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5 Women on Aging Well and Living Life Gracefully: Notes from the First Run of Gatherings by Grace

Grace Barbers-Baja aka The Spoiled Mummy recently hosted the first run of Gatherings by Grace, a series of lifestyle events created in collaboration with digital agency and creative studio Game Changer PH. 

Grace Barbers-Baja aka The Spoiled Mummy

“I like the word ‘gatherings’ because I am an entertainer at heart - I love inviting people over to our home for coffee or lunch. I am also a naturally curious person - I love interviewing people no matter what their age is or walk of life they come from,” shared Grace.

Held at the Raffles Hotel in Makati, the event was entitled “Curiosity Conversations on The Secrets of Aging Well and Living Life Gracefully” where 5 women shared their mindset about getting older, their beauty and exercise regimens, and the ways they de-stress.   

From left: restaurateur Happy Ongpauco-Tiu, fashion entrepreneur Joanna Preysler-Francisco, Em Matias-Sulit of Game Changer PH, Grace Barbers-Baja, journalist and broadcaster Karen Davila, and lifestyle writer and producer Cat Juan-Ledesma. 

What is your general mindset when it comes to aging?

Joanna: I just turned 50 back in August. You hear all these platitudes about aging but the truth of the matter is it’s scary to enter a new chapter in your life, especially when it’s a new decade you're entering but I feel better and younger now than I did at 40. A lot of it has to do with the wisdom that comes with aging. You get rid of a lot of non-essentials in your life whether they're things or people that don't 'spark joy'. A lot of it has to do with loving yourself more, being comfortable in your own skin, and having the confidence that if people like you, it's because of you and if people don't like you, it's because of you and that's fine.”

Fashion entrepreneur Joanna Preysler-Francisco

Happy: I'm 44 with 4 kids. Being happy is a choice and it's always my choice to be happy so I don't fear getting older.”

Cat: “I'm turning 40 next year. I'm happy that the title of this talk is aging well and not reversing aging because it's inevitable. I take pride in it - in taking all these little steps to get to this point. For me, living well and aging well is having a fulfilled life, that you found your purpose and you wake up every morning happy knowing the reason why you're here.”

Karen: “I'm 48. Let me start by saying that when I was much younger, my mom told me 'Don't waste so much time on beauty. Make yourself interesting, make yourself smart. Build your personality. Beautiful women are a dime a dozen - and it will go.' I think women have the wrong mindset in wanting to be beautiful. When you are relevant and purposeful, you become beautiful. There's genetic make-up, which you're born with and there's half the part that you have to work with. So that latter part is the part where you eat right, you dress well, you live a positive life. But there is that other part that doesn't get addressed: why is it that when men age, they age like wine but for women, we are taught that youth is our prime jewel. Do I fear aging? No, but I fear being irrelevant. Do I fear being unhealthy? Yes. We all know we're going to die and you want to be able to live your life in the healthiest, best way possible. That's the one that takes a lot of effort.”

Aivee: “I just turned 48. Being beautiful and confident is also about being beautiful inside. A lot of people think that dermatologists are superficial but we also talk about nurturing yourself from the inside and taking care of your body and yourself holistically. I also believe in doing something fulfilling everyday.”

What are your beauty staples and secrets? 

Joanna: “I'm really low maintenance. The best skin care regimen is good sleep. I hydrate, exercise and eat right. On top of that, I use a moisturizer and sunscreen. I pretty much keep a clean face. And lip balm is my beauty staple.

Happy: “Eyeliner. I think your eyes should always make an impact.”

Cat: “I cleanse, tone and moisturize. I use also make it a point to use sunblock. My mom told me 'The worst thing you can do is expose yourself to the sun with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Those 3 will turn you into leather. When I was a beauty editor of Metro, there were only a few local skin care brands around. Nowadays, there are so many wonderful ones that are high-quality and don't break the bank.”

Karen: "I have a friend and she's 65 years old and she looks 45. And she said whatever you have on your nightstand, you need to put it on your face and neck every night. It's not about the brand but more about consistency. I cannot stress enough that you have to moisturize.”

Em Matias-Sulit (leftmost) of Game Changer PH and Grace Barbers-Baja (3rd from left) with panelists Cat Juan-Ledesma, Happy Ongpauco-Tiu, Joanna Preysler-Francisco, and dermatologist Dr. Aivee Teo

Aivee: “Above all, moisturizer and sunblock are the most important. Moisturizer prevents wrinkles and keeps our skin hydrated. Sunblock is very important because sun exposure is one of the major factors of aging. Aside from that, we have to use an exfoliant such as a retinol or folic acid. Sometimes it's also good to use Vitamin C because it's a powerful antioxidant. If you have a bit of pigmentation, there are a lot of whitening products that are available in the market.”

Grace: In my case, I started using eye cream because of my mom. She is a big fan of a certain brand of eye cream and she would always have samples of it. She taught me how to use it. Since high school until now, I never leave the house without eye cream on.

Tell us about your diet and exercise regimen.

Joanna: “I've always been athletic. I grew up playing sports. My parents would scold me if I spent on things like a manicure but they wouldn't mind plunking any amount down for sports. I dabbled in tennis and other sports all throughout my life. But when I had my youngest son, I upped the ante in my exercise routine. I gave birth to him at 39 and I felt the changes in my body and I wanted to be better. I gave myself a year to lose 35 pounds so when he turned 1, I had 5 pounds left to lose. I'm very goal-driven. I'm the type who needs to have a finish line or measuring mechanism. So I trained for my first full marathon and I did my first 42-km marathon at 42. I took my husband along with me and he was 50 at that time. Since then, we've done 3 full marathons and about 20 half-marathons. I was losing weight but I was also undefined and I realized I have to do less cardio and do spinning and rowing. My next goal was my road to 50: I said to myself I will try to look and feel my best and I think I've achieved it. It's intentional - I set my goals every day and it affects my disposition when I don't. Growing old is a privilege nowadays so to all you 20-year olds and 30-year olds, start as early as now. Start while you still have your whole life ahead of you.”

