I know you shouldn’t really take anything on Mail Online too seriously, but like millions of others it’s my guilty pleasure. And, because it’s viewed by millions, it matters.
There was something that really bothered me about the “shock!” element of a weekend headline: “She still looks amazing in swimwear! Baywatch star Alexandra Paul is fantastic at 50 as she models black bikini.” That’s not just because Paul (the short-haired one back then) was my favourite “Baywatch Babe”.
Now why am I harping on about this subject today? Well, it wasn’t just any old week for me, it was the week I left the fine organization that publishes this newspaper to join a start-up called High50 which aims to change the conversation about being 50 and harness the energy, wisdom and spending power of an often-overlooked generation.
The media and the advertising industry continue to obsess about targeting a 16-34 generation, whose spending power continues to diminish. Meanwhile, almost unnoticed, Britain’s demographics and economy are being transformed.
Countless statistics prove the point, but consider just these two: by the year 2020 50 per cent of Britain’s population will be aged 50+, and currently, 89 per cent of total disposable income is controlled by those aged 50+.
Of course, the marketing world may target whomsoever it wants – until the effect of those demographics bites it inevitably on the nose: 50+, for example, now switch brands in ways people never used to. More of a challenge is to change the conversation about being 50 – which is my new job!
What do I mean by that? There was a time – perhaps just 25 years ago – when being 50 meant the start of preparing for your retirement; you remember, those halcyon days when we thought we would reach 65 and move to Worthing on generous pensions.
It was when 50+ was only looked at as if through the eyes of teenagers: you’re old. That view was based on a historical perspective built around a lower life expectancy and a previous relatively unifying attitude of austerity shaped by the post-war rationing era. That was then.
What do Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and Elle Macpherson have in common? What about Sandra Bullock, Lenny Kravitz and Keanu Reeves? The former three already are, and the latter three soon will be, 50 years-old. They are hardly the image of what 50 looked like when we were teens.
It’s not just celebrities, it’s people all around us. Ha! I will be 50 myself this year. Now, I feel I can be open about it, without being judged as so many mature employees are in their workplaces, whatever their level of success.
They sound like slick ad slogans: “retirement is not an option”, “the second act of your life” – but they are rooted in deep truth as we contemplate a greater life expectancy than preceding generations. Hand in hand with that truth is a change in attitude among 50+ towards health, fitness, motivation, ambition, money.
I regularly heard it when I was editor of this newspaper: there’s a rejection of being patronized and ignored bubbling up and a desire to celebrate the chance to reboot lives with the wisdom, and - most important of all - greater self-confidence that comes with middle age. Who knows, one day it may not even be a revelation that you can actually be 50 and look great in a bikini.
Stefano Hatfield is editor-in-chief of High50.com