Gwyneth Paltrow says all women over 40 are fabulous - but do Irish women feel that way?
As Gwyneth Paltrow proclaims that all women over 40 are amazing, Vicki Notaro asks three Irish women if they truly feel that way
Gwyneth Paltrow has never been the shy or retiring type. The mum-of-two, Oscar-winning actress and self-styled lifestyle guru is prone to sharing, or perhaps over-sharing, every little detail about her life, from the type of moon dust she ingests to stay looking incredible to the fact that her late father once called her an a**hole.
She details this exchange in the latest issue of Harpers Bazaar, on newsstands today, almost gleefully - the moment when her beloved dad Bruce, who died in 2002, called her out on her egotistical behaviour at the age of 27, whe her Oscar glory was going her head. However, Gwyneth also opines that nobody would dare say something like that to her or any other woman her age now.
"They won't because you're past 40, and by 40, all women are amazing," she tells interviewer Samantha Bee. "If you haven't taken all of life's incredible knocks and disappointments and used them to become a fully integrated, self-expressing person by the time you're 40, then what can I tell you?"
Perhaps typical of Paltrow's famous hyperbole, is there in fact an iota of truth in what she's saying here? It's a far cry from the regular rhetoric in a society where youth is prized above all else, but does it stand to reason that by 40, if you don't have this thing called life figured out, then you might not ever? Or is that simply the view of an incredibly wealthy and privileged woman?
"I think Gwyneth's attitude that things are fabulous after 40 is true to a certain extent," says writer Penny Gray, 40, from Howth in Dublin. "At this age, you feel more mature, and more in control. But I think there are different worries as you get older. You mightn't care so much about what people think - but you might worry more about your family, about safety, about finances, about health."
Penny says that while she's never really had a problem with growing older, this birthday seemed like "a massive deal". "On the day I turned 40, my mother-in-law told me that it was a new frontier - I'd had my babies and now it was time for me. I nearly cried! She's right, of course, but I wasn't sure that I was ready to leave behind those days. Turning 40 for me was bound up with babies - we had planned to have a third before then, but circumstances dictated that this hadn't happened yet, and the milestone birthday was a reminder that it possibly wouldn't, and I'd have to give up that dream. This has been a hard thing to accept."
Like many, Penny thought that by the time she entered her fifth decade on the planet, she'd be on an even keel financially. "I think for our generation, the recession has put us behind where we might think we should be - I thought that once I turned 40, I'd finally have my finances in order, my career and my husband's would be well advanced and we'd be comfortable. This hasn't happened, but we're getting there. Still, I feel more mature and able to roll with the punches when it comes to practical things like money though.
"I feel less free than before, but I think that comes with a mortgage and kids. I sometimes look at people in their twenties and envy their happy-go-lucky ways, but then I get a reality check and realise that in my twenties I was plagued with insecurities despite all my blessings - and the people I'm envying now are exactly the same. I have my insecurities but I know my place in the world now and I know I can survive and cope with whatever life brings."
Charlotte Moss says that feeling free is a complicated concept. "There are different kinds of freedom, I suppose. I guess I was more free at 20 in that I did a bit of backpacking and walked out of a couple of unbearable, underpaid jobs. Now I'm a homeowner, mother, partner, business person, so obviously not free in that same way, but I feel very liberated by these certainties."
Paula Coneely says that something shocking happened to her when she turned 40 - she felt happy. "I'm 25 in my head, but I felt happy because there was a real sense of reassurance in the fact that I felt I'd reached a pivotal 'grown-up' age. I didn't feel that my life should be exactly as I felt people imagine it to be, but rather that this was my time now to make the life I want, all my fiddling around was done with! And really all of a sudden I didn't actually care what other people thought, but I did become aware that teenagers would now probably refer to me as 'old'."
Paula says that while she feels insecure sometimes about her career, she's far more confident in her marriage and her friendships. "My old friends are gold. I'm lucky to have a small number of very close but separate friends. Combined, they know every aspect of me. I also know what types of friendships I don't need, so I tend to detach more easily from those people much quicker that I ever did when I was younger. But my career was never high on my agenda, I worked but never pursued authority or power. The last ten years, I've been raising my family, but I feel if I was ever to return to work, my age would impact this. My plan is to return to college and become a psychotherapist; I feel more secure in choosing a career that I love at this point, rather than just for a wage."
I asked Charlotte what she sees when she looks in the mirror at 40, and her response may resonate with many. "I look like my mother! At 20 I probably worried what others thought too much, and in my thirties I was too busy for much more than a glance to make sure I was tidy."
In fact, one thing all three women agree on is that their physicality is more of a concern these days as they haven't got the time or money to cultivate the body beautiful like Ms Paltrow.
"In terms of looks, I'm far more conscious of how I look - I feel I look my age now - but I'm more inclined to look after myself by booking a facial or investing in a good cream. I'm also hugely conscious of my body. I've had two babies, and while my body changed after each pregnancy, it's really only in the last two years that I've noticed bigger changes, such as finding it harder to lose weight. Still, I'm more inclined to exercise or eat sensibly, rather than looking for a quick fix. Turning 40 has given me a bit of a spur-on - I feel I have to do it now."
"I think probably the same things that I've always thought about myself," says Paula. "Body wise I torment myself about the weight I need to lose, but the reasons are now because I want to look attractive and feel healthy as I'm getting older. I've also started paying more attention to how I wear my makeup, and also how I look after my skin because the idea of my cheeks starting to sag downwards seems to make me feel very uneasy!"
"I think youth is definitely favoured in society, but I do feel that things are getting better," says Penny.
"I still see my generation on TV and in films, and older. I think the perception of what's old is changing - 40 is not the massive milestone in society the way it used to be. 40 is more like 30, in my opinion.
"In Gwyneth's case, it's nice to see her confident and happy after a marriage breakup, and with a lot of women going through the same thing at this age, I think her saying that is a good thing. But I'm personally a bit over celebrities proclaiming 'fab at forty!' Eh, not always. Sometimes it's 'frumpy at 40!' Or 'flabby at 40!' or even 'f***ing wrecked at 40!' I'd like for once for celebrities to say that!"