Picture: Mike Marsland

Dawn French and the Juicy Age

On Woman's Hour Dawn French talked about midlife as the Juicy Age. We couldn't agree more

I’ve always loved Dawn French – particularly the way she unashamedly took up space in the world with her rollicking laugh, warm humour and refusal to starve herself like other women in the public eye. And when I heard her refusing to accept that women in their Noon-time should be invisible on Woman’s Hour yesterday, I wanted to cheer. Her words were wise, as ever. She didn’t deny that some women feel like they are vanishing. “Society could make you feel invisible, but we could drown in that sea or be the red dot of visibility within it. It’s not about being attractive, it’s about offering your skills in a new way, doing what you do best,” she said.

‘The Juicy Age’ — when you know yourself, know what you like and don’t like, stop people-pleasing and do what makes you happy.

French is practicing what she preaches. She has just been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction at 63. “I’ve discovered that I am a functioning introvert, that I can do all that jazz hands stuff, but actually I mainly love being quiet. Just because you have had a skill in one area doesn’t mean you can’t have a skill in another. It’s all about reinvention.” She speaks of the control and autonomy of the writing process after years of collaboration. How she is now “loving being at peace with myself” even if that means accepting her arthritic knee and that she is never going to run a marathon or win StrictlyShe talks of this post-50 time in her life as ‘the Juicy Age’, when you know yourself, know what you like and don’t like, stop people-pleasing and do what makes you happy.

What it’s like to meet Dawn French

interviewed Dawn myself for her last book down at her home in Cornwall. In person she was smaller than I expected and more jumpy, like many comedians she was more thin skinned than I expected. I am not surprised she likes the calm of writing. I salute her for finding her next act with such grace. I founded Noon because I felt so lost when one chapter of my life ended and I could find nothing out there which would help me find my way to another. So many women feel like that at this stage. Before finding their Juicy Age, they wander through a valley of doubt, worried that it is all over, that they are finished, that there is nothing left. I certainly felt like that – but I was wrong. 

I hope that the inspirational stories on Noon of transformation and our expert advice, not to mention that the power of talking about all of these issues will act like breadcrumbs in the dark wood, like the ones that guided Hansel and Gretl out of the forest. Together we can help each other through this. And every time someone like Dawn French speaks out about this stuff women feel less alone and less lost. I like her term the Juicy Age but I also like the ‘resurrection time’ and ‘middlescence’ and ‘second act’. As we say at Noon, there is so much more to come. If we are likely to live until we are 80 or more, then we’ve got a good few decades to go – we need to make them count.

Why women feel lost at 50

The reason many women feel so lost at around 50  is because our society has no map of what the later years of a woman’s life are supposed to look like. We see pictures of grey-haired grannies dandling children on their knee or walking along beaches next to a silver fox – but nearly half of Generation X women with university educations have not had children. Many of us are alone, or with women. 

A new script for midlife

We need a new script for this time in our lives. Rather than feeling we become invisible because there is no patriarchal script for us once we stop being fecund, we need to embrace this period as an age of opportunity, a time to rediscover the youthful dreams we once had – as Dawn French has in writing her novel. I am inspired every day by the stories that come into Noon of women going back to university to study in their 50s, repotting their lives to renourish and replenish themselves, leaving marriages and striking out alone – setting off to travel the world, or starting new companies. 

Noon women have huge personal resources and wisdom, half of us are the main breadwinners in our families and we control 90 per cent of consumer decisions. By 2025 65% of the world’s wealth will be controlled by women. We are a powerful force and deserve to be treated as such, we need to stand together and speak up rather than going quietly into the dark night.

Let’s enjoy the Juice Age with Dawn!

So don’t feel invisible. Do as Dawn says and make yourself necessary and heard. It’s up to us to define this time of our lives. We’re the first generation of women to have worked all the way through and who came into a world where we had some measure of equality. Let’s forge a new path for all the women coming behind us. Here’s a toast to Dawn French and the Juicy Age of opportunity! 

Eleanor Mills


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