A few months ago I joined a large facebook group claiming to be anti-ageist and empowering women as they get older. On the surface it looked great and very supportive, so I posted an open invite to the members to join our Ageism Is Never In Style movement (note: I was not publicising / advertising our boutique). But as soon as I did this, the mood changed. First I was 'ratted' out for posting something without the admin's consent (I did not realise this was the rule given it seemed to be a group about sharing stories and experiences) and then, once I had asked permission, the admin rejected my post.
When I asked the why this was the case, the admin said she disagreed with our values. In her opinion, women shouldn't care about looking stylish, glamourous or sexy as they get older; they should age gracefully, going naturally grey and dressing in a timelessly classic way.
Well I can safely say that Ageism Is Never In Style and the-Bias-Cut.com isn't for her. And even less so is this article. Because today we're talking sex [cue gasp].
Now, as a fashion brand, you may wonder why I've decided to discuss sex. Well, a couple of months ago, I was approached by Sylk, a brand that creates natural intimate lubricant, who were keen to collaborate. Sylk is a small, family company, who champion the inclusive, sex-positive conversations surrounding vaginal dryness for women over 40.
As I do with all our collaborations, I considered the brand carefully, making sure their values match our own. And whilst prima facie one might argue fashion and lubricants don't go hand in hand, I concluded they actually do.
A common ageist stereotype is that older people don't have sex. Many times I've heard younger people both in person or on TV patronisingly exclaim 'good for them!' when an older couple reveal that they're intimate. Along with all other ageist attitudes, it's about time this stopped.
Moreover, sex affects the way you feel about yourself, in the same way that clothes do. And being in touch with your natural sexuality encourages you to exude confidence and even dress in a certain way. I'm not necessarily suggesting you should dress like you belong on a street corner, but every woman should feel she can look sexy whatever her age, in whatever form that might be.
Therefore, sex and clothes are somewhat interlinked. And because I believe ending ageism requires us to engage in conversation regarding every aspect of ageing - including those that may make some of us feel a little more uncomfortable - I felt it important to collaborate with Sylk and share their message.
What's more, like us, they value authenticity and integrity, and are committed to their cause. They launched the Sylk Bursary in conjunction with The UK Menopause Group to fund educational initiatives for nurses, and are soon to partner with charity The Eve Appeal, where they will be donating 7p from every pack sold to help fund research into the causes of genealogical cancer.
So I sat down with director, Nicky Gaylor, to chat about women's health, style, smashing the taboos surrounding menopause and vaginal dryness, and ending ageism as a whole.
Hi Nicky, it's lovely to speak with you. First, for those who don't know Sylk, what is the story behind the brand?
My parents discovered Sylk in the 1990's when my Dad was working in New Zealand. His background is in the pharma industry and he recogninzed that this lovely, natural lubricant was unique and there was nothing like it back home in the UK. He became the UK distributor and started to sell it via mail order. My Dad worked really hard at driving awareness of Sylk amongst health professionals, particularly those looking after women. Backed up by scores of testimonies from relevant health bodies, hospitals and consultants, in 1997 he successfully applied for Sylk to go on prescription and the rest is history. From there we were able to sell it over the counter to wholesalers supplying pharmacies throughout UK and the business began to really grow.
That's wonderful, and a true testament to hard work. What was it like taking over from your parents after their retirement? Did their life experiences help inform your understanding of menopause, and the issues relating to it?
I had been working with my Dad on Sylk for a number of years before he retired so it was a very gradual process and he was around in the background for many years after offering advice and guidance. As a family, we are very open about talking in general terms about menopause and vaginal dryness but I don't remember ever talking to my Mum about her own experience. I was away at university around that time and then lived in London for many years working in advertising. I've always been interested in women's health but it's only at the age of 45 that I am beginning to understand the impact menopause and related symptoms can have on a woman's health and wellbeing.
Yes, most women don't engage with the conversation surrounding menopause until they are due to go through it. At 26, none of my female peers discuss it, whereas menstruation is becoming more accepted and talked about. Why do you think menopause and vaginal dryness are still considered more taboo?
I think a lot is changing. I think conversations around menopause are starting to open up, largely driven by celebrities like Meg Matthews and Andrea Mclean being so open and honest about their own experiences. However, vaginal dryness is still very much a taboo subject and I think that has a lot to do with the fact we just don't like talking about our intimate parts. As we are forecast to all spend around 1/3 of our life post menopausal and vaginal dryness is the one symptom that won't go away, we need to make sure we are informed and aware of what we can do to ensure our vagina's stay in good working order so we can enjoy a healthy sex life for as long as possible!
So how do you think women can best prepare themselves for the changes menopause will bring?
Be informed! Don't assume 'you're too young'. Hormonal fluctuations can start when you are in your late 30's/early 40's and your periods may still be regular. This can actually be when symptoms are worse. Forget the hot flush and night sweats. There are 32 different symptoms and everyone is different. You may have increased anxiety, brain fog, low libido, low mood, vaginal dryness, dry eyes, thinning hair to name a few. Even if you don't have any symptoms, your early 40's is a good time to take stock of your lifestyle and implement changes so that you are ready to embrace the menopausal years. Exercise, healthy eating, giving up smoking, cutting down on alcohol and caffeine will all help.
That's really helpful to know. There are also lots of misconceptions about post menopause. One I hear regularly is that all the symptoms of menopause will disappear. What are some of the biggest ones?
I think the biggest is that vaginal dryness will just end. It doesn't. However, using lubricants like Sylk can really help make things more comfortable.
Now let's talk style. There have been debates amongst women of all ages regarding how much an 'older' women should embrace and celebrate her sexuality through style. On pages and groups on Facebook I regularly see women criticise their peers for showing too much skin etc. They say a woman should cover up, not care about looking sexy, and just focus on dressing classy and elegant as they age. What are your thoughts on this?
I think women should dress to please themselves. If they feel good in what they are wearing, then that is fine! I think sometimes you have to be mindful of the situation you are in or 'dress code' but life is too short to worry about showing a bit too much skin!
Agreed! I also find it interesting that there is a big disparity amongst 40+ women - some are open and rejecting out-dated, stereotypical attitudes towards women of their age, whilst others are still very conservative and don't want to engage with discussing sexuality. Why do you think this is?
I think it has a lot to do with upbringing, the social circles people move in and how close they are to London or other big cities.
Yes I was also agree with you there. Although now hopefully with the internet and social networks more and more women will feel they can be more open, regardless of their background.
How we feel about our bodies physically can really impact the way we dress and want to appear. For women who still want to feel and look sexy, but are struggling due to issues such a vaginal dryness or menopause, what do you recommend?
First of all, don't ignore it. It will just get worse. Try a lubricant like Sylk which you can buy in Boots for less than £10. You'll only need a few drops and I think you'll be surprised by how nice it feels. Really slippery but still really natural. If you still feel uncomfortable, then you may need to ask your GP to prescribe some topical oestrogen. You can still use Sylk to top up for love-making.
Finally, what does ending ageism in Fashion, and society generally, mean to you?
I think it's about celebrating the individual and dressing to please yourself. We shouldn't be putting limits on what we should wear e.g. short skirt, high heels. If it makes us feel good and puts a smile on our face, then we should wear it.
Well it sound like we're on the same page. Thank you Nicky!