From no cares to “self-care”, Sarah Halliwell discusses the change in focus for many women after the pandemic…
Reading artist Lucian Freud’s letters, collected in a new book, I was struck by how entertaining it is to witness someone behaving badly. Crashing other people’s limousines and collecting mistresses, Freud was certainly lively company. It’s hard to think of behaving with such cavalier abandon in 2022. We all became so cautious over the past few years. Many of us shrank into ourselves during lockdowns and it still feels an effort to socialise, especially at full tilt. We tune out, we stay in. Whatever happened to staying out late?
During the 1990s, certain women in the public eye were celebrated partygoers. “Everyone had fun, and no one felt guilty about having fun,” ringleader Sadie Frost said in a recent interview. “It wasn’t manufactured – everyone was just who they were.” The tabloids scrutinised the antics of young women and disapproved. Nothing has changed there. Even this summer Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin was castigated for “dancing exuberantly and drinking with friends”.But these days, the party girls of the 1990s are rather more sedate. Pearl Lowe makes lace curtains, while Sadie Frost drinks herbal tea and directs documentaries. Sophie Ellis-Bextor, now more saucepan than saucepot, traded the dancefloor for her kitchen disco, while Meg Mathews talks about menopause. A judge on Garden of the Year, former DJ Zoe Ball pads around in trainers and a floral dress rhapsodising over plants and ponds. Meditation, crystals and gardening are the new addictions; former wild child figures such as Sam McKnight are more likely to discuss dahlias than discos.
Most notably, erstwhile poster girl for wild living, Kate Moss, recently launched Cosmoss, a skincare brand in the “self-care” sphere. “At dawn, Kate’s daily rituals start with a cleansing Dawn Tea followed by meditation and yoga”, according to the official press release. We respect her abstinence – “I just don’t feel the need to get trashed now,” she says – while missing her chutzpah. We lived vicariously through the rock chick who fell out of nightclubs in slip dresses. Now, her hobbies are “gardening, flower-pressing and wild water swimming.” (Though a recent wobble at an awards event made us suspicious there are only so many consecutive days of abstinence Miss Moss can observe.)
Is a reluctance to let our hair down the inevitable slide into middle age? Is it a consequence of growing older that it’s somehow unseemly to be out dancing and doing Jägerbombs? Some feel mortified by Madonna sporting transparent tops at 64. But surely, once you hit 50, you’ve earned the right to not give a toss?
We all have to grow up sometime, even Moss; many of us spend our 40s giving up everything we did in our 20s. These days, we’re more likely to be deeply inhaling in a yoga class, rather than on a Marlboro Red, and drinking only occasionally. Much of this is merely sensible, even necessary, as we become aware of our mortality; some of it is menopause-driven. “It’s boring, but I’ve had to reassess what I eat, how much sleep I get, and especially my sugar intake, just to be able to function normally,” says one friend of the hormonal challenges she faces.
The whole industry is becoming a stick to beat ourselves with – unless we’re sea swimming at dawn, we’re failing at our 50s.
Clearly, looking after ourselves is vital as we get older, but I do feel this whole “wellness” industry is becoming yet another stick to beat ourselves with – unless we’re sea swimming at dawn, meditating and mainlining kale, we’re somehow failing at our 50s. And I, for one, draw the line at knitting.
We need to get out more – it’s all too easy not to. Instagram tends to celebrate the Netflix-and-blanket culture, with such wisdom as: “I used to sneak out of my house to go to parties. Now I sneak out of parties to go to my house.” Yes, the effort of going out can be off-putting, but it’s not an excuse to do nothing. You won’t look back on your life and remember the series you watched.
It seems some women over 40 are of the same mind. Dublin psychologist Dr Dareth Newton notes that, although adolescents are struggling with returning to reality, practitioners have seen an increase in social activity for women, particularly over 40: “In fact, women over 40 are currently attending more social engagements and parties than before the pandemic.” We’ve also discovered different routes to fun that don’t have to mean extensive pre-drinks and an obliterating hangover. It’s not exactly Studio 54 but Stanley Tucci’s cocktails in the kitchen with friends make me want to gather a gang.
The best evenings are spontaneous, carefree, unconsidered – I’m remembering an icy New Year’s Eve by the sea with best friends, our teens and a bottle of champagne. So much now is, as Frost puts it, “manufactured”. Are your good times for Instagram, or for real? Social media perpetuates the idea of carefully constructed selfies and perfect table settings as a great night out. I beg to differ. Increasingly, I feel the women having the most fun are those who have learned how to live and let their hair down. One friend, an artist in her 60s, goes dancing at weekends, heading into Dublin to salsa and tango into the early hours. “It has been one of the most transformative and joyful social experiences of my life,” she says. “It’s a friendly, international community, largely alcohol-free; you keep fit and have fun.” Spending time with younger people also keeps energy levels high. A friend in her early 40s throws exquisite parties, complete with cocktail bar and outrageous sound system. Her ability to bring fun-loving people of all ages together is always inspiring. Watching my daughter’s band play at Dublin venues, cramming into a slightly damp cellar for some serious noise, I’ve been reminded of the sheer joy that is live performance. Unselfconscious, phones away, unmanufactured joy. We need these natural highs, now more than ever.
Yes, we are all looking after ourselves better aged 50-plus, because recovery time is so much longer, but there is a limit to how much “self-care” we can stomach. All things in moderation. Our weakness may no longer be triple vodkas, and we may eat a lot more vegetables than we used to, but we can still dance. @sarahhalliwellbeauty