The Queen of My Self

In Our Prime…continued from Part 1 on Monday, October 30th…

By Laura Rowley

Patricia Cohen’s “In Our Prime: The Invention Of Middle Age”
Reinvention Of Middle Age
Kim Cattrall epitomizes the reinvention of middle age.

The “Midlife Industrial Complex”

Fast-forward to the mid-lifers of today, a generation wielding enormous social and economic power. “Alpha Boomers,” people 55 to 64, number 35 million and spend more than $1.8 trillion annually, Cohen reported. They spend more on luxury cars, travel, dining, home furnishings and improvements, large appliances, cosmetics and beauty products than people ages 18 to 49. But only in the last few years have mainstream advertisers begun to acknowledge them.

On the other hand, certain industries maintain a laser-like focus on the demographic. Cohen argues that a “Midlife Industrial Complex” invents conditions that prey on middle-age anxieties. “Sexual desire disorder in women and male menopause keep coming up even though research shows no basis for it,” she said. “But there’s a highly lucrative business of testosterone supplements. These things are driven by pharmaceutical companies.” In the book, she furthers this argument, offering a lurid history of age-related medical experiments, including the doctor who transplanted monkey testicles into men in an effort to restore their libidos.

Industry and marketers are also pushing a certain fabulous-over-50 “Stepford perfection,” noted Cohen. “On the one hand, it’s better than an aging, asexual house-frau, but it’s a different kind of pressure,” she explained. “The reality is that inhumanly thin bodies are still what’s desired — only now they’re desired by 50-year-olds. That’s why there’s an epidemic of anorexia in middle-aged women that didn’t exist a few years ago. As much as one can talk about the importance of inner beauty, we are all subject to wanting to look outwardly beautiful as well.”

Cohen noted that Norma Desmond, the washed-up silent movie star played by Gloria Swanson in the 1950 film noir “Sunset Boulevard” is supposed to be 50 years old. She contrasts it with the last “Sex in City” film, which includes the 50th birthday celebration of Samantha (Kim Cattrall).

“Middle age is a ‘Never-Never Land’ — when you’re younger you never want to enter it and when you’re older you never want to leave it.”

Middle Age Myth #1: Midlife Crisis

Research shows the midlife crisis is largely fiction. People in their 20s and 30s are more likely to experience the kind of “crisis” associated with middle age. Only an estimated 10% of middle-aged people have the classic midlife crisis.

Myth #2: The Empty Nest Syndrome

Researchers have found no evidence of the so-called empty nest syndrome. Many parents relish and enjoy the transition, taking pride in the fact that all their child-rearing efforts have paid off, and their offspring are on the road to accomplishing their goals.

Myth #3: The Trophy Wife

Men don’t abandon their middle-aged partners for younger trophy wives as the stereotype suggests. Most marriages break up in the first eight years. The recent rise in divorce among the middle-aged is because second unions are breaking up (usually within the first eight years of marriage).

Myth #4: Menopause Stinks

Hot flashes aside, nearly 62% of women in one survey said they felt “only relief” when their periods stopped, while fewer than 2% said they felt “only regret.”

Myth #5: The Death Of Libido

Despite the latest hype about testosterone supplements, low sex drive, depression and sagging energy levels were more likely to be caused by stress, poor eating habits and laziness in midlife than lower hormone levels. Meanwhile, many researchers think that warnings about female sexual dysfunction in middle age are highly exaggerated. What may account for women’s flagging sexual life is that they are less likely to have a regular partner than men.

Myth #6: Health Inevitably Declines

It turns out age really is about attitude: Research has found that believing that you can improve your health in middle age actually improves it. A sense of control in midlife can dramatically reduce disability and preserve one’s health and independence later in life.

Myth #7: Happiness Plummets

The truth is just the opposite: Many people view midlife as their happiest period. Several surveys have found that while happiness dips in the 40s, people start to feel more content with life after the age of 50.
* ***
Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus