MID­DLE AGE, RE­BRANDED

Mil­len­ni­als, schmil­len­ni­als. The hot new de­mo­graphic is the midster, re­ports Kelly Ana Morey.

The Dominion Post - Your Weekend (Dominion Post) - - Cover Story -

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,

Karen Walker Ni­cole Kid­man

Waver­ley’s classic snack trol­ley.

Wed­ding drama.

Claire Chitham as Waver­ley with An­gela Dotchin as Kirsty.

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