This is the Era of Women Over 40

Kylie Minogue, June 2019. Photo by Clare Pooley.

This year’s most talked about female headliner at Glastonbury was no millennial. She was 51 year-old Kylie Minogue, who I first came across more than thirty years ago when she sported mechanics overalls and a perm as Charlene in Neighbours.

She’s come a long way, baby. Kylie not only delivered a phenomenal performance, she also bought the audience, and herself, to tears by talking about the last time she was booked to headline on the Pyramid Stage, back in 2005. She’d had to cancel in order to start treatment for breast cancer.

(I’d love to think that I share Kylie’s talent, or pert bum, or superhuman energy levels. Sadly not, but we are both breast cancer survivors, so I feel a deep affinity with her and am convinced that, should we meet, we’d be immediate BFFs).

When Kylie released Locomotion, back in 1987, she was a bubbly, energetic 19 year-old who made everyone smile. She’s still all those things (except being 19, obvs), but now she has real depth and wisdom. Like all women of her age, she has a back story filled with heartache, triumphs and disasters, and she’s come out the other end, better than ever. Kylie doesn’t just give us songs, she gives us hope.

“Life is about love and experience and learning and evolving, and I am richer and thankful for all of the experiences in my life.”

Kylie Minogue

And that’s the thing about ‘older’ women. They may be less taut than your average millennial, but they’re usually more interesting.

I posted an article by Kate Muir in the Financial Times last week on the Life in the Hot Lane Facebook Page. Kate talks about how actresses used to become invisible on their 40th birthdays. Yet recently, most of the most vibrant, fascinating and talked-about female characters on screen seem to be ‘older women.’

“I remember, as I was hovering around 40, I thought each movie would be my last, really.”

Meryl Streep, 2016

Sandra Oh, in the wonderful Killing Eve, is 47. There is no way Eve Polastri would have been as interesting a character if she’d been a similar age to Villanelle. Eve has lived a little. She’s accumulated skills and foibles and understanding that make her a tougher opponent, and a more mesmerising woman.

The cast of Big Little Lies includes Nicole Kidman, 51, Laura Dern, 52, and Meryl Streep – who’s just celebrated her 70th birthday.

And what about Olivia Colman? She’s now 45, but her career really took off when she was awarded the Best Actress BAFTA for her role in Broadchurch at the age of 40. Since then she’s won an Academy Award for Best Actress in The Favourite, has played the fabulously evil step-mother in Fleabag, and is soon to appear in The Crown as the actual Queen.

“I’m not pin-up, thankfully. I’m not suggesting I feel unconfident. I am beautiful to my husband. I am beautiful to my friends. I feel sexy and all those things with the people I love.”

Olivia Colman

The publishing industry also seem to be catching on to the fact that people want stories about real, individual, multi-layered ‘older’ women. We are fed up with women our age being secondary characters and fitting lazy stereotypes; wearing sensible shoes, being uninterested in sex, and struggling to work their iPhone.

A recent survey, in association with Gransnet and Harper Collins (HQ), found that 51% of women over 40 believe that older women in novels are clichéd, and 47% felt that there were not enough books about middle-aged or older women. So hurrah for Lisa Milton, HQ executive publisher, who has launched a fiction competition for women over 40, writing about a lead character over 40.

This really is the era of the ‘older’, wiser, more battered yet triumphant woman. I am 50. Hear me roar.

There’s more on the Life in the Hot Lane Facebook page, including Lisa Timoney’s incredibly poignant piece on the Sandwich Generation, and a wonderful New York Times article on older women embracing power. ‘Like’ page to stay updated.

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