Restaurateur Happy Ongpauco-Tiu

Happy: “Listening to Joana makes me feel so guilty because I don't exercise at all. But it's in the plan - I have 6 more years! But it's because I have 4 kids and I'm so busy running after them and running the business. I wake up very early in the morning and sleep around midnight. I try my best to get 6 to 7 hours of sleep. I weigh myself twice a day and although I'm 15 to 20 pounds over, I'm not rushing to lose weight because I want to do it gradually. If I go over my usual weight, I just skip dinner for a couple of days.”

Cat: “I grew up with a mom who is in the fitness industry so fitness has always been in my life. My mom always said that it has to be a lifestyle, something you really commit to. I always knew the importance of it and as a mom now myself, I like working out because it clears me. It rests my mind when I can see what my body can do. I work out 3 times a week - I go to Plana Forma, pilates and HIIT. What works for me is I pay for the classes already and commit to them, and because it expires, I make it a point to go so it's not a waste of my money. If you value your health, you'll find a way to make time for it.”

Karen: “I have 3 inspirations for being hot. Number one is Fely Atienza, one of my close friends, who had 8-pack abs when she hit 50. Number 2 is Joanna Preysler-Francisco. We've known each other for a long time and it was a conscious effort on her part to be a lean, mean machine. It's so inspiring because it shows you anything is possible. And the third is JLo! The point is, we can all change our bodies.”

Dr. Aivee Teo of the Aivee Clinic

Aivee: “Growing up, my parents never forced me to exercise or engage in sports because I had to go to med school and it's tough. I didn't realize it but I've been doing intermittent fasting all these years. I don't eat breakfast; my first meal is at 2 or 3 in the afternoon then dinner at 7 or 8pm. I reserve my meals for real food so no dessert, pastries or alcohol. And I'm on my feet 12 hours a day.”

Karen: “If you really want to reverse aging, it's really in the kitchen. I started eating more vegetables, more healthy fats, and I cut down on meat. If you can cut down on white carbs and white sugar, the changes in the body will be significant.”

Cat: “Food is one of the pleasures in life. I don't think it's fair to restrict ourselves to the point you can't even enjoy a social function. life's too short to not have a chocolate cake or cheeseburger once in a while. What I grew up believing is the 80-20 rule: you eat well 80% of the time and indulge for the other 20%.”

Aivee: “I also weigh myself everyday and if I'm a little over or under, I adjust. I did this test to determine which types of food that cause inflammation so I know exactly what to avoid. I also do a 1,200-calorie count 5 to 6 days a week. And if I have to indulge, I eat chocolate.”

How do you mentally de-stress?

Karen: “I'm a Born Again Christian and as I got deeper in the Word, I really felt the peace amidst all the chaos. Spending time with the Lord changed how I view things around me. I would have to say that my inspiration for that is Aivee and Z.”

Aivee: “My husband and I do a daily reading of the Word together and we also share it with our kids.”

Lifestyle writer, producer and Try Local PH founder Cat Juan-Ledesma

Cat: “I am spiritual and I believe in living a life with kindness and gratitude. What I've been craving at my age now is a lot of nature. I didn't like hiking before but I decided to try it out last year and now I do it at least twice a month. And someone said to me 'nature is the closest way to be with God' and that's one thing I highly recommend trying.”

Happy: “I pray a lot and prayers do de-stress me. Whenever I talk to Him, it's like talking to a friend. I also de-stress by living a life of gratitude. I am always thankful for the littlest things. If you have that in your heart, you will have a life full of happiness.”

Joanna: “My husband and I are very engaged with each other and our children. We have at least 2 out of 3 meals together in a day, complete as a family. Love is a given in any relationship but 'like' is optional. What de-stresses me is looking at our children and actually like who they are becoming, that the seeds we planted are coming to fruition. And I think a big part of de-stressing for me is getting rid of all ambient noise and I get to reflect during those quiet moments on my intentions for the next day.”

Any last piece of advice you want to share?

Aivee: “It would be really overwhelming to think about all the responsibilities we have as a mom, as a wife, and as a businesswoman. I try to compartmentalize my life. I live one day at a time. I don’t worry about tomorrow because if I do, I won’t be able to do what I need to do today. I plan ahead too much and just embrace what it given to me and be thankful for them.” 

Cat: “If you feel like you’re lacking something or you want to try something, it’s never too late. Don’t be afraid of taking the small steps that can get you to the right direction. There’s a quote that stuck very much to me about how I found my own sense of purpose. When i heard someone say this, it made so much sense: ‘look at what your heart’s deep gladness is and how it intersects with the world’s great needs.’ That point is where you’ll find a north star - doing what you love but doing it for a bigger purpose - and there’s a lot to be done there.”  

Happy: “I’ve always believed in the saying ‘happiness is an inside job’ and yes we have bad days and good days but choosing to be happy is our own choice. There are times we are tired with everything that’s going on but it’s important to have ‘me time’ and think happy thoughts”. 

Joanna: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to live your life with authenticity - that’s what will make you age well whatever that may mean to you and your loved ones. Also, not everybody’s opinion matters. Your guiding light should be your God, your family and yourself.” 

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