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  1. a few brave male souls have dared to enter into the discussion of how women are coming to terms with the ageing process

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    Women and the Ageing Process

    There aren’t a lot of men in the crowd packing out the banqueting hall of the Guildhall on Saturday afternoon, although a few brave male souls have dared to enter into the discussion of how women are coming to terms with the ageing process. This talk isn’t for the faint-hearted or coy. This is about women and sex and beauty and age and sexism, and why the older generation should go out not with a whimper, but with a bang (apologies to T. S. Eliot).

    Ageing may be inevitable, but attitudes towards the process are no longer set in stone. You don’t have to fade away into the background past 60, grey-haired, twin-setted, be-slippered and demure.

    You may still have to decide between your face or your derrière (only one will retain any youthful plumpness after forty); the whole business of sex might resemble a military campaign (the declaration of intent, the summoning of the troops, the preparation of the terrain) more than a joyful expression of spontaneous, mutual lust; and when no longer able to pass for ‘young’, you’ll have to decide whether to opt for looking ‘old’ or ‘done’.

    But at least now it’s all talked about openly, debated in the media, both in the printed mainstream and by vloggers, You-Tubers and online ‘real’ columnists. We don’t have to consume an exclusive diet of models beautified and photo-shopped to inform us how to look, produced by a industry that is trying to make us feel un-valued for their own commercial interests.  Subjects previously off the agenda are the stuff of frank discussion: the menopause; the sexploits of seniors; vaginal dryness; to Botox or not to Botox.

    You can take your cue from fiction – author Maeve Haran’s latest novel, What Became of you, my love? explores what it’s like to be 60 and still feel 19.  Or equip yourself with the straight-talking companion, Pretty Honest, penned by journalist and beauty columnist Sali Hughes. It’s an encyclopaedic tome covering  a myriad issues, from where to buy a good wig following chemotherapy to what make-up to pack for the morning after the night before.  And then there are the short stories of Arlene Heyman,the New York-based psychiatrist and debut author, deliciously entitled Scary Old Sex. In the chair, broadcaster and author of Stop the Clocks Joan Bakewell, describes them as “eye-wateringly explicit”, to the evident delight of the audience.

    Hughes argues that the conflation of beauty – as in healthy vanity – and the beauty industry, which preys on our neuroses, is self-destructive. All the panelists lament the tendency of women to fall into mascochistic behaviour: from young girls starving themselves, to older women equating the loss of their youthful looks with the loss of self.

    As Bakewell says, although getting old is indeed about loss, “there is also a great deal of gain. The falling away of rivalries, jealousies and ambition.” While Haran points out that, “getting older brings a sense of achievement.” But perhaps the most important cry to arms comes from an audience member in the Q&A at the end of the talk: “The most important thing is to remember to have fun!” she says, and the audience bursts into spontaneous applause.

    Claudia Pugh-Thomas

    The 21st Independent Bath Literature Festival continues until Sunday 6 March view the full programme here
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