Two articles published 24 hours apart in the lifestyle sections of two very different UK news websites covered similar stories: both addressed the ‘new’ visibility of middle-aged women’s sexuality.
One of the articles told the story of Erika Roe – the woman who ‘streaked’ across the pitch at Twickenham in 1982 naked from the waist up – who has released a calendar for 2015 which consists of photographs of her posing naked. The impetus behind the calendar was to raise awareness of breast cancer after losing her sister to the disease. But another reason was to make visible what an ‘older’ woman’s body looks like when it hasn’t had the blemishes and lines and other signs of ageing airbrushed out.
The other explored the move away from the ‘Invisible Woman Syndrome’ and celebrated middle-aged female celebrities who had, in the previous week, acted in ways that challenged expectations of how women of their age group should act. For example, they had posed with breasts fully exposed (Madonna aged 56), talked about their love of sex (Edwina Curry aged 68), or had become the oldest ever ‘Bond Girl’ (Monica Bellucci aged 50).
In my view, the presence of articles like these demonstrates a growing interest in midlife and (slightly older) women. While covering only a select few of the issues that affect ‘older’ women’s lives (others include unpaid and paid work, social relationships, wealth and health etc), they reflect a trend to challenge the culturally imposed idea that middle-aged women are ‘over the hill’.
Articles that increase the visibility of ‘older’ women, providing positive messages about ageing bodies and physical appearance, may help to normalise the connection between these seemingly incompatible positions. And this is important because dominant messages about older women are often sexist and ageist, and according to implicit bias theory can influence our views even if we actively resist them.
So, building up a body of literature on ‘older’ women that isn’t ageist or sexist will create positive messages that over time infiltrate our implicit biases. And thus turn things around, for the better.
Middle-aged women, nakedness and sex: Making the invisible visible