Women of a Certain Age… #wwwblogs #womensfiction #amwriting

Warning – expletives

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I’m not a huge fan of the term ‘women’s fiction’, but I can see, to a point, that it serves a purpose. There’s no doubt that some fiction is written with women in mind as a target audience, and, as a woman myself, I’m part of that target audience. I’m also forty-six, so I’m not particularly interested in reading about the trials and tribulations of women in their twenties and early thirties. I do like to read about women of my own age however, but there is something that’s been really annoying me about these women lately.

I’ve read a few books over the last few months where the main character has been in her forties or fifties. I should relate then, shouldn’t I? I should empathise and sympathise and see bits of myself, my hang-ups, my worries, my problems, in that character. But on many occasions recently I haven’t. And why? Because these women are all too often too bloody perfect.

To those younger women reading this – everything they say about reaching your forties is true. Yes, you will be more confident, yes, you will be more likely to not give a fuck (and in my case, for some reason a lot more likely to use that word). You will care a lot less about what people think about you. Those are the upsides. The downsides are mainly physical if I’m honest.

I like to keep fit and healthy. I’m lucky enough to be naturally on the slim side. But to maintain this, I go to the gym three times a week (ha – I try to go to the gym three times a week. And fail). I watch what I eat (without being too parsimonious about it). It helps, I think that I don’t eat meat or dairy. I’ve been religiously cleansing, toning, moisturising, exfoliating, face packing etc. for years. I still have wrinkles. My chin is sagging. I have jowls forming (gosh, I sound gorgeous don’t I?). I have cellulite. I have flabby arms. It’s because I’m forty-six. That’s all there is to it. I’m ageing.

So what does this have to do with books?

Well, I’m heartily sick of reading about women my age (or even older) who are perfect. Perfect physically. These women are so bloody gorgeous that younger men can’t resist them. They are flawless, perfect, the best-looking woman in the room. Well, maybe some women of that age are. But not women who, like these characters, drink a bottle of wine every night before falling into bed without moisturising then get up and work a fourteen-hour day in their high-flying accomplished career. Not women, who, like these women, seem to exist on huge restaurant meals, takeaways and (oh horrible clichés) chocolate and tubs of ice cream. Not women who, like these women, never, ever, ever exercise (unless it’s a romantic walk in the woods with a man twenty years younger).

Is it just me who wants a reality check here? Is it just me who can’t bear to read another scene where a young man removes an older woman’s clothes and gasps at her flawless beauty? I’m not saying older women aren’t gorgeous, because we are. But it would be nice if these fictional women were even slightly real. If they stressed over how they look naked, like normal women do.

Now, I’m a feminist. I wish women didn’t stress over their appearance, and I wish all men (as most do TBH) accepted us as we are – cellulite, thread veins, wobbly chin and all. But we do stress over it – even the most feminist among us. It’s human nature I think (and years and years of conditioning that tells us we’re only valuable because of our looks). Am I wrong to want to read about women like me? Women who look like crap in the morning. Women who do often drink a bottle of wine in one evening but then find it hard to answer an email, let alone work through twenty complicated case hearing files, or (for god’s sake) run their bloody cupcake shop or wildly successful internet dating site/detective agency single-handedly.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for a bit of escapism. But I want to believe in these women, I want to like them. I certainly don’t want to be irritated by them. Otherwise, I find it very difficult to care about them, or what happens to them. And so very difficult to care about the book.

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44 comments

  1. Oh yes, oh yes ~ and, sadly, I have come across something else a lot in books I’ve read lately, equally daft. Women of over 50 who are portrayed as being old women. One book I read for RBRT featured a couple in their late 50s, who were frequently referred to as ‘the old man and woman’ or ‘the elderly couple’. I’ve read books about couples in their 50s who are called things like Joan and Reginald (names are a generational thing; there were no Joans and Reginalds when I was at school!). I’ve read so many women who are comfy old dears at that age – housebound, baking, worried about curtains and putting the cat out, and that’s about it.

    I’m 57 and my husband is 52. I have long hair and still wear quite groovy clothes, and my husband often has punk blaring out, not Mantovani. We watch South Park and Sci Fi. My sister is 59 and her chap is 63; they go to the pub and arty theatre productions. We all have fun, and don’t spend our time sucking pipes and plumping up cushion covers. This is despite the sagging jowls, arthritic knees, etc!

    But yes, sadly, when you get older you slow down, you can’t do so much (you wait til you get past the big 5-0, it gets even worse!). You certainly don’t have the energy OR THE DESIRE to do as you did when you were 30. Now, it takes scarcely drinking at all, lots of sleep, sensible eating and obsessive moisturising to stay looking halfway decent – you’re so right! Makes you wonder who writes these books – under 35s, perhaps? And don’t get me started on the wretched cupcake cafes….

