Nervous about turning 50? Don't be! Hitting the half century mark is a reason to celebrate.
But our society doesn't always encourage women to appreciate hitting midlife. An advert for Barbie doll pleads: "I am turning 50 ... don't tell anyone." The insidious message, of course, is that being old is bad and you should hide it.
"This is what we're up against ladies," says 58-year-old author and executive coach Jaki Scarcello, who spotted the ad in a department store.
"Why is Barbie afraid to let her 50 years out of the plastic bag?
"There is not a hint of a wrinkle on that moulded face -- this is the ultimate ridiculousness.
"If even Barbie has to hide her age, what chance is there for the rest of us?"
In a bid to beat such ageist "ridiculousness," Scarcello has written a book extolling the virtues of hitting 50.
That prime has nothing to do with youth, and everything to do with peace, wisdom, self-confidence and a complete change of perspective.
In her book Fifty & Fabulous: The Best Years of a Woman's Life (which will be out in April), Scarcello stresses that growing old gracefully isn't about winning the age battle by looking and feeling younger, but about accepting and enjoying the age you are and all the benefits maturity offers.
She says: "It seems that people dread old age and are very negative about it. The idea that 50 is the new 30 suggests that you can be younger, but people need to stop thinking like that, because you can't win the age battle. "It's not about staying 30, or kidding yourself or anybody else that you're 10 years younger. It's about recognising that this is how old you are and asking what are the gifts of this age?" Scarcello, who interviewed women aged between 45 and 102 before she wrote the book, says the gifts include a huge increase in confidence, and a greater sense of doing things because you want to, not to please others or because you think you have to. There are also changes in values -- many of the women Scarcello interviewed found new friends or changed their friends because they'd lost tolerance for surplus relationships, and were more interested in "deeply connected" friendships. She wants women of 50 and above to embrace what they are now, rather than yearn for what they once were. She calls those who do this "Women of the Harvest." "The harvest season is a time in a woman's life when she can reap the benefits of how far she has come and gather the wisdom and self-knowledge that have matured in her first 50 years."
Scarcello acknowledges that the maturity and wisdom of 50-year-old women is part of a continuum -- so a woman in her forties will undoubtedly be enjoying varying degrees of the benefits. However, she honed in on the age of 50 simply because it's around the age of menopause. "Menopause taps women on the shoulder and says you can't deny you're aging. It's a milestone that reminds you about getting older." After her own 50th birthday, Scarcello felt "wonderful physically" and had bags of energy. From the interviews, Scarcello concluded that women facing their 50th birthdays and/or menopause fall into two categories: Women who are horrified by their own aging and see the future as a time of decline that should be postponed for as long as possible.Women who aren't fazed by this time in their lives and want to enjoy the possibilities their future may bring. In other words, those in the second category are Women of the Harvest. Scarcello accepts that much of a woman's angst about ageing is connected to the inevitable physical decline as the body ages, and it's a worry which is heightened by the fact that society is so visually obsessed. "The changes in the body are big," she stresses, "and perhaps what you think about that is unconsciously connected to the big loss -- death.
"But one of the amazing blessings for a lot of the women I interviewed was that they had this comfort in their body, no matter what it was like -- they just weren't hung up any more about trying to have the perfect body. "It's like a gift of age -- you come to terms with the fact that you can't have a perfect body. "Once you let go of the physical, it just feels so much better." Although there's no denying Scarcello herself is a striking woman, she stresses that she was completely grey by her mid-forties, and suffers from osteopenia, which can be a precursor to osteoporosis. She lives in Los Angeles, and says a lot of women there, particularly in the entertainment industry, feel their jobs are threatened if they can't maintain a youthful look. This, of course, is where plastic surgery comes in -- and Scarcello, perhaps surprisingly, doesn't think such surgery is necessarily such a bad thing. While she's never had it herself and sees no reason why she should, she stresses: "I've never said I won't have plastic surgery - - there's no way I'm going to tie myself down to that, although I can't imagine I would do. "I think there are reasons why people would still have plastic surgery. "I don't think it's bad -- if you want some and it makes you feel good, that's fine.
"But you need to be having it for the right reasons." It's an opinion shared by the 64-year-old actress Dame Helen Mirren, who hasn't gone under the knife herself, but says she can understand why people -- especially women -- would want to. "I think people should be allowed to do whatever they want to make themselves feel happy," she has said. Mirren hit the headlines for her youthful appearance just days before her 63rd birthday, when photos of her wearing a skimpy red bikini on a beach were published.