My trip to talk about Queenagers in Parliament; divorce - and hair!
The Queenager: Eleanor's Letter (February 5th 2024)
It's been a busy week - I gave evidence to the APPG on women and work, and I explain how the Queenager pound can change the world, starting with hair...
When you read this with any luck I’ll be swishing down mountains in Switzerland with some wonderful members of the Noon sisterhood… we’re on our first ever Noon ski trip. Should be fun!
It was so moving and inspiring to see so many of you at the Noon Divorce event on Wednesday, kindly hosted by our Noon Board member, and general Queenager super-star Avivah Wittenberg Cox (check out her great Elderberries stubstack) and divorce lawyer to the stars, Sandra Davis of Mishcon de Reya (also on our Noon Advisory Board). Thanks to everyone for being so raw and real about the trials of divorce and for Sandra for her wise advice on everything from money to protecting children. Avivah was typically positive and strategic on the ‘midlife edit’ – the things we need to shed if we are going to rock our Queenager years. “My marriage had been coming to an end for a decade before I left at 50. In the hundred-year-life perhaps we should be thinking about partners differently – one for Q1 0-25, our first love; then a procreating and child-raising partner for Q2 (25-50); and our grown up soul mate for Q3 (50-75), and then the person we want to grow old with in Q4 (75-100).” She reckons it is quite hard given the transitions we all go through for one partner to tick all those boxes for 75 years… though having been with my own husband for 27 years, I’m hoping he’s going to go on ticking all those boxes…. But I like her characterisation of changing partners as a positive choice rather than a life car-crash! After all midlife is not a crisis but a chrysalis (and encouragingly what we found in our Noon research is that the more we go through and shed/edit, the happier we end up as we have our lives set up the way we want them and we know ourselves!)
This optimism around Q3, our Queenager years, is such a necessary antidote to the depressing youth obsession of the culture. I had fun at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work at the House of Commons last Monday telling them about how these Q3 years SHOULD be women’s work prime. After all we are free of much of the caring we shouldered during our procreating years – the empty nest leaves plenty of time for work and projects, we have more confidence, speak truth to power, have great wisdom and experience. But unfortunately the gendered ageist lens isn’t necessarily seeing all that Queenager potential…. That is what I am trying to change! So I was honoured to share our Noon thinking and some of our research with the Parliamentary committee – let’s hope it brings change! It certainly went down well in the room and on socials.
But enough of last week! This week’s newsletter is all about The Queenager Directory.This is a list on the Noon website of amazing businesses or services specifically aimed at Queenagers which we like because of their ethos, representation of midlife women and purpose
Top of the list for me is Tabitha James Kraan – a true Queenager’s Queenager (that’s her fiddling with my hair in the pic). Now I know hair isn’t everything but it is a good place to start; and for me because of my crazy curly mop it is important in my life. These kinds of purchases matter because the truth is that as consumers we Queenagers have enormous power – we are behind over 90 per cent of all household consumer spending decisions (my friend Lisa Edgar at The Big Picture, former head of Insight for Saga, calls us midlife women the Chief Consumption Officers). Our Noon research shows that we are often making choices not just for ourselves but for our partners, parents, kids etc. So the choices we make and the brands we support really matter – we can change the world by thoughtfully flexing the power of the Queenager Pound. Not just in terms of authentic and positive representation by brands of who we are if they want our money, but also by choosing to spend with companies which are run by women, say, or who reflect what we would like to see happen in terms of the environment and the planet
So Tabitha. She is not just a hairdresser but a Queenager entrepreneur who runs a beautiful salon in the Cotswolds – yes I drive from London a hundred miles to Broadway Hill so she can cut and colour my hair. Why? Because all her products are entirely plastic free, she uses minimal bleach and highlights my hair so that it lasts for up to six months, allowing it to remain blondish but to let through my natural colour and the grey streaks that are there. I also love chatting to her so rather than being bored out of my mind and sitting in the chair chafing, the time flies by!
Tabitha is a rare bird in the hair and beauty firmament who knows that it is confidence and feeling good about ourselves that is what is attractive in Queenagers. It’s about knowing, accepting and loving ourselves. Tabitha is 55 and practices what she preaches. She has long silver hair (her own) and she spends all day talking to Queenagers, so she has a good insight into the programming and insecurities we carry around our looks.
“What I find most depressing in my clients currently is how so many of them all want to look the same – contoured, painted, straight haired, tonal – very Kardashian. I want my women to feel confident in their own skin, to be the wonderful individuals that they are, to create the best version of themselves, not to erase themselves to look like some internet meme.”
She says that women in her fifties are a pivot generation. “Women aged 65 plus who were very much brought up to value themselves largely on their looks are generally obsessed with looking as young as possible, these are the cohort who if they have the cash are straight down to the clinic to get surgery or botox. Queenagers in their fifties are beginning to shift – they are more keen on growing old with individuality. They are concerned about young women, often their daughters’ generation, who are growing up in a world of Instagram filters, who are bombarded with images of surgically altered twenty somethings with puffy porn lips. These Gen Z’s are living in an algorithm echo chamber of fakeness, they are so bombarded with those images that they see that extreme look as normal and feel they should BE it. I find there is a growing sense amongst older women that we need to be role models for younger generations, show them how to value themselves as they age; that we need to resist the current celebrity route of botox and surgery and dyeing our hair into oblivion and model something more self-accepting and authentic.”
