When I first met my heroine Peggy Smart – or at least the ceramic sculpture that inspired the character – she was ready for a swim. Oblivious to the tendrils of grey hair escaping from her cap and the cheese-wiring elastic of her bathing costume, there was an unmistakable twinkle in her eye.
had a vision of my grandmother standing at the bay window in her panty girdle,
laughing and showing off her wonderful legs to the neighbours. My mother’s
mother was a blue-rinsed bundle of fun who still wore high heels in her
wheelchair. I dedicated The Single Ladies
of Jacaranda Retirement Village to her and my always nattily-dressed
grandfather, both wonderful role models for ageing.
years later when I became a GP, I was drawn to the stoic wit and wisdom of the
elderly, and loved listening as they told their incredible life stories. During
my regular visits to retirement villages and aged care facilities, I discovered
many positive seniors full of vim and vigour, who were busy defying the
conventions of ageing.
some reason, women are judged more harshly than men if they don’t act their
age. In ‘ageing gracefully’ older women are expected to be sober, respectable
and very sensible. They must refrain from swearing or flirting, and keep their
clothes on at all times, so as not to upset the young folk. Fiction invariably
assigns older women the role of village busybody, evil stepmother or cookie-baking
believe these stereotypes devalue women, who have to contend with both ageism and
sexism. Susan Sontag described this “double standard of ageing” in which women are
penalised more than men for simply getting old. She also pointed out that by
trying to defy ageing rather than embracing it, women are inadvertently
reinforcing this double standard. The multi-billion dollar anti-ageing industry
– the so-called ‘fight’ against ageing – is testament to the pressure women
feel to resist nature. Quite unfairly, society expects women to stay looking
youthful for as long as possible and then conveniently disappear. Many women
will recognise the invisibility that comes as a free gift-with-purchase at
menopause, or feel peer pressured into wear beige once they retire.
times are changing and an increasing number of women like style icon Iris Apfel,
now in her nineties, refuse to accept the dress code. Indeed, women often find
the post-childrearing years quite liberating, as their biological clocks
fast-forward to Happy Hour. Although ageing undoubtedly comes with its fair
share of challenges, women often discover a more authentic version of themselves
later in life. I wonder if that’s why it’s called ‘growing’ older. Far from
being what the French might discreetly call ‘women of a certain age’, I prefer
the term ‘women in their prime’.
are countless older women who embrace this exciting new phase by studying,
travelling, jumping out of aeroplanes or taking scandalously young lovers. For
the record, I’m terrified of heights and married my toy-boy several years ago,
so my own new chapter involved writing a novel, something I was too timid and
self-conscious to do when I was younger.
Peggy Smart I wanted to create a relatable character who would dispel the
out-dated myths and stereotypes of ageing. Bette Davis once said, “Old age
ain’t no place for sissies”, and for that reason I made the conscious decision
not to shy away from the frustrations of an ageing body (and bladder). I wanted
to give readers of all ages the opportunity to walk in the shoes of a realistic
older woman, seborrhoeic warts and all.
a little help from her friends (and Harvey’s Bristol Cream) Peggy calls out
ageism and ultimately reassures us that age is no barrier to having fun, trying
new things or even falling in love. She discovers that there is nothing
shameful about ageing; that old age is a privilege, even something to be proud
of. What’s more, studies from around the world have shown that having a
positive outlook on ageing can halve a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s
disease. And when it comes to attitudes about old age, optimists tend to live
longer than pessimists. Ironically, worrying about ageing can actually make us
single or otherwise, it’s time for us to put on our big-girl pants (the kind
that come in packs of three) and embrace ageing in all its glory. Gracefully or
disgracefully, in tummy-control briefs or a G-string, it’s a woman’s choice as
to how she ages. As I hope Peggy, Angie and the other residents of Jacaranda Retirement Village demonstrate,
getting older is rather like the weather: it can be forecasted but not
controlled. When it comes to old age, it’s best to be prepared and carry an
umbrella, but go ahead with the picnic regardless.
The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retiremnet Village is availabe to order now.