Turning 50 can provoke all sorts of responses – maybe finally getting a sports car, having a crack at that novel, racing into the gym to re-version yourself. But taking off your clothes and being photographed for the cover of one Australia’s biggest-selling magazines is not one most of us would consider.
That’s what Deborah Hutton did in January. I’m sitting having coffee with Hutton in her stylish Sydney house overlooking the ocean, so I ask her why.
“It was a big moment for me, to do it nude,” she says. “I’ve gotta tell you, I didn’t do it lightly. I did it as a celebration of turning 50 and feeling good about myself. It was confrontational to a lot of women.” Many approached her to say how much they admired her decision. “They say, ‘Well done you, because I found it inspirational’.
“I loved turning 40 and I loved my 40s. When I got to 48, 49, and all my friends were going through the same thing, (there was) this kind of dread to it. And as I got into my 49th year I really started to reflect on how lucky I was to still be here. I’ve lost two brothers, I’ve lost a lot of friends. I’m healthy and I don’t know what we’re so scared about. It’s simply a date, another day.
“I totally embrace life. You live in the moment when you get to this point of your life and you don’t take anything for granted. Life teaches you that, with all the highs and lows, you have to get to this point.”
Amid the praise for the cover, some media commentary raised concerns that a photograph meant to be “real” underwent some minor Photoshopping.
“One of the conditions of me agreeing to do the body shoot was that it had to have minimal Photoshopping,” Hutton says. “I was insistent that no wrinkles were removed and my body shape was unchanged.
“What I did do was to ask to have some major sun damage (and) freckles removed. For some reason or another this created a major media debate.”
Hutton is about to launch a new website – Balance by Deborah Hutton – which focuses on the needs and desires of women over 40. So it’s pertinent to be discussing how Hutton conceptualises herself aged 50.
“There’s a freedom about turning 50,” she says. “I loved turning 40 but I reckon turning 50 just smashes it. There’s an acceptance of who you are and you make no apologies about that: that’s who I am, so take it or leave it. I always had great insecurities about my body for many years, even through (the) modelling years. I just hated it. I was not a model’s model. Modelling really started that insecurity, because when you’re put up against other Amazonian women – I’m not that tall, I’m not that slim, I’ve always been this way – in an industry where they’re all tall and slim and gorgeous it works on that insecurity.
“I’ve made the best of what I’ve got. I know how to hide things, work on the best and hide the worst.
“In my 20s I wouldn’t go to the beach. I just didn’t want to be seen in a bikini. I’d never get out of a pool without grabbing a sarong and putting it around me. I spent many years doing that – most of my life.
“In my 40s a friend of mine said, ‘I don’t know why you’ve got such a hang-up because in 10 years’ time you’ll wish you had the body you have now’. And it was such a moment for me; it was so true.”
“You get to the point where you accept yourself for who you are. You can’t be so critical, and I wasted all those years being so negative. You say, ‘Here I am with all my lumps and bumps and I’m excited to be turning 50’ and I’m waving the flag and saying, ‘You know what? It’s a great place to be because we are here and we’ve got a lot to celebrate’. People are living to a greater age. My mother is 75 and she’s amazing – so independent. She travels the world; she’s involved. She’s not old at 75. Fifty has a great youthfulness about it. And we don’t give up, we don’t sit back on our laurels and go, ‘Thank god, we can retire at 55’.”
With her easy charm, natural style and capacity for language it’s no accident that Hutton has made a name for herself as an ambassador. For years she served as the national ambassador for the Myer Grace Brothers department store group. For 12 years she presented Qantas’ in-flight video guide seen by a million passengers a month worldwide.
She also hosted several television shows and has been an editor with The Australian Women’s Weekly. For 11 years she formed a famous power couple with Sydney promoter Harry M. Miller, once her manager.
Hutton noted after her famous magazine cover: “This whole media explosion … was really interesting for me because it shone the light on how women are so critical of themselves and each other.
“I manage myself. Normally there would be a press release, some sort of barrier between me and the general public. In this instance there wasn’t. It allowed me to engage directly with these women and have my own voice rather than be protected as I have in the past. It was a very empowering time for me because I felt that I liked being here and listening and talking to people.
“I got so many positive comments and letters and emails … and then they started asking questions: ‘How do you do that when you’re 50?’ There was an area I could engage with women, and help them. ‘My daughter’s getting married – what am I going to do, what am I going to wear?’ I felt there was a need to engage on a greater level with women out there.”
Another trigger moment came a year ago when Hutton had a large skin cancer removed from her face. “I changed everything,” she says. “Changed diet, saw different people for advice about how to pull through it and get my health in tip-top shape. I was really engaging with kinesiologists and different doctors and herbalists.”
