When you think of a middle-aged woman, what comes to mind? Someone whose best days are behind them? Someone whose usefulness to society is decreasing?
Thankfully, ideas about women in midlife, long overdue an update, are finally being turned on their heads.
Two new books, More Than A Woman by Caitlin Moran and The Shift by Sam Baker (the ex -magazine editor who helmed Cosmopolitan, Red and The Pool) not only explore the complexity of being a modern middle-aged woman but also show how mid-life is being re-imagined by a generation of women who refuse to fade after 40.
While our mothers and grandmothers endured the stereotypical milestones of cauliflower perms, varicose veins and bingo, the modern mid-life maven is more likely to be letting her grey grow out, perfecting her yoga prowess and returning to third level education for a career pivot or upskill.
Yes, her life is busy but she also wants more than a twilight spent slowly fading into invisibility.
Middle age isn't what is used to be and my generation are demanding that this be acknowledged. Caitlin Moran's book champions the middle-aged woman in all her complicated, imperfect and vivid glory. In an achingly funny yet candid confessional of her life, she juggles the kind of multiple to-do lists and commitments that are familiar to so many women my age.
Her irreverent mid-life manual is "a guide to growing older, a manifesto for change, and a celebration of all those middle-aged women who keep the world turning." Her book oozes wicked black humour, compassion and chutzpah; it also sharply delineates how women of a certain age quite simply keep society functioning.
Sam Baker's book is a more earnest menopause memoir that outlines her personal experience of 'the change' and how she recalibrated her life in its wake.
She explains: "What I have discovered in the seven years it took me to get from first hot flush to the seat of acceptance on which I now perch, is that menopause isn't an abyss, it's a bridge - to something new and unexpectedly exciting."
This perspective is indicative of a generation now discussing menopause and its challenges (including celebrities Ulrika Jonsson, Meg Matthews and Lorraine Kelly) and hoping that this openness will remove the taboo from what is a natural, biological rite of passage.
Change is part of being human and middle-aged women in menopause deserve acceptance, tolerance and education about this time of life.
I am 52 and going through the menopause, so am aware how women can struggle with their identity during it and can also feel side-lined by society at this stage of life.
Yet the contribution that women in mid-life make is immense - they are mothers who juggle children and careers, the primary carers for elderly parents and the glue that holds much of society together in terms of housework, volunteering and community.
Personally, I am in rude good health, fit and active, digitally savvy and have previously returned to study twice as a mature student. Yet, I have still have found it extremely challenging to get employers to consider me for roles.
I know that this is reflective of the experience of many women in mid-life - whether they are trying to return to the workplace after rearing a family or trying to change career direction. Post 50, I feel most employers won't give you fair consideration and this really frustrates me. Why is being a middle-aged woman a perceived disability in the workplace? Are life experience, an ability to multi-task, communication and common sense not valuable skills? What exactly does the term middle-aged mean anymore?
A report, published by J Walter Thompson Intelligence London, titled the 'Elastic Generation', found that "Women in their 50s, 60s and early 70s are active, engaged and involved. Pillars of family, community and society, nothing they do is motivated by their age."
When ideas of age are changing, when are we actually older? I certainly don't feel old yet.
Increased life expectancy is also informing more positive attitudes to middle age - if Irish women of 50 today can expect to live to 85, then 50 is still relatively young. Tilda, the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing conducted by Trinity College, reveals compelling data about how Irish society is greying.
The demographic changes that Irish society is facing in the next 30 years are unprecedented: by 2030, one in five people here will be over 65 and of the females born today, 50pc are likely to live to age 100 or beyond. By then, 50 will be seen as positively youthful.
My middle-aged friends are a vibrant, competent and confident bunch who navigate the aging process helped by our friendship, humour and resilience. They defy old prejudices about ageing: they are shopping younger, staying active and enjoying later life as what digital entrepreneur, Gina Pell, has christened, 'perennials' - ever-blooming people who stay abreast of technology and popular culture, with friends across all generations.
For my friendship circle, there is a renewed sense of urgency now during a pandemic that life is not a rehearsal. We know that time and energy are finite, and so are we.
Post-lockdown, one friend, Maria Byrne, decided to re-assess her extremely busy life (she has four children, one of whom, Lucy, is autistic, moved house lately and has recently been co-opted to Kilkenny County Council, a job she finds "incredibly diverse and interesting"). She explains: "I recently resigned my full-time position in the HSE because I just can't manage to be there for my daughter's needs and manage a full-time 9-5 job as well. It was difficult to make the decision but I am now a full-time-carer for Lucy, as well as a local councillor.
Due to an underlying health condition (rheumatoid arthritis) Maria was vulnerable at work: "I suppose as so many people were succumbing to Covid-19 and so many people lost their lives to it, I realised that I could easily be one of those statistics. I thought long and hard about what were the things in life that were the most important to me. My family and my mum, Maureen."
Priorities change as we age: career may be important but not all-consuming, family commitments ebb and flow, our health, both physical and mental, becomes our most precious asset.
For myself and my friends over 50, we do not yearn to be 25 again - but we do want to stay looking and feeling as healthy as possible. We would like portrayals in media that show us as independent, intelligent and resourceful, not tired, misogynistic Irish Mammy sketches or demented housewives dancing around a gleaming house with maniacal zeal.
Post the cervical check crisis, we particularly want information and advice about female healthcare that is pertinent and accurate.
We can survive without the relentless advice about cosmetic procedures and re-capturing our "lost youth".
It would be wonderful too if brands showed us our peers in their advertising - we do not want to buy another anti-ageing moisturiser from a dewy 25-year-old.
I acknowledge that I am getting older and I accept that I cannot micro-manage all the biological and environmental factors that will shape that process, but I hope to stay curious and creative in a later life that still contains possibilities and challenges.
I believe middle-aged women should be encouraged to use their wisdom, experience and talents as they mature into their prime rather than being told they are redundant. The renaissance of older women is the next wave of feminism: with women choosing to define their middle and later years as an adventure rather than a purgatorial wilderness of invisibility and anxiety. As Coco Chanel observed: "After 40, nobody is young, but one can be irresistible at any age".