Why I'm finally ready to wear a bikini at 53: Inspired by 59-year-old Marie Helvin, LIZ JONES sheds her insecurities and her sarong – without the aid of an airbrush
09:25 GMT, 5 July 2012
Hand on heart (and it’s quite easy to find my heart as I have no bust at all), I have never paraded around in a bikini.
OK, I bought a pink Accessorize string bikini for a mini-break in Cap D’Antibes last month, but I wore a tracksuit until the moment I lay back on a sun-lounger and didn’t sit up in my two-piece, let alone walk around in it, to spare members of the public a view of my sagging, cellulite-riddled, 53-year-old rear.
So why do I, someone who has never been content with her body, now find myself posing in a bikini for a Daily Mail photographer
Look, no airbrush! Liz Jones, left, in the Isme bikini modelled by Marie Helvin, right, last week – and neither women benefited from retouching or Photoshop of any sort
And not just any bikini, but the one worn for a modelling assignment last week by 1970s supermodel Marie Helvin who, despite being almost 60, is still a long-limbed, bronzed goddess. Worse, I have agreed for the photos to be published entirely unadulterated and unairbrushed.
But this experiment is not just about age and that old chestnut: can you wear a bikini if you’re over 50 (Actually, my buttocks do resemble an old, peeled chestnut — white, with rivulets.) It’s also about being happy in your own skin, which I have never been.
As a teenager I wore a thick towelling top and jeans on the beach. In my 20s and 30s I hid behind kaftans, wraps, windbreakers and trees.
Despite reading all those summer magazine features promising to reveal how to get that ‘beach-ready bikini body’, mine has never been ready. It has always been too hairy, too fat or too thin, too saggy, too covered in moles, too white and too dachshund-like in its proportions to be allowed to see UV light.
Through the decades, I began, conveniently, to view being covered up as some sort of feminist statement. So ashamed have I always been of my body — add terrible scars from a breast reduction, aged 30, to my earlier litany — that even my husband never saw me naked.
So ashamed have I always been of my body, that even my husband never saw me naked
My current boyfriend, too, knows not to ask me to remove my non-see-through white T-shirt come bedtime. My body is not to be flaunted and enjoyed, it is to be covered up and punished.
I think the body I most looked up to in the 1970s and beyond, the body I wanted to possess, was that belonging to the aforementioned half-Japanese, half-American supermodel with the heart-shaped face and mane of jet-black hair.
To me, Marie Helvin was always far
more beautiful than her contemporary Jerry Hall, who seemed too blonde
and too equine to emulate.
remember a photo of Marie on the cover of Vogue in May 1976. She was
wearing a red bikini and a gold necklace. Her hair was scraped back,
revealing those dark eyes and cheekbones like tent poles. I remember
thinking: ‘Well, if I can’t look like that, I don’t want anyone to see
me at all.’
Fast-forward 36 years and there is Marie again, looking drop-dead gorgeous in a bikini.
Brave: As Marie's picture was not airbrushed when it was first published, neither was Liz's when she replicated the pose, left
When I saw the photographs of her modelling the new range of swimwear by Isme, the fashion brand for older and bigger women, I was again amazed and jealous. She looks, if possible, even more beautiful than she did in her heyday: less severe, softer somehow.
And so I call her up and ask my idol whether she was nervous about taking on the assignment, given that model years are like dog years — at 40 you are treated like a veritable geriatric.
‘I was hesitant at first,’ she says. ‘The last time I modelled a bikini was ten years ago, to celebrate my 50th and because I was talking about my exercise and beauty tips.’
Has she always loved her body ‘I like my body, I always have,’ she admits. ‘I have flaws, of course: mine is my flat bottom. But why worry about it’
Cover girl: Marie is no stranger to posing in a bikini having done so since her youth
Does she still work hard to look like
she does Marie admits: ‘I’m very disciplined, I always have been. I go
to the gym four times a week, having leapt out of bed at 5.15am. I even
go to the gym on holiday. I call ahead and check what equipment they
neither Marie nor I have had children.
For my part, all I do these days
is walk my dogs and ride my horse, feeling badly let down by the fact
that 30 years of aerobics never gave me a flat tum.
She says she also stopped drinking five months ago — champagne is notorious for causing cellulite.
When I ask how her body has changed since the height of her career in the 1970s, she says: ‘I weighed 7st 2lb then, with not an inch of fat on my body. I’m 8st 5lb now. My bust is a little bigger, too.’
The only regret Marie has from wearing a bikini on so many modelling assignments is the amount of sun damage her skin has suffered — Vogue would always put her out to fry in the sun, covered only in baby oil.
‘It’s the bane of my life, as when I’m working the make-up artist has to spend more and more time covering up the discolouration,’ she says.
I wonder if growing older is harder when you were once so beautiful. I hope it is. But Marie isn’t playing ball.
‘I don’t think so,’ she says. ‘It’s easier now than ever before with so many great cosmetics and skincare ranges. I have these spider veins on my legs, so I have to cover them with MAC body make-up as I never wear tights. I feel these days I have nothing to prove.’
Those bikini photos certainly support that. But how much of the flat stomach and perky breasts does Marie owe to the Isme bikini Is it flattering enough to be worn by an ordinary fiftysomething
Well, much as I’d like to say: ‘No! Buy a string bikini from Prada!’ I’m afraid it is. The waistband sits on the navel, meaning it holds in a fat tummy. The knickers don’t ride up, so they don’t expose doughy buttocks. The top is sturdy, padded and stays firmly in place. The halterneck gives me wider shoulders which, in turn, slims my waist. Marie agrees: ‘The 1950s style is all about construction. It’s very flattering.’
And while these shots of me, like the ones of Marie on the brand’s website, are not airbrushed (imagine the scandal if they were — Barclays would be pushed off the front pages!), I insisted on a full‑body fake tan beforehand: a girl has her pride.
I’m always amazed by the awful pot
bellies and stubby legs of men on the beach. Why are we women so afraid
to offend, to let it all hang out
So should more older women follow in mine and Marie’s sandy footsteps and dare to bare Well, why not I’m always amazed by the awful pot bellies and stubby legs of men on the beach. Why are we women so afraid to offend, to let it all hang out
We shouldn’t be. A few days before this shoot I went to a fashion show by swimwear designer Nichole de Carle. Because it was not Milan or Paris Fashion Week, the models were necessarily second string. The young girls who walked past my nose had chunky thighs, cellulite, moles and thread veins.
Don’t get me wrong, they were stunning (and all are new faces at Storm, the agency that gave us Kate Moss), but they were not examples of the teeny-tiny perfection we see in high fashion, the less than 0.001 per cent of the population.
I thought, while watching this swimwear fashion show, that if models had been less than perfect when I was growing up in the 1970s, then perhaps I would have stripped off sooner. I’d have swum in the surf, frolicked and let a man rub suntan oil on my back.
Growing up, I wanted Helvin’s long, dark limbs so badly I almost died trying (I suffered from anorexia nervosa). Because I didn’t measure up, I covered up. What a waste of a life.
But now, well, Marie Helvin, I salute you for not just for your beauty, but because you have finally inspired me to disrobe.
THE BEST BIKINIS FOR OLDER WOMEN
Huit Florida doll purple top, 41, and draped briefs, 33, asos.com
Loulou floral top, 33, bottoms, 40, swimwear365.co.uk
Striped top, 17,
Floral top, 10, and swim skirt, 9.50 bonmarche.co.uk
Red Magic top, 8, and matching briefs, 5, F&F at tesco.com
Paisley top, 19.50,
briefs, 17.50, M&S