And so we find ourselves at the beginning of June – that’s more than two full months of lockdown and yet I still find myself circling back to the initial reaction of pure shock every now and then. In other ways though it’s become a way of life and there’s something comforting about living in a bubble where you don’t have the friction of everyday life. It seems as though we’re going to have to start emerging soon though and so I’m starting to take small steps to prepare for it.

Midlife matters and the return to ‘normal’

High on my list is dealing with the extra pounds that I’ve accrued via the baking and carbs that have felt so comforting over the last couple of months. It’s one of the few things that I can control if I can just find the focus for it. Other things are less certain. The biggest bonus of lockdown has been having the boys at home and back in my calendar. I’ve loved being able to say things like “we’ll have a barbecue on Saturday night” knowing that they’d embrace it because they have nowhere else to be. Back in January I’d already braced myself for the big departures ahead – the eldest was due to head off in March, the middle one in September and the youngest the following year. I’d steeled myself for the beginning of the ends but now I’ve got used to having them with me and so I’ve softened again. Of course we still don’t know exactly when they’ll be able to pick up their independent lives but they’re starting to make plans to meet up with small groups of friends again and so I’m no longer sure who will be at home and when.

So another thing I need to do in June is start preparing myself mentally for that and the best way to approach it seems to be by beginning to think about what I want for myself. My first focus is going to be on career and picking that up again. As you know, as well as working with our agency clients locally, I consult for retailers and other big brands. Over the last few years I’ve been building a reputation as a specialist in the midlife demographic and I was really enjoying extending my work beyond my usual retail field.

For example, I work with brands like Pepsi and Walkers, running sessions with their young internal marketing teams to help them understand midlifers (or Generation X to give us a demographic label). Over the last couple of years big brands have been in a rush to identify us as a key market but of course their young marketers don’t know what matters to us and that’s where I come in. I start by explaining the difference between us and the Baby Boomers because we’re so often lumped in together. I talk about how GenX lives have been shaped since we became independent at 18. I chat through the macro factors that are peculiar to us in terms of the economy, recessions, wars, terrorism etc. I explain how they’ve affected us as a generation and impacted upon the way we’ve built our lives, nurtured our children and directed our futures.

And then I talk about how it feels to be us now, as our children head off in their own directions and we re-establish ourselves at an individual level, building new dreams of our own. One of the most rewarding parts of these sessions usually comes at the end. There are always a few of the younger individuals who approach me quietly to say that they’ll see their parents completely differently now that they understand more about the lives that they’ve lived and the generational obstacles they’ve overcome. And they promise they’ll never mutter ‘Boomer’ at them again!

So I’m hoping that in the fight to return to profit, brands won’t overlook the importance of understanding their customers. You see this work that I do may seem trivial to some (and some of my family in particular). However my overarching hope is that if I can get the generation below us to understand us better, it will play a part in making sure that the future is better equipped for us and that we’re valued more than today’s elderly generation. The 20-somethings I talk to may be starting their careers working in FMCG but they’re the thought leaders of tomorrow and they’ll move on to other positions, peppered throughout our society.

Midlife matters

I usually keep this kind of work completely separate from my blogging by having a church / state kind of mentality but sometimes one aspect informs the other. I often find myself using your comments as soundbites in these presentations and of course sometimes I have interesting insights from brands that I’m able to share with you. Today I have a bit of crossover because I’m working with a brand that I hadn’t really thought much about until lockdown began but it’s become a big part of my life over the last few weeks. As you know I’ve been shopping for the elderly in our village and one of the biggest quests that I’ve had on my hands is a weekly hunt for TENA pads. In my conversations with them I’ve come to understand just how important they are to retaining their dignity every day.

So when TENA then got in touch it felt quite spooky. They wanted to share a campaign they’re running to dispel some of the myths that surround incontinence as they try to introduce the topic to a broader audience. Working on the back of some qualitative research they’ve done they’ve discovered that there’s a fear of incontinence, particularly in younger generations so they’re trying to open the conversation up.

They’ve found that 60% of women under 34 say that they’re worried about bladder leakage as a negative side effect of ageing. 43% of both young women and men worry that incontinence will affect their sex lives. Interestingly in the same research half of the young women said they’d like to see more representation of women over 50 on TV and pointed out that the women they do see don’t represent the over-50 women they know in real life.

So it seems that what we really need to help reduce fear is to get the women in our generation to start talking about incontinence to our sons and daughters more openly in the same way that we are about menopause. TENA are asking us as a community to get involved with their latest campaign – #Ageless. They’ve launched a new TV ad which you may have seen to try to encourage women to have these more open and honest conversations about intimacy and incontinence. Their aim is to destigmatise incontinence and provoke conversation across the generations. Let me show you the ad first and then we can talk about it a bit.

