Why women of 40 and 50 are the new ‘age­less gen­er­a­tion’

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFESTYLE - By LEAH HARDY

Lean, lithe, beau­ti­ful and ef­fort­lessly cool, Polly Kemp teaches yoga at the hip ho­tel and mem­bers’ club Babing­ton House in Som­er­set. She’s ad­dicted to In­sta­gram and loves fash­ion and trav­el­ling.

But no, she’s not the woman on the left — that’s her 19-year-old daugh­ter Iggy, a model who lives in Lon­don. Polly is a mother of three (she also has sons Gabriel, 22 and Fin­lay, 17, with her pho­tog­ra­pher hus­band Iain) and is 51.

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m un­der no il­lu­sion that I am 19 or look 19; I’m very com­fort­able in my own skin — lines, grey hair and all,” she says.

“But I know I live very dif­fer­ently from how my mother and grand­mother did at my age. Iggy and I of­ten bor­row each other’s clothes, al­though we might not wear them in the same way. And we both love vin­tage clothes, so we of­ten trawl char­ity shops to­gether. We en­joy the same TV se­ries on Net­flix, such as Schitt’s Creek, Girl­boss and Grace and Frankie; and we’re fol­low­ing the same on­line daily yoga chal­lenge on YouTube.

“When I hear the term ‘mid­dleaged’, I have to stop and think, ‘Is this meant to be me?’ I don’t pol­ish sil­ver or plan menus, and I’m not in­ter­ested in house­work. I am also spon­ta­neous and I don’t think that’s a qual­ity tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with mid­dle age.”

Polly’s age-de­fy­ing at­ti­tude is some­thing I can re­late to. Grow­ing up, if I’d pic­tured my­self aged 53, my hair would be a lit­tle less long and blonde and a great deal more grey than it ac­tu­ally is — and I’d be wear­ing frocks and face pow­der, not jeans and CC cream.

Vi­brant and young

And now a new sur­vey ex­clu­sive to the Tele­graph has found that, like Polly and me, 96 per cent of 40-plus women don’t feel mid­dle-aged at all.

The study of more than 500 women by mar­ket­ing agency Su­perHu­man found that 80 per cent felt so­ci­ety’s as­sump­tions about mid­dleaged women do not rep­re­sent how they live their lives. More than two thirds con­sid­ered them­selves in their prime of life; 59 per cent felt as vi­brant and young as they ever have — partly due to a fo­cus on health and fit­ness — and 84 per cent said they don’t de­fine them­selves by age.

Su­perHu­man was founded by Re­becca Rhodes, 44, and San­dra Peat, 42, who feel brands are fail­ing to re­alise just how midlife women have changed.

Armed with neg­a­tive stereo­types about older women, com­pa­nies still fo­cus on mil­len­ni­als de­spite the greater fi­nan­cial fire­power of 40-plussers. Says Re­becca, ‘By 2020 it is es­ti­mated that up to a third of the UK work­force will be 50-plus and they will con­trol 80 per cent of the wealth.

“We know that 85 per cent of pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions are made by women and yet 91 per cent of women don’t be­lieve ad­ver­tis­ers un­der­stand them. This isn’t good enough.”

As a re­sult, she adds, “Eighty-four per cent of the women we sur­veyed used prod­ucts and ser­vices they felt were aimed at younger women.” But the gen­er­a­tion gap is clos­ing. “Forty­plus women to­day look, feel and live dif­fer­ently than the gen­er­a­tion be­fore them — 90 per cent con­sider them­selves to have a much younger at­ti­tude than their own mother’s gen­er­a­tion at the same age,” she adds.

In short, women in their 40s, 50s, 60s and be­yond no longer as­so­ciate them­selves with a life of lawn­mow­ers and Ro­tary Clubs, cheese and wine par­ties, elas­tic waists, river cruises and walk­ing tours of Madeira. Even the term “mid­dle aged” is fast be­com­ing ob­so­lete.

Peo­ple mag­a­zine re­cently named Ju­lia Roberts, 49, as the World’s Most Beau­ti­ful Woman 2017, 26 years af­ter she first made the list. And France’s youth­ful new pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, 39, has been pic­tured pas­sion­ately kiss­ing his glam­orous blonde wife Brigitte, who just hap­pens to be 64.

Ev­ery­where we look, highly vis­i­ble older women are rewrit­ing all the rules. From JK Rowl­ing to Ni­cole Kid­man; Michelle Obama to Anna Win­tour, they are at the peak of their power and cre­ativ­ity.

They are en­gaged, in­flu­en­tial and of­ten in­creas­ingly po­lit­i­cal.

There’s even a new term to de­scribe peo­ple with this no-age mind­set: “peren­ni­als”. It was coined by US in­ter­net en­tre­pre­neur Gina Pell, 49, who ex­plains, “Peren­ni­als are ever-blooming, rel­e­vant peo­ple of all ages who know what’s hap­pen­ing in the world, stay cur­rent with tech­nol­ogy and have friends of all ages. We get in­volved, stay cu­ri­ous, men­tor oth­ers, and are pas­sion­ate, com­pas­sion­ate, cre­ative, con­fi­dent, col­lab­o­ra­tive, global-minded risk tak­ers.”

