So when does middle age really start A study claims it's not until 55. But as these women reveal, it can strike at ANY age
23:17 GMT, 20 September 2012
12:39 GMT, 21 September 2012
Can it really be true that we don’t feel middle-aged until we reach 55 According to a survey by Love To Learn this week, as the population gets older, most of us feel younger for longer. We ask six writers to reveal the day they felt they lost the bloom of youth…
LIZ JONES, 54
Hit middle age at 20
HIT MIDDLE AGE AT 20: 'I have always felt middle-aged': Liz Jones says she felt like she missed out on youth and felt her life was over before it had really even begun
‘I have always felt middle-aged, that my life was over before it began. Because I never took drugs, or had wild sex with lots of boys, or had a gap year, I have in a way always been really, really old.
I kept waiting for my life to start, hopefully tomorrow, and then it never did. When I was 19, I went to see a model agent with some bad, blurry black-and-white photographs taken by a boy I was in unrequited love with, in St James’s Park. I wanted to be in Vogue more than I wanted life itself.
The modelling agent, Lorraine Ashton, told me that not only did I have bad skin, but that I was already too old. I took this pronouncement to heart. I felt my life was over. I would never, ever be a model.
Then, when I turned 25, my dad said: ‘A quarter of a century! That is so ancient!’
Again, I felt prematurely old. /09/20/article-0-00643ED100000258-920_306x399.jpg” width=”306″ height=”399″ alt=”Middle age set in with motherhood: Lucy Cavendish says her middle age set in when she had her son Lenny when she was just shy of 30″ class=”blkBorder” />
HIT MIDDLE AGE AT 30: Middle age set in with motherhood: Lucy Cavendish says her middle age set in when she had her son Lenny when she was just shy of 30
‘For me, middle age seemed to come on when I had my first son, Lenny. I was just shy of 30. Before having my first baby, I had a good career, a house and a long-term partner.
We were a very sociable couple, always going out, having friends over, staying up late. I had a great life. I was slim, confident, happy, youthful. Then I had a baby and it all stopped. I became middle-aged overnight.
For a start, my body didn’t snap back to size 10. It hovered at 16 for ages, then settled at 14. This meant that none of the clothes I used to wear — the short skirts, tiny dresses, little tops — fitted me any more. I’d wander in to shops like M&S and Monsoon and end up buying dresses the size of kaftans.
My age started to show in my face. I was permanently exhausted, whey-faced, with bags under my eyes. I took little care in how I looked.
All I could think about was the baby, so I wandered around in sick-covered tops, hair scraped back, wearing no make-up.
It wasn’t just my looks that changed. I also developed a ‘middle-aged’ attitude. I became the queen of the box set. I’d sit in the house every night eating tubs of ice cream and watching television. I devoured films and sitcoms. I stopped going out, too afraid to leave the baby.
Restaurants, pubs, parties, movies became things of the past. I also became obsessed with doing up the tiny garden we had and spent every weekend dragging my partner round garden centres looking at clematis.
I woke up one day and caught sight of myself in the mirror and realised I’d become a middle-aged frump. It was very depressing, but there didn’t seem much I could do about it. Three more children followed and I became increasingly frumpish — going to bed at 9pm, moaning a lot, never losing weight, planting more clematis.
But now! Now I feel completely different. My youngest child is five. I have a great babysitter. I have lost weight, bought a new wardrobe and, hey presto, I no longer feel middle-aged! There is light at the end of that long tunnel. My garden, however, has gone to pot.’
LIZ HODGKINSON, 68
Hit middle age at 50
MIDDLE AGED AT 50: Middle age felt like the worst insult possible, but Liz Hodgkinson says that in the 18 years since she turned 50 she feels she hasn't aged a bit
‘For me, middle age began the day I reached 50.
I may not have looked much different from when I was 49, but I felt very different, and that was what mattered. I knew in my soon-to-thin bones that 50 was the watershed, the bourn from which no woman would return, and that only decline and decay lay ahead.
Until now I had been young, healthy and vigorous. But after the age of 50, I would, I was reliably informed, start to get those ghastly age-related diseases such as arthritis, osteoporosis and diabetes.
My eyesight would go. My hearing would go. That unpleasant rite of passage for 50-plus women, the menopause, would happen with its terrifying symptoms. My hair would go grey. Everywhere.
I would get varicose veins, cankles, and have gnarled wrinkly claws for hands. Nobody would find me attractive. Worse, I would not find myself attractive. I would have to search out extra-wide shoes and support tights. It was hateful, hateful, hateful being 50 and felt like the worst insult possible.
So no wonder I did everything I could to stay 49 and deny the ever-accelerating years. I instructed family and friends not to remember my birthday and since reaching 50, I have not had even so much as a birthday card, never mind a present, by choice. My birthday is my best-kept secret, never to be divulged to anybody.
Well, 18 years have now passed since I reached 50 and an odd thing has happened. I still feel 49. I think that because of the strength of my denial and refusal to admit that the age of 50 had finally caught up with me, my body got the message and — so far at least — has refused to age.
The menopause came and went without me even noticing it. I don’t have any age-related diseases or, indeed, any diseases at all as far as I know. When I went to have some health checks recently, I was told I had the innards of a woman of 30.
But I still hate being 50. Or (whisper it), 68.’
