Sex is still good and life full for Joan at 80
AGEING is a question of attitude, according to octogenarian Joan McCarthy.
And Joan's attitude is that she may be getting "older", but that doesn't mean she has to "be old".
Joan contacted Central Coast Seniors asking why older people, particularly over-70s, had virtually disappeared from life as far as large sections of the media were concerned.
Joan and longtime friend Maureen Smith have been laying bare myths about older women since their 60s, surveying 200 women to pen their first book, Sixty, Strong and Sexy, followed by Glimpses into the Lives of Positively Ageing Women, when they were in their 70s.
Joan believes we need to accept our ageing bodies as something beautiful, rather than seeing wrinkles as ugly and a sign of having passed our use by date.
"Why does society tell us we have to get rid of our wrinkles, have plastic surgery or botox or we aren't appealing; aren't worth it?" she asked.
"I don't feel like the wrinkled face I see in the mirror, but it's about learning to love that face - that those wrinkles are there because of all the wonderful experiences I have had."
And having dressed as Wonder Woman's Great Grandmother for her 80th birthday, complete with customised armour, Joan has proven her point by working as a life artist model - that's right, the ones who pose in the nude.
"I've never had so many amazing compliments in my life!" Joan said.
It's not that Joan has miraculously escaped all the side-effects of ageing or self-doubts.
On the contrary, she felt turning 80 was a real turning point, just as 25 and 50 had been, to work out "where I was meant to be going in this new era of my life".
After a retreat in Maui, she has a new mantra: "if it's not fun, don't do it; and if you must do it, make it fun!"
"I want to be vibrant right up to the end and go out saying ... what a ride!" Joan said.
For her, that means eating well - she is vegetarian, and this year gave up dairy (but not ice cream, which she loves) - moving and being active through simply walking or doing yoga or other exercise, and always questioning and learning.
Taking pleasure in life means enjoying her sexuality too, and questioning why this is such a misunderstood and taboo subject for older people.
"We continue to be sexual beings all our lives," she said, adding that for herself and many friends, sex had "never been better".
It is not that Joan is in denial about being in the final years of her life - on the contrary, she has actively researched and organised her own funeral, so her farewell will be exactly what she wants.
She also acknowledges that her hips have deteriorated so she can no longer teach belly dancing, she has arthritis pain (something, she points out you can get at any age), and she had to have cataracts removed, but she's not about to let any of that stop her.
"No matter what happens in life, you have to keep adjusting and asking 'how am I going to cope with that and go on and be as strong and healthy as I can be'," she said.
She is currently researching the notion of whether there is a Blue Zone - five of which have been identified worldwide as home to some of the oldest and healthiest people in the world - around West Lake Macquarie where she lives.
She is also challenging friends to do 10 things a day, based around the characteristics identified in Blue Zone communities, to improve their wellbeing.
1. Eat good food; 2. Do moderate exercise; 3. Enjoy music; 4. Enjoy good company; 5. Soak up the beauty around you; 6. Read a book; 7. Meditate; 8. Breathe slowly and de-stress; 9. Check negative thoughts and replace them with positives; 10. List 10 things you are grateful for.
And one final tip ... because we too often take things for granted, Joan suggests trying to view the world with the eyes of a child, who can see something new and full of joy in a simple weed.
Joan's books are available via the website, go to marjobooks.com.au.