MIDDLE AGE, REBRANDED
Millennials, schmillennials. The hot new demographic is the midster, reports Kelly Ana Morey.
Ameandering camera takes in the location; the Mediterranean, a house up in the hills and a beautiful swimming pool, around which a naked man and woman are sunbathing.
The woman is on her back reading, her slim, toned arms holding the book aloft so it shades her face. Her breasts are high and her long lean body is gilded by the sun. The film is A Bigger Splash and the actress is the incomparable Tilda Swinton (left), who at 56 looks closer to 30 than 60.
Yes, in Tilda’s case it’s largely down to winning the big prize in the genetic lottery, and for most, the middle years aren’t so kind. That aside, middle age sure isn’t what it used to be.
This is the dawning of the age of the happy-golucky midsters, broadly defined as those born between 1960 and 1980, who actively reject acting or looking or feeling their age.
You can thank the English for coming up with the term “midster”, and unleashing blogs, books and think pieces about this new kind of middle age.
Not all middle-aged people are midsters, of course, but midsters form a significant subgroup of people in their late 30s to late 50s.
I know these people. Pretty much all of my middleaged friends are hell-bent on not going quietly into that good night, myself included. In the interests of learning more, I rang Dr Bodo Lang, senior marketing lecturer at the University of Auckland and selfconfessed midster.
He says midsters’ identity is intrinsically linked to being perceived as being radically different to their parents and the latter’s concept of what being middle-aged entailed.
“It’s about being cool and young,” Lang explains, “a rejection of the traditional middle-aged role. The generational differences between midsters and their parents is the biggest it’s ever been and the gap between midsters and their children, if they have them, the smallest.”
It’s a stage of life rather than a particular age, says Mimi Spencer, co-author of The Midlife Kitchen, a book dedicated to feeding the midster.
“We don’t just arrive at old age – there is a vibrant, active interesting stage of our lives that is now termed midlife that we are only just beginning to recognise as being a distinct phase of life. It’s full of energy and potential, a time to relish not regret.”
A midster will nearly always be relatively well off,
says Bodo Lang. There are exceptions to this rule in terms of creatives who may not have the earning power but hold lots of cool currency and lead the way in terms of trendsetting.
Midsters tend to be educated, are nearly always extroverted, are inherently positive and are strongly attracted to new ideas.
“In midlife, if you look after your health, there’s no reason you can’t set up a new business, run
a marathon, learn a new language,” says Mimi Spencer. “In fact you might find with a few tweaks and adjustments you can be in the best shape of your life.”
Midsters care about fashion, looking good and having lovely homes and interesting lives. They love social media because they can curate their lives, expressing their identity with every post, be it a cute designer pet, renovation-in-progress, flea market buy,
What are the one or two changes you can make to your diet in midlife to immediately feel better?
We embrace variety – we don’t think cutting out food groups (unless you have a medical reason to do so), detoxing or cleansing is what your body needs in midlife. Far better to embrace a diverse array of fresh, whole foods with plenty of fruit and veges, low-gi (slowrelease) carbohydrates, good fats, lean protein and – above all – to seek out healthy ingredients that you really love eating.
Some of our favourites include eggs, yoghurt, oily fish, olive oil, spices, nuts, seeds, fresh herbs, ginger, dark berries and citrus fruit. The only thing we would limit is refined sugar, so we’ve tried to find alternative sweeteners for our Midlife recipes. Dates are brilliant for this, and we love a bit of dark chocolate (who doesn’t?)
Where’s the meat in midlife? Your book offers mostly vegetarian and chicken and fish dishes.
Yes, that’s a good question. As we’ve hit midlife, both of us (and our husbands) have found that we’ve naturally cut back on our intake of red (and particularly processed) meat preferring leaner protein sources such as fish, shellfish and legumes.
Having said that, there is room for meat in The Midlife Kitchen. We still love a piece of rare, seared steak and there are also pork and lamb recipes for when occasion calls – particularly as iron remains an important nutrient in midlife which can be difficult to get from other sources.
If someone were to adopt all the changes outlined in the book, what could they expect in terms of how they felt and looked?
Really the message of the book is that there are many small and easy tweaks that can be made which will add up to a much tastier and healthier diet. It’s not about wholesale change, but a new direction for your cooking. Using more seeds and nuts for example, sprinkled on salads or used in soups and bakes.
The Midlife Kitchen by Mimi Spencer and Sam Rice (Octopus, $40) is out now.
I had wondered if the whole idea of midsters had been spawned by cynical advertising executives in order to flatter the middle-aged and encourage them to part with their money. There’s definitely an element of truth there, but I don’t think it’s the whole story. What retailers and marketing experts have done is read the trend very early, and positioned themselves to capitalise on it.
A randomly chosen Vanity Fair (January 2009) with Tina Fey on the cover, a midster icon and a midster magazine if ever there was one, boasts 37 pages of high-end advertising before the content begins.
The majority is for luxury brand handbags, jeans, perfume, lingerie and sunglasses, all reasonably accessible items. This simple strategy of democratising luxury brands by producing cheaper, often heavily branded items and licensing, has been the saving grace of many a fashion house.
