A legendary magazine boss I once worked with planted an idea in my mind that, when I was 30 years old, didn’t resonate. She was in her early 40s and talked about being comfortable in her skin, content with the way she looked. She had a distinctive style: all slouchy, expensive trouser suits worn with loafers and cool T-shirts.
I was in awe of her confidence, and longed for the time when I’d stop worrying about other people’s opinions and have a look that was completely “me”. Somewhere deep inside I knew the only opinion that should matter to me was my own, but years as a shy teenager followed by my self-conscious 20s meant I wasn’t ready to believe it just yet.
Roll on another decade, with my own magazine to boss, a couple of kids to raise and a home to run with my husband, her words came back to me – I may have been busier than I ever thought possible, but I no longer cared whether I was slim enough, pretty enough or fashionable enough. I was happy with the fortysomething woman looking back at me in the mirror, despite the dark circles betraying my lack of sleep and the fine lines emerging where laughter and sunshine had filled so many of my days.
I’d learned to enjoy clothes and the power they had to make me feel good, rather than not good enough. I’d evolved my own signature look of statement blouses, tailored trousers, well cut dresses and stand out accessories, which one high-ranking fashion director described as “well put together”. Believe me, that’s about as complimentary as it gets in such circles.
Editing Marie Claire magazine was the pinnacle of my glossy career. With my team, we constantly questioned and challenged images and ideals of beauty, an uphill struggle women have been battling for decades. So how brilliant it is to see that change is finally happening; the unrealistic and unattainable has been firmly rejected by a new generation, powered by social media to say they can be happy in their own skin – at any age.
For young women, individuality is the only trend that matters; identity is something they decide for themselves. High street and high fashion are getting the message, and many brands now feature women of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and abilities. I hope this means that my own teenage daughter won’t have to wait until her 40s to feel comfortable in her gorgeously pale and freckled skin.
Being able to talk openly about our experiences as women at every life stage is one of the keys to unlocking confidence. After leaving the world of glossy magazines last year, I wanted to carry on those conversations, and so I launched a podcast called Postcards From Midlife. Along with my co-host and fellow former glossy editor Lorraine Candy, we talk and laugh about all the brilliant and challenging things of midlife, such as parenting hormonal teens while coping with our own hormonal shake down, as we hit perimenopause. Our guests range from celebrities and novelists to health, sex and wellbeing experts.
The physical, hormonal and emotional changes that occur from our mid-40s to early 50s can shatter our hard-won confidence. A lot of our listeners despair at their expanding middles – caused by our bodies being less efficient at metabolising carbohydrates. We also talk about the brain fog, hot flushes and 32 (yes there are actually that many) other symptoms of the menopause.
And then there are perilous pelvic floors, a result of our childbearing years and declining oestrogen, which can cause bladder weakness and those oh so embarrassing little leaks. Pelvic floor exercises make a difference, and the range of styles and colours in bladder control pads and pants means there are discreet options to let women stay confident and stylish.
Let’s keep talking and break down these midlife taboos. And know that ultimately, your opinion of yourself is the only one that really matters.
Many women experience light bladder weakness at some point in their lives. By exercising your pelvic floor muscles you can seriously reduce the risk of little leaks. To find out more, search “TENA My Pelvic Floor Fitness App” or visit tena.co.uk/ageless