Rebelling against the stereotypes

Let’s not replace one stereotype of middle aged women with another.

Middle aged woman in business suit smiling


I was watching the tv the other day and an ad popped up. It was what is probably called ’empowering’ in the business. It was about middle aged women – how we don’t have to be dowdy and frumpy. So far so good. Instead we can be high-achieving, sexy and dynamic. Just like the young people.

One of the great things about getting older is you can escape the nonsense that young women grow up with and which, in many cases, makes them feel a total failure even before they have begun. Because the standards of hotness, smartness and dynamism are so high as to be achievable only by a very few. You constantly fall short and we are told almost every day how ultimately replaceable we all are – by machines, by a swipe, by the next, next, next consumer culture.

I remember talking to a woman who was writing about middle aged women. She is American. She told me of a law professor who was told to ‘freshen up’ because she looked ‘tired’. It is not ’empowering’ if you feel forced to look younger than you are, however much you are told that it is. This week, however, we are informed that ‘ageing naturally’ [wearing no make-up and having grey hair] is in – but mainly if you are Pamela Anderson or Helen Mirren and probably so the powers that be can sell us some new kind of potion. I went to a conference recently on midlife [apparently middle aged is out] and there were stalls everywhere selling menopause merch. That’s where the money is.

Yet I have lost count of the amount of products that are targeted at my daughters. There seems to be a potion for every part of their bodies, way more so than when I was young. Getting out of the house takes an age. They come out generally looking like they’ve stepped off the catwalk. Making a joke about it goes down like a lead balloon. The catwalk look is a mask for their own insecurity. They show me pictures of their primary school friends. They are barely recognisable as the laughing, cheeky individuals I remember back in the day. They now almost look like one identikit person and every picture is a pout. You can’t blame them, but the cost of it all – and not just the money spent on potions – is immense. And yet we go on about ‘authenticity’, reducing even the word authentic to another marketing slogan.

So I hope middle aged women will rebel against the new as well as the old stereotypes and just be. They often have a lot going on around them. Those who are mums have emerged from the maelstrom of the early years where they faced a whirlpool of clashing ideas, fears, creativity and exhaustion. They’ve often reinvented themselves many times over. Life is relentless, in both good and bad ways, if you’re lucky. There’s no need to prove anything or dance to anyone else’s tune. I well remember as a young person hating the pressure to be something I wasn’t comfortable being, being told who or what I should be. That surely is one of the consolations of middle age. We have grown up and no-one can tell us what to do any more. That is true power.

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