Embracing the midlife reboot
After Louise Redknapp recently revealed she had become sick of being a 'Stepford wife', Celine Naughton looks at why women are chosing to reinvent themselves in middle age
After 19 years of marriage, former Eternal star Louise Redknapp was this week labelled the latest star to fall victim to the 'Strictly curse' as she announced that she and husband, football commentator Jamie Redknapp, were living apart.
At the height of her fame, she bowed out of showbiz to become a full-time homemaker, a role she tried so hard to perfect that she says she "became a sort of Stepford wife" in the process. And having dedicated herself to that role for almost two decades, this year the 42-year-old beauty decided - shock, horror - it was time for a change.
So, just as many mums who work outside the home do every day, she left the kids, Charley (13) and Beau (9), in the loving care of their grandparents and set out to work, foregoing her usual sweet and wholesome image to take on the racy role of suspenders-and-stockings-clad Sally Bowles in West End musical Cabaret.
Stories about the Strictly Come Dancing curse that followed would have viewers believe that the TV dance show is actually imbued with the power to cast an evil spell on the most solid relationships with a magical mix of rumba rhythms and mumbo jumbo.
The reality is that the experience of performing on stage last year sparked a realisation in the Italia Conti-trained actress and singer that this was an aspect of her life she missed, and one she wanted to rekindle. Like millions of other women sensing a midlife crisis coming on, she did something about it.
And good for her, says Bernadette Ryan, Psychotherapist and Relationships Therapist with dsixcounselling.com.
"Sometimes, women especially feel they've lived their lives pleasing other people, and some reach a point where they seek personal fulfilment," she says.
"This is not a selfish desire, it's a conscious choice. Half the time, many of us are on automatic pilot, living our lives as if the road is endless and then, at a certain age, and to varying degrees, we realise we're not fully satisfied.
"Carl Jung coined the phrase 'midlife crisis' and despite what we think about it hitting us in our 50s, it usually strikes in the late 30s or early 40s. That's when a lot of people start to want more out of life."
The phenomenon can hit anyone - rich or poor, homemakers and high-flying career women alike. As Redknapp told the Telegraph: "People might look at me and think I've got everything, but a sweeping staircase and designer handbag doesn't really do it for me."
Midlife crisis is not exclusive to women, but while men may start to drool over sports cars and fret about their thinning hair, women are more likely to take up new interests. So if you feel a sudden urge to visit Kathmandu or take up spinning classes having been a sedentary Susie for most of your life, it could be a sign you want a change of direction.
"Around this time, women often go trekking, enrol at college or get back into the workforce," says Ryan. "They embrace new challenges. Are we wired differently? It's hard to tell, but recent studies in the US showed that, after divorce, men tend to remarry within two years, whereas a lot of women don't want to get into another relationship. Men replace the situation; women learn new skills. Life is all about change and if you're not open to transformation, it can be imposed on you. Stress can be the body's way of saying, 'You need to do an inventory here'. Listen to your inner voice, even if it's not something you can quite put your finger on at first. It could be just a sense that something's got to give."
Redknapp went as far as moving out of the family home, although she says she's still very much in love with her husband. But can a relationship withstand a midlife crisis?
"It's complex," says Ryan. "There can be a tendency to blame the relationship, or the partner, but I encourage clients to listen to their own needs and inner workings. The strongest relationships are fluid and can accommodate an individual's personal needs. Unconditional love is about saying, 'If you need to do something for yourself, it's okay with me'. It takes a strong relationship to do that.
"I wouldn't necessarily advocate living apart, but a couple needs to weigh up their inter-dependence and independence. Do you have enough to challenge you personally, without always relying on the other partner? It's a delicate balance."
While Louise may try to achieve that balance by going back into showbiz, a life notoriously played out in the full glare of publicity, another singer, Alison Moyet, sought out a lower profile as she reached a time in her life she refers to not as a midlife crisis, but a "midlife reboot".
After a self-imposed break from the music scene in her 40s, she recently launched a new album, Other, hailed as one of the most refreshing and experimental of her long career - one she says brought pop fame too soon, when she was ill equipped to deal with it. The start of her so-called "midlife reboot" 10 years ago coincided with her losing a lot of weight, something she says was not to do with vanity, but with preparing for old age.
"I have lost and put on big batches of weight in my life many, many times," she said, "but what concerns me is the idea of being an obese old woman, because I don't like the idea of being physically incapable in someone else's hands.
"It goes back to my need for privacy. Now, I'm happy to do stuff on my own - I travel by public transport and I'm really enjoying the invisibility of middle age."