hot!

That’s not to say that when you hit 60 you are happy with yourself, whatever you look like. I refuse to give up on my appearance, and take care to choose outfits that suit me. I get my hair coloured and chemically straightened a few times a year, and go for deep-cleansing facials. I even get a non-invasive toning treatment done on my stomach, which helps to burn a bit of fat and add muscle.

But I would never get major work like a nose job, facelift or lip fillers. There are so many risks of going under the knife and I’m just too scared.

I look at friends in their 20s and 30s and don’t envy them at all. They are so caught up in the current unrealistic trends for women – these huge puffed-up lips, big behinds and tiny waists.

My girlfriends in their 50s, 60s and beyond are a world apart. We’re so much more laid back about how we look, and have no trouble at all finding boyfriends, should we want one. When I got divorced in my mid-50s, it became a running joke among my friends about how many men wanted to date me, many of them two decades younger.

I have a wonderful partner now, Steve, who is a few years younger than me. He sees the beauty of a confident woman over 60, too.

As told to Helen Chandler-Wilde