There’s also been a noticeable increase in the use of older models and celebrities in advertising campaigns and as fashion muses in the last decade, especially those houses which rely on good sales in their cheaper ready-to-wear and diffusion lines.
Think Karen Walker’s use of glamorous older women in her advertising, Nicole Kidman for Chanel, George Clooney for Louis Vuitton and Tilda Swinton for Alexander Mcqueen.
The more mainstream brands are also all over it. Notable street labels such as Calvin Klein and Gap, renowned for worshipping at the altar of youth, have been featuring older celebrity models in their ad campaigns, as have a handful of lingerie labels.
Of course there have always been midsters. History is littered with people who did their middleyears magnificently.
They barely worked, married well and often, affaired extensively and lived unapologetically – whether that meant being a professional serial wife/mistress, such as Pamela Churchill; shacking up with more than one other such as Vanessa Bell and Australia’s Sunday Reed; marrying a fascist during World War II such as Diana Mitford; or in the case of TE Lawrence, deciding to hare off into the desert on a camel in search of adventure.
Creative types have also been refusing to grow old since time began. However, what all of these people, and the legions of others like them had in common in the olden days was money. Either their own, or access to other people’s. If you wanted to live a life that was mad, bad and fun, it certainly helped if you weren’t encumbered by the need to work a 40-hour shift at your local supermarket.
While midstering remains inextricably linked to affluence, the democratisation of luxury and technology has seen this sector of the population become broader and far more visible than it has in previous generations. We all know them, hell some of us may even be them.
Hi, I’m Kelly Ana and I’m a midster.
Chitham is frequently asked, by both friends and fans, if she would ever return to Ferndale. Until now, she hadn’t wanted to; she’d decided she never wanted to be Waverley again.
She had played the role for eight years – what began as a five-week guest appearance became a major character role that put her at the centre of many dramatic storylines: fated relationships, numerous marriages, breast cancer, miscarriage and home invasion. As Chitham points out, she “crossed through all of the characters”.
“There was nothing about Waverley that I wanted to revisit. To be honest, she’s not someone I want to hang out with for a long time. She’s exhausting.”
Maxine Fleming – who began her scriptwriting career when Shortland Street first went to air, and is now the show’s producer – reminded Chitham that Waverley was always “high energy; with pages and pages of dialogue because she was the chatty one.
“And obviously,” say Chitham, “I’m also a chatty one, so it wasn’t that difficult for me!”
Having key crew members on set who were there in Waverley’s time helped Chitham overcome her trepidation of returning to New Zealand’s most enduring soap.
“Shortland Street is still such an important training ground in our television industry, and there are obviously a lot of new people in the cast.
But if I’d walked in here and not known anyone except for [onscreen husband] Karl Burnett – he’s a hilarious human being – I might have felt a lot more awkward and not as selfishly nostalgic.”
Re-engaging with Waverley wasn’t so effortless. “Most people told me it would be just like riding a bike. Well, it’s more like being asked to have sex with an ex. It’s an ex that you don’t hate, that you still think is a nice person, but you aren’t sexually attracted to them any more.
“But you have to get in bed and have fun,” she says. “I was apprehensive about getting back into bed with her, putting her skin on and not feeling like an idiot. Because we really want to honour these characters.
“We want you to see Nick and Waverley and feel that hit of nostalgia all these years later and think,
Amonth after being transferred from Archive New Zealand to the National Library in the dead of night, our nation’s founding documents are on display.
The new permanent exhibition He Tohu, featuring the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand (1835), the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi and 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition, opens at Wellington’s National Library today.
As part of the exhibition, 124 New Zealanders were asked about their views on the three documents. Here are extracts from four interviews. “We define ourselves by stories we tell about ourselves. It was the business of my elders, my grandmother, to tell me those stories and so it’s my business to tell those stories to my grandchildren.
And really when you think about it, all of those stories actually were initiated by the debate at Waitangi in 1840 on February the 6th.
In the time that I was growing up, the Pakeha in New Zealand didn’t want to know about the Treaty and didn’t want to know anything about the MaoriPakeha relationship except what they could see and what they wished to see.
I was living this life within New Zealand but always aware that whenever I went home, the old people were still always talking about the Treaty.
What was happening was that I was living in two worlds, one world was a world which I really wanted to succeed in, which was the Pakeha world, and at the same time I would then go home to Waituhi, which was my home village, and be aware that actually the people that I came from had a long history of resistance to Pakeha.” “…I think that history doesn’t have endings… remembering is important because forgetting is so easy – forgetting is much easier than remembering.
We have this sense that we are more enlightened than the last generation and that that kind of progressive enlightenment is going to keep on going indefinitely, that things are always getting better - and I think that can be a trap actually, I don’t think that’s necessarily true.
The relationship we have with history needs to be a conversation, it needs to be a constant questioning of what does this mean for us now. It is still much harder for female novelists, female writers to be taken seriously than it is for male novelists, [for instance].
There is this sexism in our minds and this is, I think, true of everybody, it’s not just a male problem at all. We understand intellectual works to be the province of men and we understand historical fiction, particularly bodice-ripping kind of historical fiction, to be the province of women.” “The Women’s Suffrage Petition was presented in September. They collected these names in winter,