Everything seemed to point to the need for engagement, for communication, to organise a community of women. The result is Hutton’s digital channel to be launched in October. Balance by Deborah Hutton will feature guidance and advice from coaches and advisers from several fields. There will be discussions – led by Hutton – based on several pillars including financial, emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual, environmental and occupational.
“It’s building a digital platform about empowering women around the pursuit of finding some balance in their life,” she says. “As you get older, things change,” she says of the need for exercise guidance, for instance. “You start putting on weight. ‘Maybe I need a naturopath’ (or) ‘I’m going into menopause, how do we deal with that?’.”
The spiritual guidance will help in “trying to feel like you belong, feeling engaged with the community”. The financial element will include advice on investments and superannuation. The social side will touch on personal connections and women exchanging stories.
Hutton says her team will include Olympic beach volleyballer Nat Cook, nutritionist Zoe Bingley-Pullin and cultural blogger Melissa Hoyer. Olivia Newton-John has offered her support.
“I’ve been in the industry since I was 16 and there are a lot of people who have grown up with me,” Hutton says. “I felt there was a need to create a platform to bring like-minded women together and help them in different areas of their life. Mia Freedman’s (blog) Mama Mia: What Everyone’s Talking About is targeting yummy mummies around the age of 30. I’m going to target the 40-plus women.”
She says there is a high take-up rate for Facebook in women over 40. “What’s happening with the lives of busy women is that they’re seeing each other a lot less, which is why Facebook is so important … Women need advice in many different areas of their life.”
Hutton left school at 16 to begin her six-year modelling career. “I did the big runner. Moved in with a guy. My poor mother. She was a bit shocked by that. I didn’t even finish my HSC. I was going to be a primary-school teacher and it never eventuated. I just wanted to get out there.
“I didn’t want to be stuck. There was a whole world out there; I just couldn’t wait to get into it. Kind of unusual today when kids are still at home in their mid-20s. The guy I moved in with was the one who got me started in the modelling game. I didn’t leave to be a model. I just thought, ‘Let’s get out there and see what’s going to happen’.”
Does she believe all that rejection models suffer made her stronger? “You end up finding a sense of yourself. When you’re that young you really have no idea who you are. I only really got a sense of who I am in my 30s.
“You do learn about rejection in a pretty tough way. I got sick of it because I started to get to the point where I needed more stimulation and standing in front of a camera wasn’t giving it to me.”
The work she did for Myer Grace Brothers was, she says, “a very long and fruitful association which gave me all the grounding and educated me in the ways of being a public figure. That gave me my biggest break”.
I ask about her domestic scenario. “I’ve got a very special man in my life. It’s exciting. I’ve had amazing relationships in my life. Harry would be the biggest influence on my life.”
She reflects on her time with Harry M. Miller. “It was an interesting relationship. He was managing me and it started out as a mentoring thing and it just sort of grew into having a relationship. What an extraordinary relationship we had, and a time we had, because he’s just an amazing man who did some amazing things. I had a great journey with him.”
Hutton lives alone in this beautiful home, which reflects its owner’s passion for design.
“I’m a very independent person. I have lived by myself for a long time. Billy and I, my little dog, we’re in a good space. Who knows what’s going to happen in the future?
“I have friends who haven’t been dating for a long time and they think it’s all too hard. I think it’s important as you get older to not get too set in your ways. There’s nothing greater than having someone to share with. If you close that off, that’s fine, but I don’t think you can actually experience the true joy of life.
“I have two beautiful nephews, Jack and Josh. They’re divine. I have a great godson who’s 18. He and I get along famously. I basically see myself as Aunty Mame. I have never been a parent. With Harry’s kids I was their mate. I love kids. I always thought I was going to have them but it never quite eventuated.”
How does she reflect on that? “I’m OK. I have to say for a number of years I wasn’t. I felt regret around that.” Did that stop? “It did, because my life really filled out in other directions. I make the most of my life now. I can travel and do things and I have a certain freedom that others don’t.
“It makes me quite sad, these friends of mine who are really struggling with having children. I think it’s very difficult for a lot of women, a lot of families, the time restraints, and everything is taken off you. Mothers are the last on the list. I see it and I think it’s really tough for some (working women).”
Hutton’s energy and positive outlook is infectious. She’s fit, fabulous and 50, and in a great place. She leaves me with this philosophy: “Let’s celebrate that we’re still here and we’re healthy and still looking good and doing what we want to do. Every day is a bonus. My motto is, ‘Live each day as if it’s going to be your last because one day you’re going to be right’.”
Watch » Balance by Deborah Hutton will launch in October. » www.bbdh.com.au
Survey Link » Deborah Hutton is asking women for their thoughts on the important areas to help create balance in their lives.