Lisa Ray is living her best life at 51 and challenging what is means to grow older
Actor and author Lisa Ray, age 51 for The Word. Magazine’s ‘The Ageless Series’
The Word.: How do the media and society perceive a woman over 50?
Lisa Ray: “While I think it is evolving, the media, in general, has put women above a certain age into a closet, of sorts. This includes brands,the kind of headlines the media often creates, or even how actresses who are considered ‘over the hill’… Unfortunately, the populace, at large, often takes these cues from the media, but what’s interesting is that we are seeing a new age of social media, where we can actually change the narrative. We possess the power, as individuals and as a collective, to change how we want to be perceived. And I find that amazing! I now see so many incredible, powerful women, who are 50 and above, starting to rewrite the story.”
TW: How old are you and how old do you feel?
LR: “How old do I look? (I say it sarcastically, though). I am 51, and I feel ageless. I definitely don’t wake up and think, ‘Oh, I am 51!’. Sometimes, my neck or upper back might feel like I am 51, I won’t lie, but I take it with a smile because every age comes with its challenges…I just go and invest in a nice massage or do some yoga. This is literally the single best decade, so far, that I am living through.”
TW: What is the best thing about growing older?
LR: “The best thing about growing older is this sense of personal liberation—a liberation from self-imposed rules, from your own inner critic, and from a lot of the petty concerns that can consume you when you are much younger. Also, there is a liberation from other’s opinions, that you cut right out.”
TW: Do you think the world is doing enough to celebrate women above a certain age?
LR: “I definitely don’t think the world does enough to celebrate women above a certain age. Let’s look at aging. I once heard someone rephrase ‘aging’ as ‘living’, and I agree with that. Whether we are 20, 30, 40, or 50, we are all in the process of aging/living, but the fact is, we are simply living. Traditionally, in older communities or even in previous decades, our older generations were celebrated. Why? Because of the wisdom and traditions that they would pass on, because there is incredible magic to aging. A community is actually organised around its elders and we, somehow, have lost that connection in the modern age. Of course, there are certain tools about the modern age that are obviously really beneficial to our lives, but we need to mix that with traditional wisdom. So to answer this question, I don’t think the world is doing enough not only to celebrate older women, but also our elders and aging overall.”
TW: Do you think ageism affects women more than men?
LR: “I think anyone who says ageism doesn’t affect women more than men is lying or doesn’t know what they are saying. We still live in a society that largely sees women through a patriarchal lens, and the concomitant gender inequalities. And while we are discussing this openly, which is a very positive step, ageism hits women very, very harshly, no matter who you are or what your background is.
On a personal level, because I have made a living from being in front of the camera, ageism has hit me even more. However, I take that as a wonderful challenge and am stepping into myself more fully and embracing all the different aspects of my personality. And as a result, I am being able to present that to my audience whereas earlier, I was only judged through my looks. So, in a way, ageism has actually worked in my favour.”
TW: How has your perception of beauty changed over the years?
LR: “My perception of beauty has certainly evolved from ’80s leg warmers to ’90s hair, because I have lived through those decades [laughs]. But seriously, my perception of beauty has not evolved that much and I’ll tell you why—while there has been a public persona of myself, internally, I have always embraced more natural beauty. When I wasn’t appearing in front of the camera, I’d never wear make-up or dress up; I’d always dress down.
I have always embraced imperfections, I enjoy the wabi-sabi of the human body. Over time, I have changed my perspective on the human body…I mean, I can’t help it, gravity just takes over and I have to make friends with my new body and accept the fact that I am never going to be the same shape I was when I was 16, or 20, or 30, even. And that’s okay.
When I was younger, fitness was all about the external outcome of doing really rigorous fitness routines. I also struggled with an eating disorder when I was younger, I had dysmorphia and I had a really poor relationship with my body and food. Now, after many years, I have overcome that. What’s interesting is that now when I go to the gym, I really enjoy it because it’s not really about the final outcome. I want to feel strong and have fun! I moan and scream in the gym, I have no filters, whatsoever. I go in there and, depending on my mood, I might wear something that’s super tight and you’ll see a couple of rolls of fat, and I am cool with that. I consider it kind of revolutionary. Now, fitness, health, and wellness have become an inside job for me.”
TW: What does timeless mean to you?