Look­ing ‘smart’

This at­ti­tude can be helped by the way we look. And if that sounds triv­ial, it’s not, ac­cord­ing to Ellen Langer, pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Har­vard Univer­sity. Her re­searchers have found that peo­ple who feel old com­pared to oth­ers tend to age faster, and a ma­jor fac­tor in this is the way they dress. Those in the study who wore uni­forms, and so dressed the same as younger col­leagues, suf­fered fewer age-re­lated ill­nesses.

The good news is that we don’t need a white coat to gain the same health ben­e­fits; nor do we need to dress “young”. “Since the 1990s, so­ci­ety has be­come in­creas­ingly in­for­mal and fash­ion has be­come more generic,” says Re­becca.

“In to­day’s Con­verse-and-jeans uni­form, worn by ev­ery­one from 10 to 70, you of­ten can’t tell how old a woman is from be­hind.”

In­deed, a glance at shots of clas­sic peren­ni­als Julianne Moore, 56, and Emma Wat­son, 27, re­veals that de­spite their three-decade age gap, they favour an iden­tikit look of striped tees, over­sized coats, leather jack­ets, jeans and train­ers.

As­sess­ing her own fash­ion evo­lu­tion, Polly says, “I thought that by this age I’d want to look ‘smart’. In­stead I like to look cool and sexy, and I live in train­ers to the ex­tent that I won­der why I even have my other shoes. Like Iggy, I’m in jeans all the time, though I might pair mine with a silk blouse and a jacket.”

Hap­pily, Su­perHu­man’s sur­vey found that 67 per cent of women over 40 felt more con­fi­dent than they did a decade ago, and just as many were more am­bi­tious too. “Do­ing things that chal­lenge me” was im­por­tant to 60 per cent of women in the sur­vey; per­sonal ful­fil­ment was a pri­or­ity for 61 per cent, while 63 per cent de­scribed them­selves as “very op­ti­mistic” about the fu­ture. Al­most 80 per cent said they had a strong ap­petite to ex­plore and ex­pe­ri­ence new things with or with­out their kids.

“The idea of re­tir­ing at 50 and hav­ing an empty nest is to­tally out of date for most peo­ple,” says Richard Cope, a con­sumer trends an­a­lyst at Min­tel. “Eco­nomic pres­sures and in­creas­ing pen­sion ages mean women are work­ing longer and thus spend­ing time with younger col­leagues. At the same time, due to prop­erty and rental costs, more adult chil­dren are liv­ing at home, and their at­ti­tudes are in­flu­enc­ing their par­ents, caus­ing what’s known as gen­er­a­tional blur­ring.”

When her 17-year-old daugh­ter be­came ve­gan a year ago, au­thor Fiona Gib­son, 52, ended up dra­mat­i­cally chang­ing her own diet. “Erin opened my eyes to the eth­i­cal is­sues and health down­sides of my more meat-heavy diet. I prob­a­bly eat By the num­bers

of 40-plus women don’t feel mid­dle-aged

feel that so­ci­ety’s as­sump­tions about mid­dle-aged women do not rep­re­sent their lives 67% con­sider them­selves to be in their prime of life 84% say they don’t de­fine them­selves by their age 91% don’t be­lieve ad­ver­tis­ers un­der­stand them

96% 80%

ve­gan four days out of seven now.”

Lynne Bar­ratt-Lee, 58, also a nov­el­ist, says she’s picked up her 24-year-old daugh­ter Ge­orgie’s on­line shop­ping habits. “We get con­fused over who’s put what in the Asos bas­ket,” she says.

Con­fi­dence para­dox

But there’s one black cloud in this sunny pic­ture. While 40-plus women feel very con­fi­dent in their abil­i­ties and opin­ions, 48 per cent of those sur­veyed said they felt less con­fi­dent about their ap­pear­ance than they had a decade ago, cit­ing pres­sure to stay look­ing young — and 83 per cent felt this af­fected their self-im­age.

Re­becca calls this the “con­fi­dence para­dox”, and adds that while older celebri­ties and mod­els are more vis­i­ble than ever be­fore in ad­verts and on screen, women in their 40s and 50s still feel ig­nored.

En­tre­pre­neur Grace Fodor agrees. Two years ago, she founded cos­met­ics brand Stu­dio 10, aimed at women in midlife. “Cur­rently, older women are part of the zeit­geist,” says Fodor, 50, cit­ing Michelle Obama and Jenna Lyons as ex­am­ples. “But re­mem­ber: we’re for life, not just this sea­son’s mar­ket­ing strat­egy.”

The fu­ture, says Gina Pell, lies with for­ward-think­ing com­pa­nies such as Net­flix and Ama­zon who pro­file cus­tomers by their tastes, not by their age. “Defin­ing peo­ple by their birth year is so an­ti­quated,” she con­cludes.


Ju­lia Roberts is


From left: Ni­cole Kid­man is one of the many 40-plus women ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a ca­reer high. named as the World’s Most Beau­ti­ful Woman. JK Rowl­ing is a mem­ber of the “age­less gen­er­a­tion”.

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