Sex & 60+

Sex & 60+

The Star Online CULTURE CUL DE SAC

By JACQUELINE PEREIRA

BRITISH actress Dame Helen Mirren held her nation enthralled for a week in July the day after a picture of her, clad in a red bikini while on holiday, was splashed across national newspapers.

Naturally, this sparked a debate — on the merits of women of a certain age blatantly breaking the rules governing what’s “sexy”. At the centre of this deliberation was the age of the award-winning actress.

She was a week shy of her 63rd birthday when the photograph was — unwittingly — snapped. And audaciously, thought some, she seemed to be having the time of her life, in a revealing two-piece swimsuit that offered plenty of fodder to forage over.

Mirren looked hot in the photograph, completely devoid of the crippling body consciousness that assails women and holds them hostage as they embark on a beach holiday.

Of course, public commentators differed in their opinions. Should a woman of her age so wantonly show off her body? Yet others crowed about her breaking of age barriers so unrestrainedly and insouciantly.

Women writers fell over themselves in their haste to celebrate this female icon — unstintingly respected for her intellect and talent — who now in a simple pose had exposed a whole other side to her character.

A female columnist exulted in Mirren’s elan as a triumphant assertion of easy, carefree femininity, while elatedly trumpeting that the Mirren photograph had furthered feminism by re-defining women’s possibilities and smashing societal ceilings.

Another female writer credits the forthright actress with “challenging the misogynistic message of a youth-obsessed culture,” while confidently roaming over rocks by a beach. All with a natural carelessness: sea-whipped hair, makeup-free face and imperfect body, but nevertheless a great one for her age.

The bikini was named after Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, an atomic bomb testing site.

But Mirren’s siren-red bikini is more than a two-piece swimsuit — it is a revolution. Comments on Dame Helen’s “enviable curves and flat stomach” were repeated mantra-like in the days that followed the first picture.

One news report claimed that the bikini, tracked down to France, had been sold out across that country.

A few detractors did deride her: suggesting her publicists had staged the picture, insinuating cosmetic surgery and most pointedly mentioning that she’d never had children.

But it took a male columnist to clearly put it in perspective. He proclaimed, on behalf of his gender, that men have been pondering over just one simple question: “Is she really desirable at 62?” And most answered with a resounding “Yes”.

He proceeded to list other women in her age group and above, whom he and other men find desirable.

At the same time, he defended his stance, (in case women turn on him) by stating that women also lust after many male actors long past their retirement age.

We can’t deny that men and women view a bikini differently, along with the woman who wears that bikini.

Men ogle, admire and drool over the body that fills a skimpy bikini to perfection. As long as the woman in question looks delectable, men are not attuned to the details exposed on the body.

By contrast, women pay as much attention to the parts of the body uncovered by the bathing suit. Females scrutinise every curve, every muscle, every ripple on the skin. While most go green with envy at the sight of a taut body encased in the costume (that usually does not fulfil its primary duty of aiding swimming) women secretly admire another female form in a bikini.

So what does a bikini really declare about the woman wearing it?

That she takes pride in a trim physique. That she is bold and unafraid to step out and show off her body.

That she is at ease in her own skin and is free of mind. That she wants to feel the sun on her skin, unrestrainedly.

That she is confident, comfortable and contented — especially when she is over 60.

Drawings of bikini-like suits have been found on wall paintings dating back to 1600BCE and yet it was only in 1946 that the bikini as we know it was re-invented by two Frenchmen, Jacques Heim and Louis Reard.

For decades after that, this eloquent two-piece would hold its own among women’s garments, never going out of fashion.

Forget masculine suits and shoulder pads, this powerful garment — when worn well — speaks volumes without a word being uttered. And it does wonders for a woman’s ego at any age.

People, places and perceptions inspire writer Jacqueline Pereira. In this column, she rummages through cultural differences and revels in discovering similarities.

Helen Mirren looks pretty good for a 60- something but … SEXY? -REUTERS

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