LR: “For me, timeless is expressed in spiritual ways. I think finding that light within us, one that will never go out, is timeless.”
TW: Do you love yourself more now than what you did a few decades ago?
LR: “I definitely love myself a lot more now, definitely more than my 20s. In my 20s, I was a mess but, I think, that’s what your 20s are for, and we should be gentle with ourselves. There are different phases of life, and we have to honour them. Your 20s and 30s are often about self-exploration. Now, it’s a lot more about a kind of acceptance, which doesn’t mean that I don’t still have ambition and fire within me… There are things I want to explore within myself and professionally, but along with it, acceptance leads to peace very quickly. I think being able to embrace the world and approach it from a place of personal peace has changed my entire experience of pretty much everything.”
TW: How do you define your personal style?
LR: “My personal style is cool but not necessarily ‘me’. I started out as a model so I’ve been a ‘chameleon’, of sorts, and it’s very easy for me to morph into different personas. While I still enjoy doing that very much, I now have a very strong centre and a very strong sense of self—which I didn’t when I was younger.
I find that my sense of style is appropriate to the occasion. Sometimes, of course, I feel like getting glammed up, but I love athleisure because I am a mom of five-year-old twins, so hello, I have to keep it real. I love experimenting a lot more and really not give a flying hoot about what anyone thinks.
Earlier, I was a lot more concerned about the rules and what people thought. I love fashion, but I think it should be playful, informal, and fun. As soon as we get into the territory of policing people, or becoming the fashion police, it gets weirdly uncomfortable and judgemental.”
TW: Who is your style icon?
LR: “My mom was my very first style icon. I have such vivid memories of sitting and watching her just brush her hair…that’s such a seminal memory for a lot of girls who look up to their moms and watch them apply make-up, brush their hair, or dress up. It’s very foundational to who we are, as women.
Today, I can say that I have a vast array of style icons from [author] Arundhati Roy, who is so resolutely herself, to [poet and dancer] Tishani Doshi, who I have the privilege of calling a friend. All of them have or are entering their wisdom years, and they’re truly inspiring.”
TW: What brings you joy?
LR: “Everything and any little thing brings me joy. What’s interesting is that as you grow older, you no longer look for those ‘big moments’, the big adrenaline or dopamine rush. And that’s great, though I do think you have to go through that phase. For me, it’s really the everyday, simple moments.
Being an ‘older’ mom, I have been defined as a ‘geriatric mom’. But I think it is all the more wonderful because I have a lot more and a larger bandwidth to spend with my kids. I probably wouldn’t have had that bandwidth when I was younger because I was still exploring myself. So, obviously, my kids give me a lot of joy, but it’s the little things.”
TW: What makes you feel sexy?
LR: “A good night’s sleep. Let’s just put that out there—sleep is essential! And a handful of supplements. Maybe a little bit of wine, great music…you know, the mood has to be right.”
TW: What do you love most about your life?
LR: “I love that I have the privilege to wake up with such gratitude…I’m going to get emotional about it because I am a cancer survivor and there were days I didn’t know whether I would wake up the next morning. At some point, I had to remind myself of it because that was a good 12 years ago and we, as human beings, have a trauma response where we forget the difficult moments.
Sometimes, it’s important to revisit the difficult moments and express gratitude, because all of us have experienced some dark night episode. It’s so important to wake up and be grateful that we have a home to live in, enough food to eat, and are able to share our compassion with the rest of the world.”
TW: What are your ambitions for your future?
LR: “I still have a lot of fire within me. I have done a bit of everything I had set out to do, and at this point, writing is definitely my mission and passion in life. I am working on my next book at the moment. I also co-founded a digital art platform [TheUpsideSpace, in January 2023] and that has been a huge learning curve for me. I want to be able to promote traditional Indian arts in Indian and a new digital avatar.
Continuing to learn, grow, make new friends along the way, and continue being a part of the sisterhood is really important to me, as well. I have a wonderful marriage—we just celebrated our 11th anniversary, touch-wood. That has been wonderful and we have a fantastic relationship. And I know my husband will encourage me to say that my girlfriends are my sisterhood who I turn to, there are issues or conversations that I simply can’t have with my husband, and the other great thing about growing older… I have also understood that there isn’t any one person in the world who’s going fulfil me, whether it’s my husband or my girlfriends. Having your tribe around you becomes very essential as you grow older.”