#50NotOut: Changing the Goalposts for Older Women
It was my first time. No one had ever said it to me before, and I’d been blithely unaware that I was at this point in my life. I’m talking about the day a shop assistant called me ‘Love.’ Now, you might not see this as a big deal. My friend T says she’s very happy with Love – it’s just a friendly form of address where she comes from, and she’s used it all her life. But in my experience Love is said either to particularly polite teenagers by little old ladies, or to little old ladies struggling with their shopping trolleys. It’s not a huge deal. Heaven knows I’d prefer Love to Babe, or God forbid, Hunni. And if it were just a slightly patronising form of address, I could probably get over myself and let it go. But there’s more. I work from home, and earn a living from this blog, and from various other associated writing and speaking commissions. However, I occasionally come across employers of industry (a place where I previously held down a 6-figure salary career) who give me that look. The one that says ‘woman, past-it, next please…’
A while back I covered a careers bootcamp, aimed at women wanting to return to employment after having time out with young children. I was interested to understand the challenges mothers faced, particularly off the back of Anna Whitehouse’s brilliant #FlexAppeal campaign. The speaker talked convincingly about tactics women can use to get past the barriers they may face after a career break. She answered questions with practical tips on pretty much every issue, from the perceived loss of up to date experience due to time out, to asking for flexible work hours. I put my hand up: “What if as well as being a mum who’s taken some time out, you’re also over the age of 50?” I asked. At this point, all her knowledge and advice deserted her. She glazed over, told the room that ageism is even more of a problem than sexism, and moved quickly on to the next question.
Ageism is the new sexism
That’s not okay with me. In a society where retirement age is forcibly going upwards, and pensions not meeting need, older people will quite simply have to work, whether employer’s stereotypes like it or not. But more to the point, what exactly is it about a woman’s visibly older skin that automatically tosses her onto the reject pile? Yes, my joints ache, my capacity for work after drinking alcohol is diminished, and I’m damned if I can find a heel that will let me run around London as comfortably as I once did. But it’s nothing that flat heels, Becks Blue and ibuprofen gel can’t solve, and there is nothing about my age that limits my tenacity, my project management skills, or my energy for a job worth doing.
There is a woman I pass every morning on my run, as she heads out to work. Silver-grey elfin cut, snappy suit, mid-height – but so very expensive-looking – heels, and an impeccable red lip. I have no doubt that she is nailing her job, killing deadlines, and inspiring a lot of her younger colleagues to improve against their targets. Which brings me to my next point…
What do you think happens to all that experience as a woman gets older? Does it become obsolete the minute the menopause kicks in? Well, kind of, if you’re talking to a woman who hasn’t kept up with the latest trends and technology. But as an employer, I can promise you that for every woman who’s not really nailing it any more, there are at least as many men who are past it. It’s quite simply not a matter of age; it’s about each individual’s motivation and talents. And the women who are out there reading and engaging, watching and inputting? They’re killing it. In fact, an older woman will probably have something up her sleeve of experience that the rest of the team couldn’t pull out of the bag if their salary depended on it.
And another thing…
Who the hell wants ‘Mature Fashion’?
Who made it law that once you’re past 50 you have to shop in that frumpy section of the department store that your mum seemed to like? Is it the same algorithm that dictates the arrival of hideous orthotic shoe catalogues on your doormat as soon as the pop of champagne corks is heard? When did fashion marketers stop bothering to appeal to older women? In much the same way that mum Zoë de Pass has turned the ‘dress like a mum’ stereotype on its head, I feel like I want to grab hold of the fashion industry and force designers to create shoes and clothing that work for women who didn’t unwrap an ‘off’ switch amongst their 50th birthday gifts on their desire to look awesome in their clothes.
“.. who made the rules that an older woman needs to stop having fun with her clothes when she gets older? Or that she should cover up so as to not offend those around her? Why are others offended by the legs of an older woman anyway?!!!”
Cherry Healey on Instagram.
And I do mean awesome. Stylish is good, classy is good, but awesome is better. I feel like there are a ton of people who do comfy with no style; a few brands who aim for modern, but don’t quite go far enough; and some retailers who don’t actually mind if you shop with them, but much prefer it if you give your teenager your credit card. I may feel better in an orthotic sole, and I’ll certainly thank a brand for some give in a waistband; but that doesn’t mean I want to dress in cardigans and permanent-crease slacks when everyone else is in glitter mini skirts and skinny jeans. In fact, I’m on a mission today (on one of my other tabs as I type this) to find a leopard mini that will prove a woman over 50 can totally nail that style, should she so wish. If you know where I can find that skirt, please tell me!
So who’s with me? I’m on a mission to take on industry, the media and fashion stereotypes. To change how older women are perceived and dictated to. And to empower every woman who wants to lead a business, innovate, wear hot thigh-high orthotics, or just rock a leopard mini skirt. If this sounds like you too, I’d love it if you’d join me on Instagram #50NotOut.