Suzanne Harrington joins the 50 club with Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts and Pamela Anderson. And no, she has no plans to take up knitting
The new 50
LIKE everyone else born in the first Summer of Love, I’m about to turn 50. Unequivocally middle aged. An age when, in previous generations, you’d be knitting bootees for the grandchildren, frequenting garden centres, and taking up golf.
But we are Perennials, the generation who parented Millennials. The term, coined by US internet guru Gina Pell, is defined by her as “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.” While Baby Boomers have aged in a cruise ships and cardigans kind of way, Generation X refuses to go quietly. Why should we? We have redefined what it is to be middle aged, and concluded there is no such thing anymore. Middle age is for old people.
Today’s 50-year-olds are living proof that ageing is a social construct; Perennials embody the idea that ageing and getting older are not the same thing. Unbowed by our chronological years, we refuse to be herded towards the twinset and tupperware section of the department store — you’re far more likely to find us on our yoga mats, at the juice bar at gigs and festivals, and swiping right on dating apps. That this generation of 50-year-olds is known as the Quintastics says a lot about how we live our lives; with conscious, clear-headed intent. And a lot of fun.
However, as well as the pay gap, we still have the age gap — the idea entrenched everywhere from Hollywood and the media to marketing and advertising, which tells us that women age in dog years compared with men. Traditionally, a middle aged man is perceived to be in his prime, while a middle aged woman is ambitious mutton. Oh dear.
What would Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Pamela Anderson — who all turn 50 this year — have to say about that? Given their super-fabulousness, it’s unlikely their experiences of getting older resonate too much with the rest of us. So what happens when ordinary women turn 50? Do we all stampede to the Botox clinic? Save up for bingowings surgery? Or are we too busy being comfortable in our own minds and skins to care? Allow me, a mere mortal, to walk you through the pros and cons of hitting the Big Five Oh.
Welcome to the ZFG zone. This stands for Zero Fucks Given, and is where your head will be when you reach 50. It’s much more relaxing than when you were 25 and utterly gorgeous, because when you were 25 and utterly gorgeous you still believed all the nonsense peddled at you by the beauty, media and entertainment industries. These days you know perfectly well that all you need is sass, confidence and red lipstick. Laughter lines? Crows’ feet? Collapsing collagen? ZFG. Your resilience and self-belief surrounds you, impenetrable as the Great Wall of China.
The ZFG zone extends far beyond the superficiality of appearance. Paradoxically, as your wisdom and compassion expands, your concern about the negative opinions of others evaporates. Instead of caring what other people think, you trust your instincts entirely, and fearlessly stride forth — if something makes you angry, you do something about it. If something needs action, you act. If someone needs help, you help, no longer hamstrung by the
self consciousness and self absorption of youth. And you have learned how to say ‘No’ with utmost conviction and clarity. Fools are no longer suffered. Smiles are given with greater ease. You are simultaneously kinder and tougher. ZFG.
Blame kale. Today’s 50year-olds are the most health and well-being conscious generation ever. Why do you think we look so shiny? We have realised that eating crap, being stressed, smoking fags, and drinking too much booze is directly linked to how we feel and look, and we have decided that we prefer chilled and glowy to dull and bloaty. We are chia-tastic, devoted to our downward dog, keen on meditation and mindfulness, and eschewing the passivity of getting our hair done for more proactive pursuits — we are runners, cyclists, swimmers, weight trainers. We like strength and suppleness over floaty femininity. We don’t do diets, we do nutrition. And we don’t do emotional blockages, we do therapy and kick boxing. Do the sex maths. By the time you reach 50 you will have been sexually active for at least — at a conservative estimate — 30 years. That’s a lot of practice. You and your body are old friends, so that you know exactly what it likes, how it works, and how to make it happen. Nothing is sexier than experience. Nothing. Cinema screen passion featuring hot twenty somethings is all well and good, but get beyond the aesthetics and what do you have? Fabulous off-screen 50-something sex. It gets better and better with age, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Ride the second wave. Unlike previous generations, we are not required to remain in non-functioning relationships until death do us part — which means that many 40- and 50-somethings are re-emerging, blinking, into the sunlight of new romance, fired up like teenagers but with adult bank accounts and emotional intelligence. The result? Fifty-year-olds gambolling through the dating fields like lambs in springtime. Goodbye Generation
Gap. Remember a time when parents and kids mutually regarded each other as aliens? Where parents bemoaned their kids’ choices in music/clothes/friends? Where kids thought their parents were decrepit relics? Kids probably still think that, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that today’s 50-year-old parents are the most Down With The Kids generation ever.
Whether you swap Adidas Gazelles or go to the tattoo shop together, have a shared love of hip hop or camp next to each other at Glastonbury, being a 50-year-old parent is all the fun. These days, there is a cultural overlap, and rather more enlightened attitudes to parenting. Draconian is so last century. And remember, kids — your 50-year-old parents were 20 during the second Summer of Love in 1987. We were mad for it. We still are, minus the MDMA. That would just give us a headache at this stage. Goodbye Empty Nest
Syndrome. Although many of us 50-year-olds are still actively parenting teens, those who had kids earlier are now facing what was once called Empty Nest Syndrome. But instead of Mum standing at the door, crying quietly up the sleeve of her cardi as Dad drives the pride and joy off to university, it’s far more likely that she will be planning their next trip away. Whether it’s volunteering at an elephant sanctuary or going back to university themselves, it’s highly unlikely Mum and Dad will be sitting at home watching day time game shows. Life is too short to waste - and the greatest gift of 50 is realising it is time, not money, which is your greatest resource. And which you will maximise accordingly.
Achey bones. See yoga. Middle aged spread. See kale.
Marital bed death. See riding the second wave. Wrinkles. See ZFG. Sense of impending mortality. See volunteering, travelling.
Suzanne breaks out the knitting needles — in jest — as she heads for the Big Five Oh; far left Nicole Kidman is 50, Julia Roberts is about to turn 50, and Pamela Anderson, far right, is 50.