LINDA KELSEY, 60
Hit middle age at 60
MIDDLE AGED AT 60: She's a fully-fledged sexagenarian – but Linda Kelsey is unafraid to wear outfits from shops like GAP intended for pencil-thin 18-year-old girls
‘A week ago I tried on a pair of wine-coloured, cropped cord jeans and a blue chambray shirt in Gap.
While I’d been humming and hawing in the mirror, the changing room assistant told me I looked great and said I’d chosen exactly the same combo as was used in the adverts.
I rushed back on to the shop floor and there in front of me was a more than life-size poster of an 18-year-old in the same kit. And that’s when it hit me. There I was, a middle-aged woman dressed like a teenager and thinking I could get away with it.
Because until that moment I’d barely stopped to think I was middle-aged. And then came the double blow, the realisation that I’m not even middle-aged. I’m 60 for heaven’s sake!
But it’s only now that I’m a fully-fledged sexagenarian that I’m just about ready to accept middle age as a concept, just so long as no one dares to call me elderly.
For quite a few years I’ve been fooling myself, like most of the people in the survey no doubt, in myriad ways, but henceforth I am determined to face the following head on: music in restaurants is not getting louder, I’m just becoming more deaf. Menu type-faces are not getting smaller — I’m going increasingly blind.
“Why do people have to be so rude” — a catchphrase of mine these days — is a comment I now acknowledge you only make when you’re middle-aged or older.
Computers, I now accept, do not go wrong on purpose and anyone younger than middle-aged would be able to fix my laptop glitches in seconds. Moreover, successfully downloading an app and congratulating myself on my brilliance, proves not that I’m a technical whizz, but a middle-aged saddo.
As a middle-aged woman, I no longer have to kid myself I have just as much energy as I used to, while I yawn my way through the afternoon.
And I will admit that inviting friends to come for supper at 7pm so I can have done the washing-up and be in bed well before midnight, when I used to invite them for 8pm or 8.30pm and ignore the clock striking midnight, is definitely a sign of middle-age.
So by rights I should have handed that outfit modelled by the teenager for Gap straight back. But I didn’t. In fact I’m wearing it now. Because while in reality I’m elderly, and in my head I’m middle-aged, at heart I’m still occasionally a kid.’
ESTHER RANTZEN, 72
Hit middle age at 72
MIDDLE AGED AT 72: Young at heart Esther Rantzen only finally admitted entering her middle age with the birth of her grandson when she was 72 years old
‘I have been a grandmother for two months now. But in spite of my wrinkles and the occasional groan when I get out of my easy chair, I admit that I am having trouble adjusting to my new maturity. So each morning I wake, stare into the mirror and chant the mantra, “Grow up, Esther, you are now middle-aged”.
Maths, I know, is against me. Logically, if I have only just reached the midpoint in my life, that means I am expecting to die when I’m 144. But logic has nothing to do with age. Age is in the mind.
Logic states, assuming as the Bible says that we live until we are three-score years and ten, that middle age strikes when we are 35. Not me, it didn’t. At 35, I was a laughing child.
Living with a flatmate, unmarried, with no children of my own, just starting out on a career as a TV producer and presenter, with both my parents alive and very much present in my life — I was much the same person I had been as a student.
In my 40s, life was still opening up with exciting new challenges: I had three children, set up ChildLine, and carried on working like a lunatic.
Through my 50s and 60s I still junketed about, assuming I had a lifetime ahead of me when I could start behaving like a proper grown-up.
But I have to recognize that the time has now come. Wrench though it is, I must start judging everything I do, say and wear by whether it’s suitable for the middle-aged woman I now am.
That’s why I have down-sized from my family home into a little-old-lady flat. I have thrown away my bikinis. I am rethinking the evening dresses with plunging necklines, wondering whether I should sew in a lace vest to protect my middle-aged cleavage. I have made a will.
I (occasionally) button my lip when I disagree with a friend. I make casseroles and keep them in my freezer. And for the first time, holding my amazing brand new grandson Benjamin, I refer to myself as Granny. Yes, indeed, I am at last middle-aged.’
JENNI MURRAY, 62
Hasn’t hit middle age yet
HASN'T HIT MIDDLE AGE YET: No idea says Jenni Murray: The broadcaster and journalist says she doesn't feel any different to the way she did when she turned 20
‘When I was 40, my mother — then in her early 60s — asked me how it felt to be middle-aged.
‘No idea,’ I told her. ‘Don’t you know 40 is the new 25’
And I didn’t feel a day older than I had in my 20s. I had young children of seven and three and a job. I was fit, active and the kids made sure my life was full of fun.
Nothing much changed as I passed into my 50s. My days were full of young people at work who were brimming with new ideas and home meant questions about anything from Shakespeare to quantum physics, parents’ meetings at school, taxi-driving and shivering on the touchline of the rugby field every weekend.
There were a few hiccups in my mid to late 50s, but you can lose a parent or get a cancer diagnosis at any age, and, as the grief and shock subsided and the treatment was dealt with, I began to feel 25 again.
Now I’m in my 60s and steadfastly refusing to accept that I may be middle-aged or even, possibly, heading for old.
Reaching retirement age was a bit of a shock, but I deferred the pension and determined to keep working until I drop.
I firmly believe that once you accept incipient decrepitude that’s when you do become middle-aged and then old.
But if you keep active, surround yourself with young people, stay abreast of new popular culture and trends in music and fashion, you can keep on keeping on.
So, neither middle-aged, nor old, but as old as I feel . . . and that’s still 25!’