How does she do that? “I try and take them on a journey. Women don’t come in admitting they don’t feel good about themselves, often it it camouflaged by them talking endlessly about what they want to get to. They’ll bring me a Pinterest board of highly overstylised, super-polished pictures. So I might begin by asking why they want to so different from their true self? I encourage them to go for something that will enhance that authentic identity, make them the best version of themselves. To honour where they are, to talk about how their wrinkles, say, are evidence of the life they have lived. I want to give them confidence in who they are, what their individual strengths and qualities are, both in terms of their hair but also more broadly. I suppose I am looking for the specific beauty which shows up in that woman, the detail which is their strength. We all have one! It’s to get them away from the idea that ‘I am the sum of my looks and that is all I am’ – to shift them instead into presenting as their full self, all that they are, the best version of themselves. Of course we all want to look good but not to the point where it controls, defines or limits us, or is painful, or impeding our other choices. Those are signs that our looks are controlling us, that we have gone too far.”
So how does she do that?
“In terms of hair that might be a gorgeous natural colour, or curls, or the way I could design the hair shape around say their wonderful cheekbones, or mouth, or eyes. I am trying to bring out their essence. I encourage them to think not just about how they look but about how they feel – does their skin feel soft, is their hair healthy? Feeling good is much more important than looking good, it should be part of a ritual of true self-care. Nourishing the soul, spending time on doing something nice for ourselves, not just about the externals. Feeling good makes us more confident. I want them to look and feel the best version of themselves.”
I love that. But Tabitha is also revolutionary on the technicalities of hair (that link explains how to look after different hair types). She has revolutionised mine from thin and dry and so frizzy that it broke off to more luxuriant, strong and healthy. She tackles our conditioning and our conditioner!
“Often women’s hair in midlife is in a poor state [like mine was] because they’ve been dyeing it and bleaching it for so long, or washing it with detergent which removes all the oil leaving it angry, over-reactive and sensitive. We don’t need to use shampoo on our hair, that strips out all the natural oils we need to put them back. And as long as hair is in good condition you can wear it anyway you like. Go with your inner wise woman. You decide!”
For Tabitha this is part of a much bigger shift that needs to happen in terms of us all using and consuming less to give our planet a chance to recover.
“My crusade is for all of us to use far less products. Just wandering into a huge chemist, or looking at our own cupboards groaning with bottles, it is clear we are all consuming too much. And our bodies become addicted to the chemicals we put on them. However, we don’t need them and nine out of ten cosmetic and personal care products contain liquid plastic according to the Plastic Soup Foundation. They are the elements which can give our hair that ‘slippy’ conditioned feeling, the silkiness or combability. But not only does that plastic get absorbed into our bodies, but when we rinse in the shower the liquid plastic goes into the water supply and we drink it, it is not filtered out. This is separate from micro-beads. Most people have no idea that the hair products they use are full of polymers and co-polymers; that they are literally coating their hair and body in plastic.”
So what is the alternative?
“If we stop using them our bodies soon adjust and we come back into harmony with our natural oils and moisturisers. I have spent the last twenty years creating hair oils and products that are ‘clean’ and organic, that don’t damage humans or the planet. Where you use a much smaller amount and stop washing hair, that means your hair and skin starts replenishing with its own natural oils because we are no longer stripping them away with harsh detergents.”
This sounds extreme, but it works. I now only put natural oils on my hair and have stopped washing it with any kind of soap or shampoo. I rinse it with warm water and a tiny bit of Tabitha’s 4 in 1 conditioner. When I first started doing this I was super sceptical, I was the queen of really expensive salon quality hair products which I used copiously and which didn’t work. As a top editor for so long I’d had decades of free hair cuts and colour at the best west end salons (I know, very spoilt…). But all those years of bleach and products had weakened and knackered my hair. Cutting out all those potions with chemicals and polymers has been a revelation. It has saved me a fortune, my hair looks better than ever (a young woman on the train last week complimented my hair..) and I’m not destroying the planet with plastic polymers or plastic bottles. So it is a total win, which is why Tabitha and her products are on our Queenager Directory! Her hair products, cut and system are so good I happily pay for them myself (also a big change for me after years of hack freebies!)
And if you’d like to check out some of the other great Queenager-led, or Queenager-friendly businesses, coaches and services on our Queenager Directory on Noon here is the link. Oh, and if you would like to be on it email us firstname.lastname@example.org!
Ps Thanks so much to all of you who put your name down for the Broughton Hall Retreat on May 24-28th 2024. I’m delighted to say that we definitely have enough interest to proceed. We’ll be putting up more details around the exact offer, pricing, rooms, speakers etc later this week. Can’t tell you how excited I am. For those of you who missed last week’s post here it is!
The retreat is called the Noon Queenager Purpose and Power retreat, for personal development, female leadership (we’ve got Jackie Sissons coming to do Eidetics seminars, the hot new technique women leaders at Google and other top silicon valley firms are using), a big focus on the Midlife pivot and rethink – with Lucy Ryan our Head of Noon consulting and author of Revolting Women and Avivah Wittenberg Cox – and Noon Circles with me and plenty of other amazing Noon Advisory Board input. If you’d like to put your name down on the Google Form to express interest in coming, please do!
Lots of love
By Eleanor Mills