What does your age mean to you? Is it a mere numeral, a yearly reminder of the passage of time, or a guide to how well you ought⁠ to live your life? In our ‘Age Is Just A Number’ feature, Her World speaks to Singapore women from their⁠ 20s to 80s, and delves into how they feel about age and ageing.⁠

These are their stories.⁠

Constance Singam, Author & Civil Society Activist, 86⁠

The former president of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) recently wrote and illustrated three children’s books, and also published Where I Was: A Memoir About Forgetting and Remembering, an update of her 2013 memoir. She blogs at Constancesingamblog.wordpress.com on a vast range of topics, from activism to bird watching, and, yes, ageing.

“Ageing is my favourite topic – it’s my life, isn’t it? Most of the time, I have to remind myself that I’m 86. I only realise it when I’m in front of a mirror. I am old – I can’t escape that reality. Age in terms of the numbers doesn’t mean much. It’s how it affects your health, your ability to move around, your functioning as a person. However much you ignore it, it does have an effect on your body, and you learn what you can’t do through experience and pain. Your brain doesn’t think about age, in that sense. It’s the body that tells you. I try not to think about my ageing, because it does bring me down. As you grow older, you ask yourself very existential questions: ‘What’s the purpose of my life?

Most of the time, I have to remind myself that I’m 86. I only realise it when I’m in front of a mirror.

Constance Singham

Why am I here in this world? How do I answer those? And then you worry about illness and what death is like. In fact, I wrote about death and illness in my last birthday blog. These are things you never have time to think about when you’re younger and busy with your life. Now you live each day to the best of your ability, and when worrying thoughts come, you shift your imagination to something more promising and pleasant. I tell young people, the three things you have to do when you’re young are: Start saving, nurture a community of friends, and develop hobbies.

The big worry is that there are lots of single men and women growing old. This generation of women will have worked as the men did, and the women will face the same difficulties retiring, because so much of our life is taken up by work – all you do outside of it is to go home and sleep. That’s why society has to educate young people that there is more to life than just work – you need resources to be able to sustain yourself alone. And nobody talks about it, because what happens today takes up all your time, and there is no time for preparations.

People often ask me how I remain so engaged and young, and I credit ongoing education and the attitude that you can continue learning. I did my first degree when I was 42 and my second degree at 60, and because I had remained active for such a long time, my interests are very wide and I have been able to live a rich life – the brain needs to be challenged and energised. I feel proud that I’m still doing the things that I enjoy doing, and when I remind myself I’m 86, I’m saying it with a lot of pride, due to all the things I have done.

I also have to thank my civil society activism and being in Aware, because through that, I’m constantly in touch with other people and educating myself. It’s energising and inspiring because I’m in the company of diverse people, of different age groups and different ways of thinking. And one of the nicest things about being a civil society activist is that you suspend all differences – nobody treats you like you’re an old lady. Having said that, sometimes I decline engagements or invitations because I think I have to be kind to myself at my age, and that I shouldn’t be too active; that does wear me out. It’s when I’m tired and worn out that I feel my age.

My habit used to be to wake up early in the morning and rush out to work, but now, I wake up and say, ‘What do I have to do this morning? Why should I rush out of bed?’ It took a long time to make that adjustment. Now, I’m quite happy, but even then I am bothered by guilt. Why am I just lying around? It’s a change of attitude that keeps challenging you every day. How do I live my life now? What can I do? I can still read, write, have friends over, and even work on my computer, though it does affect my fingers. I can keep my house clean, but that’s tiring. It’s a question I keep asking myself. One thing I tell people is that, when you go to bed the day before, you must have a plan for what you’ll do the next day. It doesn’t have to be anything major – you can make phone calls, write a blog post, do some baking, fertilise plants – but you must have a purpose, otherwise you’re just lying around.

People often ask me how I remain so engaged and young, and I credit ongoing education and the attitude that you can continue learning.

Constance Singham

I have been fortunate – something to do always turns up. I just conquered one goal. At this point in life, you can’t have long-term goals, and in fact, the easiest way to live at any time in your life – but especially now when I don’t have too much going on and I’m growing old – is to live day by day. There’ll be some days when I don’t have anything happening, but you live each day to the best of your ability, because that’s the only way to live. In every phase of my life, the way I approach living changes. You’re forced to change because you’re meeting new and different challenges. And my current challenge is figuring out how to live my life now, and be comfortable, happy, and at peace with myself.”

PHOTOGRAPHY Veronica Tay
CREATIVE DIRECTION Windy Aulia & Elizabeth Lee
ART DIRECTION Ray Ticsay & Adeline Eng
HAIR Fadli using Keune & Aung using Revlon Professional Singapore & Gama Professional Singapore
MAKEUP Nikki Fu using Dior Beauty & Lolent Lee using Chanel Beauty