Written by Rebecca Rhodes

In The News

The invisible middle

We are experienced, ambitious, wealthy and informed and yet, no one bloody well wants to talk to us, says women’s marketing company co-founder Rebecca Rhodes. Time for a middle-aged rebrand.

colourful purses
Guess who are the happiest, wealthiest and arguably most informed people in the UK? Guess who buy the most cosmetics, luxury holidays, who have more free time and, what’s more, have an appetite to explore with it?

Why, yes indeed, it is midster women over 40. And yet, despite being in our prime of life we are invisible or, at worst, misrepresented by many youth-obsessed brands, media and society.

And no one knows this more than my colleagues and I. After 20 years launching sanitary towels and soap powder in marketing teams of largely single, white males, we decided this just wasn’t good enough. So we launched our own women-focused agency, SuperHuman, and set out to blow apart these outdated and, frankly embarrassing, stereotypes.

Oprah Winfrey, always a good place to start with anything in life, hits the nail on the head when she says, “We live in a youth-obsessed culture that is constantly trying to tell us that if we are not young, and we’re not glowing, and we’re not hot, that we don’t matter.”

We felt we were on to something and so set off to talk to women up and down the country to reveal exactly why middle age is such a dirty word.

Quite simply, it appears middle age needs a rebrand. Although midlife is a time of growth and coming-of-age, it is also a life stage that is plagued with negative associations, meaning that women rarely embrace it.

Only 4 per cent of women we spoke to felt ‘middle aged’ at the time of being surveyed and as many as three quarters didn’t identify with middle age or with the associations of this life stage.

Anna, a 52-year-old HR manager, summed it up well: “Middle age just sounds so grim. I don’t want to be a teenager again and I’m not hankering after retirement, but middle blah?”

Not only do we not identify with the middle-of-the-road-ness of ‘middle age’, the generational gap is closing. Our 40+ women said they look, feel and live differently than the generation before them with the majority (84 per cent) using products and services aimed at younger women.

Most consider themselves to have a much younger style and attitude than their own mothers’ generations at the same age, with “Keep your hands off my Converse” being a common mother to daughter/son call-out in today’s households.

“Over two thirds of women felt they were either more ambitious than 10 years ago or indeed, than ever before at this point of their life. Personal fulfilment was important to 61 per cent and 63 per cent were very optimistic about the future.”

Pippa, a photographer from London, reflected this in her feedback: “I don’t feel any different from the kids in the office. Post-children gym rehab means I’m fitter than the average teen.”

Conversely, although we feel positive about our 40+ stage of life, there is a cultural paradox at play. At a time when biologically we are in our prime of life, we become invisible in modern society.

A huge 70 per cent of the women we spoke to felt that women in their 40s and 50s are largely ignored or not represented by mainstream media. They also felt that products and services targeted at their age do not accurately reflect their needs and desires. “We are either pissing our knickers in our kitten heels or flying up a wall on a Stannah chair lift,” said Fiona, a 40 year-old mother from Surrey.

It appears to be a game of two halves when it comes to personal confidence post-40. Gloria Steinem talks about women being the only group that becomes more radical with age, as a response to a perceived loss of power. Our women supported this insight, with as many as two thirds stating they felt more confident than they did now than a decade ago.

It is, however, a different story when it comes to confidence in their appearance, a truth that Madonna highlighted at the recent Billboard Women in Music Awards when she said, “The most controversial thing I have done was to stick around. Because to age is a sin.”

Many of the women we spoke to suggested that they felt less confident in their appearance than they had a decade ago, citing pressure to maintain their appearance and stay looking young. Most poignantly, 83 per cent felt that this impacted on how happy they felt about themselves.

On a more positive note, rather than a rollercoaster ride into old age, for many the middle years represent a time of change and reflection. Over two thirds of women felt they were either more ambitious than 10 years ago or indeed, than ever before at this point of their life. Personal fulfilment was important to 61 per cent and 63 per cent were very optimistic about the future.

It is important to acknowledge that it isn’t just millennials who prize experience, and that 78 per cent of the women surveyed feel they have a strong appetite to explore and gain new experiences, with or without kids.

The funny, smart, ambitious women that took part in our project illustrated that as 40+ women we are game-changers, societal pioneers with incredible discretionary spending power. Women over 50 have the greatest assets and highest net worth of any group in the UK and so, when it comes to consumer spending, youth is over-rated. We should not be invisible and what’s more, we are absolutely not going to fade away quietly.

It quite literally does not pay to ignore us.

Find out more at WeAreSuperHuman.co.uk or follow SuperHuman on Twitter at @SuperHumantalks.

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Written by Rebecca Rhodes

Rebecca Rhodes is co-founder of SuperHuman, which helps brands better connect with women.