That story is everywhere – in the anti-ageing products women are sold, in the adverts we see or the way the media is full of pictures of young women but rarely shows older ones.
I think it is time for a new lens on midlife. We know it is possible to change the stories we tell. In my lifetime the way society thinks about race and sexuality has changed completely. Why can’t we do the same for the way we think about ageing? It’s time we told a more positive story about all the amazing women in midlife and beyond. We need to see older women living their full and joyful lives, full of purpose, love and fun. And yet over half of women aged 45-60 feel invisible to wider society, according to new research by my organisation Noon.org.uk.
The truth is that the current way that older women are depicted is not fit for purpose. It doesn’t reflect the reality of what women in midlife are like now. It’s time for a new lens, a new way of seeing and celebrating these older women. Vision Express is one of the rare brands trying to do this too, we love the way this brand and midlife icon Jo Whiley are showcasing these women and being so positive about all they can be. That is why Noon has partnered with Vision Express and Jo Whiley to tell uplifting and inspiring stories about midlife women.
Here are just some amazing examples of what these women are capable of: take Shilpa Rasaiah, she’s 58, of Asian heritage, only learnt to swim in her mid fifties, and has just paddleboarded 150 miles up the Grand Union canal. Or Molly Cochrane – 50 – who left school at 16 with hardly any qualifications because she was so dyslexic. “I always thought I was stupid” she says. But two years ago she went back to study and has just completed a Masters Degree in Neuroscience from Kings College London and now works as a coach inspiring other women to be the best they can be. Or Sarah Pittendrigh, 51, from Northumberland who was bankrupt and about to lose her home and set up a new company on her kitchen table which was not only successful but won her loads of awards. Or the entertainer Chanel Haynes who one day was walking through London’s West End and saw posters for the Tina Turner musical. She set her heart on playing Tina – and for the last year she has been doing just that. Now in her midlife she is going on tour with the Rolling Stones.
All these women are coming into their own in midlife – living their best lives. But in the wider world we never hear their stories. That’s why I set up this new platform for women in midlife, noon.org.uk which tells different, uplifting and inspiring stories about all the wonderful things women at this stage are capable of and helps them find their next chapter and why we are so excited that Vision Express also wants the world to see these women differently.
Part of changing the story about this time in life is to give the women a new name – so I call these fab females Queenagers. I was inspired by one of the women in our Noon community who said she felt, “Just like a teenager, but living in my own house, with good tea and nice sheets”. Queenager sums up that sense we have in midlife of a pivot, of moving into a new chapter (hormonally but also often in the rest of our lives too) but also all the wisdom andexperience and gravitas we bring because of everything we have been through before.
Our strength comes from being forged in fire; over half of women aged 45-60 in the UK have been through at least five of divorce, bereavement, redundancy, domestic abuse, financial hardship, depression, loneliness, serious physical harm, illness, sexual harassment. But our research shows that the more the women had been through, the happier they are now – the battles they had fought, the troubles they had shed led them to be the architects of their own lives. They now have the life they chose. As one Queenager put it: “I am delightedly divorced” or another, who had recovered from cancer, “I’ve never known happiness like I have now. I feel like I’ve finally learnt how to live, I’m just getting going.” Or as Vision Express Ambassador Jo Whiley says: “This is the happiest time of my life. I love being a Queenager. I finally feel it’s all coming together.”
The truth is that we are a pioneering cohort of women – there have never been women like us at this stage of life before. It is there in the statistics: in 2019 women aged over 40 started earning more money than women under 40 for the first time ever. We are the first generation of women to have worked all the way through. We expect to have a voice and to be heard. At the moment there is lots of noise about menopause, how women deserve the right treatment, and doctors who are trained to recognise the symptoms (did you know that many GPs never learnt about it at medical school despite it happening to half the population?). The noise is a marker of the fact that today’s queenagers don’t want their mothers’ midlife, or their menopause experience. In the same way that if our eye-sight starts to wane (and that is natural at this point) we can get glasses and see brilliantly again, so we need the right help with menopause so we can get on with all the things we want and need to do. But we don’t want to be defined as menopausal, we don’t want that to be the only way we are seen. Our research shows that 78% of women don’t want to be defined as menopausal, or seen as walking hot flushes. We want access to the right treatment and information so we can start our new chapters feel fit and well.
This argument about valuing the later stages of women’s lives, portraying them in a more positive way, is far bigger than menopause, that fight is just the start. Women over 50 make up a quarter of the population but our voices are rarely heard, we are rarely seen. It time to change that, to make ourselves visible, to tell our stories, to see ourselves differently. To be valued for our wisdom, experience and grace as we age Many of us in our fifties now will live till we are ninety or even a hundred; in the hundred year life, fifty is only half way through. As we say at Noon: So Much More to Come!
I see so many women going back to retrain, returning to the dreams they had in their youth, or setting out on new adventures. Many say they have spent years looking after everyone else and that this is their time to shine, the point where, “I finally get to do something for me! Put myself top of my to-do list.”
So let’s change the story! It really is time to see ourselves differently – we are so grateful to Vison Express and Jo Whiley for being part of this journey with us.
I want my teenage daughters to look forward to being fifty, to know that their Queenager years are when they come into their prime. Remember, you are never too old and it is never too late! So take up the Queenager challenge, live your best life and tell us all about it.
By Eleanor Mills
There’s life in us Queenagers yet – and it’s made so much easier by wearing the right glasses!
Eleanor Mills is revelling in seeing the world through a new lens. Literally.Read
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