FIFTY & FABULOUS
For decades, turning 50 meant you were ‘over the hill’. But things are changing, and more women are seeing the midlife milestone as something to celebrate.
No longer seen as ‘over the hill’, the midlife milestone is now something to celebrate.
Now is the time!” declares Joanne Fedler, ‘storyteller coach’, to her rapt audience. “Break whatever has kept you small – find the part of yourself you left behind and give it your power as a fully grown woman. Hear your own voice. Meet yourself!”
We have gathered at the Eternity Playhouse in Sydney for the inaugural Silver Sirens event. Surrounding me is an all-female audience made up of everyone from scientists and admin workers to small business owners and creatives. But they share one thing in common. They are all over 45.
We are here to explore life’s next phase – not as a decline to be feared or held at bay as long as possible, but as a rite of passage that can nourish us and is worthy of respect – even awe.
“I have always looked ahead in life and been excited about growing into my next age,” explains Faith Agugu, the founder of Silver Sirens, who is in her fifties. “I’d think, ‘What will I have learnt and achieved by 40?’ Now it’s, ‘I can’t wait to see what happens at 60!’”
Midlife was first modeled to Agugu by her family. “My mother came into her own in her fifties. After sacrificing everything to raise six kids, she could finally put mothering aside. So Mum learned to read, and took two trips a year. Fifty to me spells adventures.”
Agugu’s heritage also imbued the ageing process with a different cultural context. She says, “In Africa we revere and respect older women as elders. They are our teachers. I was surprised when
I got to know Western culture and saw how women really struggle with a limited, constricted view of age.”
Indeed, many women would agree that there’s long been a stigma attached to getting older – a notion that you’re past your prime, even invisible, once you reach a certain age. But things are beginning to change, and now it’s 50’s time to shine. Rather than seeing it as something to deny and turn away from, more and more women are embracing this midlife milestone – and all that comes along with it.
In the world of beauty, traditional signs of ageing are now being worn with pride. The silver hair trend, for example, celebrates what was once shamed. For decades, the first gleam of grey or silver hair was immediately banished by those who weren’t ready to surrender their younger selves.
But today, grey hair is being re-imagined by women who are having loads of fun posting their skunk streaks, salt-and-pepper styles and shimmering silver ringlets on Instagram. As increasing numbers of people ditch the dye, the message is loud and clear – advancing age is no longer something you have to hide. Rather, you can be ‘old’ and still be confident, empowered and beautiful.
Indeed, the founders of Lumen (a dating app for over-50s) bristled at staid ‘senior’ style dating platforms that just didn’t reflect the vibrant, successful, sexy 50-somethings that they knew – who were out there “looking for their next adventure”. So they designed a platform that specifically caters to them in a contemporary, hi-tech way, with features like photo verification and minimum length messaging (‘Hi, wassup?’ isn’t going to cut it).
As Gen Xers now enter midlife, is it any wonder that we are eager to grow older differently, overwriting the blueprint of what came before? Known as the ‘middle child’ of generations, stuck between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials, we are said to be the defiant demographic – independent thinkers who prefer to do things our own way. Perhaps it is only natural, therefore, that we rebel against the expectations that once swirled around turning 50. We don’t have to simply fade away into middle age – we can find a better way forward.
Transitioning past one’s prime fertility into their forties has been a lightning rod of existential angst for many women. In a previous life, I was a fashion model. In that world, the inevitable association of ageing with worthlessness was accelerated. It was not only youth but extreme youth (pre-25) that was the source of my identity and my value to my community (the fashion world). The approach of 40 was confronting and scary, while 50 seemed beyond the pale, mysterious and nebulous.
But it’s time to completely rethink everything we had thought (or feared) about early midlife. As we approach 50, it can be chance for us to take stock of our lives and find a new direction. We can embrace all those experiences that previously sat on the back burner due to lack of time. The focus on marriage, babies and career ambitions that so consumed our youth can switch to selfhood and our underlying dreams.
At the Silver Sirens event, elders in their eighties – one had become a comedian at 68 – were so outrageous that the theatre filled with laughter as their huge personalities blew the cobwebs away from the ‘women of a certain age’ invisibility of yore. The lesson was clear – you cannot avoid ageing, but you can have fun with it.
In the tumult of this era’s social changes, as more people start to see 50 not as the beginning of the end, but as a new start, it is ageism itself that’s starting to look old hat.