It’s quite surprising isn’t it? I have to say that until I started my lockdown shopping, incontinence isn’t something I’d really thought about. Even though I delivered three 9lb plus babies it hasn’t been a problem… although I’ve always approached trampolines with a certain caution. As a midlife woman the sensuality side was a no brainer to me – of course we still feel sensual but that’s me forgetting that the generations below us assume that sex is off the menu for anyone who resembles their mother in any way. Most women I know still have an interest in sex, some more than others but then that’s always been the case and in my experience it has more to do with the quality of the relationship they’re in than their ageing body and so I like the ending line of “our bodies age but why should we?”

It must be difficult when you do encounter incontinence and don’t know quite how to open up about it. I remember my mum having a dread of incontinence towards the end of her life. Just once she said to me “you will tell me if I turn into a smelly old lady won’t you?” And that was it. I wonder now if she was starting to struggle with it when she was housebound and didn’t feel able to ask for help. The thought of that now makes me feel sad so I’d say that it really is something that needs to be accepted as part of life in the same way that periods are these days – they’re talked about so much more openly than they were ten years ago. Unlike menopause, incontinence doesn’t just happen to women so it’s one of the many ageing issues that will help everyone if it’s gently brought into the open.

For me the question the #ageless ad provoked was ‘do we all develop incontinence at some point – and if so when – and why?’ which highlights how little I know about it. We haven’t had a conversation about the menopause and our ageing bodies on here for a while so I thought this would give us a chance to open it up. So please do help me out in the comments by perhaps sharing your own experience or telling me what you think. Obviously we’re looking for helpful, constructive feedback so – do you think incontinence is a topic that needs opening up? And how do you think we can get people talking about it and reduce the stigma?

Shopping – in stores but also virtually

Moving on to something completely different. A few of us have been chatting in the comments about what it will be like when the shops reopen and until they do, it’s hard to know. I noticed that there were big queues in Paris when the doors were opened a couple of weeks ago but apparently by the end of the week the stores were very quiet because the shopping experience was so restrictive. By the way, I learned a new French phrase – ‘faire du leche vitrine’ which is to go window shopping – the literal translation is window licking, isn’t that fab? Anyway we’ll be able to judge for ourselves when our shops start to reopen on 15th June but I see that that John Lewis & Partners are also doing virtual services.

There’s a page on their website where you can book an online video style consultation.  The stylist will then talk through your wardrobe and discuss gaps or help you with a particular problem. I know a few of you have said you’re still struggling with the transition to a working from a work based wardrobe to a home based one so you could set them something like that as a challenge. They work to your budget so you don’t need to worry about overspending and of course the Clearance has started so now’s a particularly good time to do it.

You choose your stylist by looking through their Instagram accounts to find the one you chime with. They’ll all be brilliant but some of you may remember meeting Emily (@jl_emilyg on Instagram) when we did the Leeds event last November so I can personally recommend her, here she is.

Midlife matters and the return to normal

They’re doing men’s appointments too – and interior design which works in the same way – show them a room you’re struggling with or a particular project you have and they’ll give you advice tailored to your budget. There’s no obligation to buy with any of these services and they’ll give you a shopping list that you can think over at your leisure.

Summer Sales

Another good summer sale has launched and this time it’s Baukjen here. with reductions of up to 50%. John Lewis & Partners are continuing to price match sales at the brands they stock – you can find them all here.

That’s everything from me for today, apart, of course, from adding my support to today’s global campaign for #blacklivesmatter. I probably won’t be posting again this week – it feels that the time for ‘reset’ that we’ve all been discussing over the last few weeks is just about here. Mr MC and I need to spend some time thinking about our business and how we’re going to get it out of triage and back on track. We’re also going to strip and redecorate the office because we’re probably going to be based in the garden for at least the rest of the year. I need to do some serious thinking about the future of Midlifechic as well. Don’t worry, it won’t be going anywhere but it comes with costs of its own. My options would be much more limited if you hadn’t so kindly clicked the links over the last few months though so I really am grateful for that.

Thank you for reading, please help TENA (and me) by leaving any thoughts you have about destigmatising incontinence. It isn’t an easy topic to discuss but if we don’t help to get it going I don’t know who will. And in the meantime let’s treasure the sunshine before it disappears for a while. The picture at the top was taken on the beach at Morecambe last night – I’ve certainly never worn a bikini there before. I’ve almost convinced myself that I have no need to fly away on holiday when there are long sunny days here… almost… but not quite!

Disclosure: thank you to TENA for partly supporting ‘midlife matters and the return to normal’ in return for opening up the discussion about destigmatising incontinence.

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