A bit of a Twitter flurry caught my eye this week (week 12 and Lockdown melting down as crowds gather outside Primark). In a ruffle of outraged feathers, the excellent Henpicked (‘the website for women who weren’t born yesterday’) rounded on a ridiculous piece of advertising promoting ketogenic eating habits. Some benighted diet company had published an infographic of such staggering ignorance and casual ageism that we all felt moved to pile in. Was it a wind up?
In the piece, under the headline ‘What to Eat on Keto ACCORDING TO AGE’, five age groups are illustrated: The first three, 18-30, 30-40 and 40-50 are represented by svelte, cool looking women pouting, their hands on snake-like hips, their jeans skinny, their chests pert.
However, be warned, women! In the two years it takes to get from 49 to 51 a terrible transformation occurs.
The 50 to 60 age group is represented by a Mrs Brady Old Lady (yes, I used to read Viz) with glasses, her hair in a neat bun, tartan shopper on arm. Her frame is roughly twice the width of her sprightlier younger sisters and to celebrate this she wears shapeless frumpy clothes and comfy shoes.
The 60+ age group shows a woman wider still, with a home perm, a really hangdog expression, a bit of a stoop, dressed in what look like Polyester slacks and a barely done-up cardi. She carries a lighter sort of shopping bag. Presumably because she cannot carry anything heavier than a packet of fig rolls and some Sheba.
This is outrageous on so many levels I barely know where to start. The evident lack of care about appearance! The beleaguered stance and expression! The fact that shuffling to the shops is all that women past 50 ever do! The fact that some sort of Art Editor checked this piece and declared it a reasonable portrayal of five stages of womanhood beggars belief.
If this kind of stereotyping of women post menopause still exists, it’s no wonder that prospective employers hesitate before interviewing applicants with birthdates before 1970. They see Mrs Brady in their heads and automatically fear she’ll fail to understand the computer system, continually complain about her lumbago, take frequent time off to buy cat food and ‘have a fall’ at inopportune moments (memo: women of a certain age ‘have a fall’ they do not simply fall over).
Fortunately for women of our age group, there’s a growing social media community building up to support our sisters as their menstruation stops and we move into a different stage of life without the need for ‘feminine hygiene products’. Because that is all menopause is, for many of us. For women who find this time rough, or who suffer physical symptoms of menopause, organisations such as Henpicked can also help.
I believe it is crucial to celebrate our strong physical bodies at every age. I also believe that vigorous physical exercise spares you from aches, pains, (hormonal) sweats and attendant lethargy. But I know that makes me sound a bit like Robert Baden-Powell whose statue is being so carefully guarded on Poole Harbour so I should perhaps tone it down a bit. I am a big fan of ‘beastliness’ (look it up), which I hope distinguishes me from Baden Powell. A lot of people hate vigorous physical exercise. And they just don’t want to do it. Hopefully they wouldn’t be reading this.
There is no reason why you cannot run, jump, throw, ride and swim at any age. Yes, I bang on about this all the time, but the drum needs to be banged, if only to keep those cartoonish old biddies out of people’s heads and get them to look around to see what mature women can do. I am an avid follower of Alex Rotas, the photographer and speaker who has done so much to promote active ageing and dispel the stereotypes. Some of the photos she has taken of athletes in their seventh, eighth and ninth decades and beyond are incredibly heartening.
That’s why I felt moved to pile into the Twitter conversation with an image of me, running as fast as I can in my 50s. I’ll be 60 in two years’ time and I will still run as fast as I can.
You’ll notice I am not carrying a shopping bag.