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I agree with your thoughts here Alison and it’s one of the reasons why I enjoy Mark Barry’s work. His women are realistic with belly rolls and cellulite, and still attractive despite that – shock horror!! I can’t be doing with flawless characters, young or old actually, and hate to keep being told how perfect they are so tend to steer clear of such reads.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ll underline what Georgia said! Most 50 year old women in books are either superwomen Judith Krantz type heroines or old bags – there seem to be no normal ones. Look at the Sheffield 5 ~ ages between 46 and 61. None of us were any of those things 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this, Alison! I’m 44 and the body started to sag almost the day after my 40th birthday! In my head I’m still 16 (which is probably why I’m a fan of YA!)

    I agree with both you and Terry (great comment), in that book characters can be a bit too shiny. I love quirky, batty characters who make me laugh. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. THANK YOU for this fabulous post Alison! And how about it Shelley, Terry, Mary, Alison? All of you are absolutely terrific writers–when are we going to see your book with the gorgeously real grownup woman protagonist?

    The other problem I have with some of these perfect 40+YO women in books I’ve been getting for reviews is that they are practically fighting off the swarms of attractive younger men desperate for sex with their perfect selves. My beautiful, intelligent, successful younger sister is in her early fifties and recently divorced. She says that everyone was setting up dates for her ex, encouraging him to ‘get out there’–usually with much younger women. Those same ‘friends’ would ask her if she was vacationing with her kids, and how her garden is coming along this year. When she eventually did start dating her old college boyfriend, she actually had people tell her that was a ‘cliche’–while asking with concerned looks how her children were ‘dealing’ with her relationship. (!)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think there is something seriously weird about women who go after toy boys, it’s as odd as older men who chase after younger women (habitually, I mean, not the odd one or two). I think it says a lot about how you feel about yoursefl. I dunno about your, but I find that as I age, the men I fancy get older!

      I was ‘single again’ at 42, 45, and again at 48. Each time I went out with men about my own age, there are plenty around! Harder to find if you have children, though, I know. Husband now is 6 years younger, but that is as young as I would want to go.

      I do have one 40 year old main character, in You Wish, but, sadly, readers do not, on the whole, want to read about older female main characters. I do have a lovely 65 year old in my new book, (Dorothy) though; you will like her! Did you know that the most popular age for a main character is 32?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. 32 is an incredibly useful age for a woman–she’s a grownup and still young enough for conventional attraction. I know what you mean about our tastes changing as we age. I haven’t been single in almost 40 years, but somehow the Hub is still exactly what I’m looking for.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I just have no idea what ‘d talk about to someone who was a lot younger than me (although I’m probably missing the point!). But having all those shared references is really important I think. Plus I really couldn’t be bothered to conform to the ‘standards’ that women younger than me seem to have to deal with.

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  5. Brilliant post, Alison, and so true. It put me in mind of an advert from years ago, I can’t remember for which ‘beauty’ product, but the line was ‘keep young and beautiful if you want to be loved’ 😠 One of my review requests features an ‘older’ woman who obsesses a little about herself but is nevertheless fairly perfect and has two men after her. If only 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Cathy. Those adverts really annoy me. I do like to look after myself but more because I want to last a few years not because I’m kidding myself I can look the way I did in my twenties! And that line is just dreadful.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I think the problem is that so many people equate beauty with youth. Which is why so many women go down the mad plastic surgery route. You can be a great looking 50 year old, but still look your age!

      Liked by 3 people

  6. I loved this – and the Amy Schumer post which I used in Heroine Chic. We over-revere youth – I get told regularly that I don’t look my age (54), trust me I do, I just don’t look like the saggy Mrs Brown’s Boys cliche that too many people think women in their 50s look like. What really annoys me is that that is meant to be a compliment – it isn’t, why would I want to be judged by some stupid standard of ‘flawlessness’ that reduces women to shop dummies? So my response is “yes I do, this is what 54 looks like”. People don’t know what to respond to that. And don’t get me started on the idiots who kept telling me how great I looked when I was stupidly thin, ie. really sick. I told them it was the cancer diet (it was) – they didn’t know how to respond to that either. Let’s have books about funny, feisty women who have real skin and real lives, who screw up and who don’t have an orgasm every time they see a bloody cupcake. That feels better, going to shout at kittens and small children now.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bravo, Catherine, exactly!!!! I know, I know, I get that too – and often reply similarly. 57 does NOT mean a blue perm and cardies!!!

      As for the cupcake thing…. I really want to write a blog post about why I think chick lit sets the women’s movement back 50 years, but don’t want to offend all the nice chick lit writers!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Alison, I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s why I don’t like the romance genre – the women are perfect and depressing. I’ve been doing all the things you do for a lot longer: exercising, eating carefully (although I can’t give up meat and dairy), cleansing, creaming and exfoliating. Has it helped? Somewhat, so I probably won’t stop. You are young! Wait until you’re past 60! Then moving is an imperative, every day!

    Liked by 1 person

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