Midlife is a time of great change for women, not only physically but emotionally – particularly in terms of how we feel about ourselves. Noon wants a new narrative about the later stages of women’s lives: It’s an age of opportunity where we can redefine ourselves: Confident, strong, in charge of our own destinies.
The Noon #SeeYourselfDifferently campaign, sponsored by Vision Express, features 7 women in midlife and shows how glasses can become part of that change in a positive and vibrant way. Glasses can become an extension of us – as a hair band, a tool to gesture with as you argue passionately, when we think, laugh, love. They help us to see and can reveal who we are and who we want to be.
Award-winning portrait photographer Amelia Troubridge shot portraits of women who exemplify this new optimistic script for midlife. Women who have changed and flourished and are starting a new chapter, who love the lives they are leading. (Troubridge is also part of the Noon Advisory Board.)
Jo Whiley has worked in radio and television since her twenties. As a Vision Express brand ambassador, she’s promoting the importance of maintaining our vision in midlife. The #seeyourselfdifferently campaign is to celebrate women over 40, encouraging them to get their eyes tested and helping women see themselves differently. Lots of women underestimate what going through the menopause involves, especially the impact it can have on your eyesight.
‘There’s a joy and liberation that comes with age,’ Jo says. ‘However, it will come as no surprise that 43% have experienced deteriorating eyesight as they hit their mid 40s. It can affect the way you feel and see yourself. It makes complete sense to me to embrace your midlife years – you have more knowledge, wisdom and experience. It’s actually empowering! With Vision Express, I want to help women and celebrate all the brilliant things about being in our middle youth!”
Birgit Neu, 51
Birgit was Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at HSBC, leaving earlier this year after 10 years for a new challenge. “I am now 51 but I still feel about 12 (even though my son is 14)! I thought by this time I’d be in a house dress and pinny fading into the background but actually I feel pretty cool. I still love art and culture and appreciate everything that is out there. I am still fit and healthy, I have energy – why would I stop doing the things I love?” When it comes to work, Birgit wants to take everything she’s learnt about diversity and inclusion working with hundreds of thousands of staff all over the world in financial services and cast her net even wider.
“D&I is all about looking at who is being disadvantaged by what, whether that is customers or the business – and giving everyone the confidence to speak up about who needs help. I’ve seen huge strides in the last decades in the way we treat the LGBTQ community, those of ethnic heritage and disabilities – but age is the final frontier.” She urges all of us not to be complacent. “A third of jobs are going to be lost to AI (Artificial Intelligence). The only thing we can be sure of in the future is more uncertainty. The old model of taking on graduate trainees and them having a 30-year career with a company is over. We’ll all be working until we die but it is going to be about re-skilling and up-skilling ourselves all the time so we continue to be relevant.” Mastering the art of reinvention is what Noon is all about – it’s something we have all got to get used to!
Birgit on Vision Express: “Vision Express truly saved me – I went in there for an eye test a few years ago and the young man who did it took one look and told me to get in a taxi and go to Moorfields Eye Hospital immediately. I had an eye ulcer, a kind of hole in my eye which can be very serious. I’ve always been really grateful to them for that. It is so worth getting your eyes tested!”
Bradford-based international business woman Saeeda Ahmed, 45, is an ambassador and advisor to the UN’s UNSG11 Foundation, dedicated to implementing UN resolutions and development goals around the world. She went to Cambridge university – the first woman in her family to be university educated – and spent the early decades of her career as a social entrepreneur helping her community attain skills that would enable them to get jobs. She is also a keen exponent of Halal business – sustainable, cruelty-free and upholding the highest standards – and she points out that nearly one in four our planet’s consumers are muslims, so this is a huge and often unexplored market in the west.
“The mainstream too often misunderstands the Muslim community, they are too quick to judge and lack nuance. For me, my religion means I pray five times a day, that means five opportunities to recentre myself, to think about my goals and what I want to achieve in that day.” Saeeda has devoted her life to expanding understanding between cultures, providing educational opportunities – and enjoying herself. She has an infectious sense of humour and her huge eyes often dance with mischief, particularly when she recounts her adventures in the international world of business and the misconceptions she attracts. “There is so much more which binds us together as humans than divides us,” she says. “Older women in my community are not oppressed as so often we are described, by midlife we have raised our children, honoured our obligations to arranged marriages and are free to start exploring ourselves and our own lives. The last couple of generations have been on such an accelerated journey to modernity – often the death of parents frees the next generation to live more as they wish, rather than doing what is expected. Yet those stories are so rarely told.”
