Women at their peak at 52 On their knees, more like!
Managing the change: Liz, aged 53 1/4, says that famous 50-somethings make her irate
Yes, it’s a lovely fantasy. Women aged 52 are, to echo Miss Jean Brodie, in their prime. Confidence, apparently, peaks at this age, as does a feeling of well-being, with women comfortable with their bodies ‘both inside and out’.
This was according to a survey of 3,000 women conducted by, of all companies, Kellogg’s, makers of Special K cereal.
The survey found that a key reason for this rise in self-esteem was the feeling that goals such as, you guessed it, slimming down, had been achieved by this age.
The diet-cereal maker roped in a psychologist to add, ahem, weight to their findings: ‘A woman in her 50s knows who she is, what her strengths are and values, as well as her weaknesses and failings. You become more accepting of the things that you are not good at.
‘Also, because you are getting on in life, with the children growing up and leaving home, you can have more time for yourself, which can also lead to increased self-confidence.’
I don’t really see the point of Special K coming up with these findings other than to tell its core customers — probably feeling the inevitable guilt post-Christmas as they survey their lardy thighs — to cheer up, that they only have to eat cold bowls of puffy rice for 50 years and then they can slide into the post-menopausal wilderness, where everyone will forget they exist.
Just as we never feature a fatty frolicking in a red dress in our TV adverts, so too we will never feature a 50-something husk, as who would want to aspire to that Just re-read that initial statement: ‘weaknesses’, ‘failings’, ‘accepting’, ‘more time for yourself’ — which translates as ‘loneliness’ — as well as the damning, ‘getting on in life’.
All that psycho-babble reads roughly thus: there is nothing more unappealing and pointless than a woman over 50 on a diet. So bugger off and crochet armchair covers to be worn thin as you sit there, waiting for a telephone call from a member of the ungrateful brood who couldn’t wait to fly your nest. News reports of the survey’s findings were inevitably accompanied by smiling portraits of famous 50-somethings: Emma Thompson, Madonna, Sarah Ferguson. These women, we are told, feel and look better than they ever did.
I always become irate when I see these so-called role-models held up as beacons. They are not happy and beautiful because they are 52. They are these things because they have money, and time and a support network. Without these things, managing the changes in a female body over 50 — if you have the energy to bother — is like spinning plates.
If you neglect just one part for even a few moments it will crash to the floor: the chin will sprout whiskers, the toenails will thicken, the hand will become crepey, the stomach willpouch, the gums recede. Despite the facelift I was lucky enough to be able to afford earlier this year, I often feel like that beautiful sirenin an early Star Trek episode, the one Kirk fell in love with only to find she turned in an instant into an old crone.
Fabulous and 50 Liz Jones thinks not. From left: Emma Thompson, 52, Sarah Ferguson, 52 and Madonna, 53
Anyway, our fading looks are the least of women’s problem past 50. The truth is that we are more likely than ever before to be lonely and isolated due to financial chaos. We might tell a researcher from Kellogg’s we are no longer obsessed about our weight, but that is only because we are worried about how we will eat when we retire. We are working harder for longer: women, who dominate the public sector, have been hit the hardest by our shrinking pensions and spending cuts.
My generation was an experiment. We knew we didn’t want what our mothers did — which was to be a housewife who put herself second, behind her family. We knew we wanted to be independent and to have careers. The problem was that men, sniffing our liberation, thought they could leave us, and be with younger versions, as we would be OK. We had children much later, which meant our kids exhausted us. A series of devastating factors has converged to make us poor.
One of these is a lack of education and advice — we were the first generation of women to have our own mortgages and bank accounts, and in many cases did not know how to manage them. Not only did divorces increase, but children became dependent for longer. But the biggest nail in our coffin has been the fact our parents were saved by advances in medicine and have therefore also become dependent for decades longer than expected.
Our 50s have turned out not to be a timeof travel, of adventure and wonderful hobbies, but of feeling torn in two by the demands of children and parents. I sat in my 92-year-old mother’s bedroom over Christmas. She is bedridden, and suffering from dementia. I was surrounded by the detritus of senility: wet wipes, towels, Sudocrem, talcum powder and smells. I wanted my mum to sleep, inthe same way a mother wants her newborn to sleep. And I felt a wash of being somehow cheated.
I often feel like that beautiful siren in an early Star Trek episode, the one Kirk fell in love with only to find she turned in an instant into an old crone
I was told, by feminists, by my older sisters, by magazines, not to want a baby in my 20s or even 30s. But nowI have a baby — a giant, unresponsive one — and I am in my 50s. It is just not fair. Even if women have been canny enough, or lucky enough, to have money at this age, we are still tied by this responsibility, andthe feminists never warned us about that. You could take the Pill, but you can’t abort a parent. And, of course, it is still daughters who bearthe brunt of this responsibility, never sons.
This comes at the precise time in our lives when we get up in the morning and our feet ache, our knees creak, and we have to hold all the tiny prescription bottles at arm’s length to even read what our mum has to take to survive. This feeling of being trapped, with the only thing to look forward to our 60 birthday, has led to yet another crisis. We are always hearing about young women who binge-drink, but the truth is the fastest growing sector of society to suffer from alcoholism is women over the age of 50. It’s the only fun we can afford. Is there a silver lining among all this doom
Well, the one good thing is that, upon the menopause, as well as losing the potency of our reproductive hormones, we also lose the hormones that drive us to nurture. We no longer feel the need to look after others — so vital when women are bringing up ungrateful children — and this, I have to say, is extremely liberating. The one good thing about being 53 is I no longer put up with nonsense, from anyone. But it’s interesting the women I most admire are all over 70.
Only by that decade are we hopefully freed from the family ties that bind. Usually , I don’t read the comments beneath articles on Mail Online, as I don’t want the last vestiges of my self-esteem to be leached from my desiccating corpse, but two buried beneath this news story yesterday hit the nail on the head. ‘It’s easy to feel confident once men stop looking,’ wrote one wise woman. And, from a man: ‘What a load of nonsense. No self-respecting man would go anywhere near a woman in her 50s. The very thought repulses me.’
Our culture has, after a long-fought campaign that started in the mid-Sixties (before this era, Vogue featured a model called Mrs Exeter, who was grey-haired, and very obviously in her late 50s), succeeded in telling women over 50 that they are no longer sexual beings. Ah, so that is why the Special K survey found women are ‘comfortable’ about how they look. Other, more pressing, problems have crowded out the one about fitting into that red party dress.