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Helena Schargel, 81, Brazil

A woman with purpose.

Brazilian grandmother, Helena Schargel, has a goal: to allow older women the opportunity to be sexy in their own right. Helena admits to having always been busy, helping around the house from the age of twelve, before becoming involved with a lifelong career in fashion. It is no surprise, that when it came to retirement, she found herself feeling “empty”. An impromptu question at a gathering of over 50 year olds was the catalyst for Helena to launch a new business, and to find a new niche market… Lingerie created for women over 60. Now, four years later, the fashion world is sitting up and taking notice, and older women in the world are stepping out of invisibility and into their own brand of sexiness!

“I feel that today the distance between me and my children is much smaller than what existed between me and my mother”. Helena revealed to So50 that she believes this positive aspect of her relationship with her own children comes from her always having re-invented herself. “I feel like I grew up with my kids”. So turning 50 made no difference – for Helena, the positive change was no change at all! She continued to learn and grow as she’d done her whole life. “My youngest son went on a diving course and I went with him. I don’t feel that age is a deterrent”. If anything did change, it was Helena’s “internal security”. It gave her the power of freedom – freedom to do more of what pleased her.

Invisibility is a very real issue for older people, particularly women. Hence, Helena’s mission to change that. Creating beautiful lingerie for women over 60 isn’t just about the physicality; it is even more about the mental and emotional value. Although not as much an issue for Helena, she remembers that it was for her mother. After the children grew up and left home, she remembers her mother stopped wanting anything at all. She “became invisible. She retired from herself”. At that time, a woman over 60 was already considered elderly and of less importance, but now, in her 80s, Helena happily acknowledges, “we live longer and better”. She cleverly comments on the limited representation of older women in the beauty industry, that the market is missing out! “There will be more and more women of this age and we want things, we want to live… In the next ten years this will change”. It is clear from Helena’s success that she is right… She believes that “we only get old if we want to”. Many hesitate to answer the question of what is sexy in the ageing body, but Helena astutely observes that “sexuality is internal and not something to see”.

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Helena’s advice throughout life is both wise and simple… To her 25-year-old self, she would say “do everything exactly the same”, but that you should also be forgiving of yourself and your mistakes. Into the future, Helena’s recipe for growing old happily is to do everything with love and enjoyment. To those struggling with ageing, her advice is priceless… she believes “age is something created to keep time”, “for us to fill in forms: name, age, place of birth”. She would ask “how old do you want to be? That is your age”.

Helena follows her role model, Iris Apfel on Instagram, but is surprised at the demographic of her own followers. “I thought they would be women over 60”. “But no, I’ve seen much younger women follow me”… “people who need a push to get out of their chair and do something”.

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Remembering a poignant moment in her life, Helena tells So50 of the first time she gave a lecture, when a person stood up to say, “I’m 50 years old and I never thought I could do that too”. Helena fondly recalls this realization that she could reinvent herself and inspire others to do the same. This example is the perfect illustration of her answer to the question about the biggest obstacle she faced as an older women, “None. If there was, I didn’t notice and moved on. I think we all have to have a goal, regardless of age”. “The important thing is to age well!”

Follow Helena at @helenaschargel

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