Minreet Kaur, 40
Former BBC journalist, Minreet, 40, is the daughter of the Skipping Sikh. “He is still skipping every day. In fact he is going to run the marathon and skip over the finishing line.” She has spent lockdown fundraising and encouraging people in her community to get healthier and vaccinated to try and beat the pandemic. She wrote movingly for Noon about the problems of being a divorcee in her traditional community.
“In my community if you are 40, unmarried with no kids, too often you are seen as a right-off; it’s harder to meet someone. But now I have spoken out about the stigma, I feel I am a role model to the younger generation, I am making a step to be the change we need. Getting divorced is difficult but it is a sign that you are strong, that you have ditched a nasty situation and moved on. So many women have got in touch thanking me for speaking out, it has made me confident. Perceptions are beginning to change; there is life after divorce.”
“I’m getting called Auntie now,” she says, smiling. “I got a bit upset about turning 40 in lockdown. I couldn’t have a celebration and not having a party made me feel old! But really I feel energised now; truly 40 and fabulous, more confident and that I am finally doing all the things I meant to do in my twenties. Now I feel I can get out there and achieve my dreams – which is to be the Punjabi Oprah!”
Rachel Perou, 51
Rachel Perou is an internationally renowned curve and lingerie model who only began her modelling career in her late 40s. She is living proof of the Noon motto: ‘So Much More to Come!’
“As a young woman I wanted to go to drama school but I wasn’t confident enough,” she says. “Then I got married and had kids. In my 30s I remember thinking, ‘Is this it?’ But I had three children under 4 so I just bumbled on. Then at 39 something changed inside, I felt a new urgency. I got divorced at 40 and then entered a few years of a rollercoaster ride: I travelled to Uganda and India as a volunteer in orphanages and then went back to university to study – getting a 2.1 at 42. I started an online vintage clothes business and was asked to walk in a charity fashion show. I loved it! So much that when it was over I just wanted to do it again. Things looked up for me personally too. I married Mark, my current husband, and stopped dyeing my hair, letting it go grey. For the first time in my life, I felt comfortable in my own skin. At 46 I was signed by a model agency and now I work with the likes of Ashley Graham and the singer Lizzo. I’ve finally found my passion and purpose.”
Jennifer Howze, 52
Born in Texas, Jennifer ended up in London in her 20s working as a journalist on an assortment of magazines. Then she left journalism to set up her own business, BritMums, as a network for aspiring mum bloggers. Now a successful entrepreneur, she is living proof that we can all transition from one world to another.
“I can remember when, as a child, I would say ‘When I’m 21…’ because it was the most grown-up age I could imagine. Now I’m in my 50s and inside still feel like that girl, that 21-year-old and all the ages between then and now. I would not have predicted even 5 years ago where I am now: with a Masters degree in Creative Writing, divorced, with an expanding group of friends, my daughter soon heading off to university. Midlife has its challenges (what stage of life doesn’t?) but it’s invigorating to realise I have decades ahead of me. I better understand myself — and see the people and the world more clearly. I look at what’s to come feeling wiser, more playful and more confident. How does midlife feel? Exciting!
Victoria Whitford, 47
Victoria was a successful diplomat, working for the British Government in Pakistan, when she had an epiphany that she was doing the wrong job. She went back to college and trained to be a doctor, emerging as a junior doctor just as Covid hit – and has spent the last 18 months on intensive care wards caring for people during the pandemic.
“It’s been quite a hectic few years but I am now loving my life,” she says. “I feel more myself than I’ve ever felt. I am 47 and I am finally where I want to be. I am more intellectually stimulated than ever before which is very important to me and although people think I am cheery and jolly the reality is I am quite serious – and I can express that now. I get more time with my kids (Cordelia 12 and Gabriel 9) and I love my springer spaniel and Razzy, our Welsh show pony. The big transition was hard work but I am so glad I did it and urge anyone else to take the leap too. We only get one life – make sure it is the one you really want.”
Is your vision changing in midlife?
Get more information about the Vision Express #SeeYourselfDifferently Campaign and book an appointment now to get your eyes checked.
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