Fifty's not what it used to be

Women: Celebrities and achievers in their 50s share thoughts about age, life and lessons in a new book.

February 10, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,Sun Staff

The face of 50 has changed since most of us were kids. Heck, the whole philosophy of 50 has changed.

"There's so much more joy associated with this period of life now," says Connie Collins, a contributing editor at More magazine, a publication for women between 40 and 60. "In our mothers' generation, many women felt life was over at 50. The children were grown, and there was nothing left to do. But for this generation, life is just beginning. We're experiencing a rebirth."

This year, about 3.5 million baby boomers will turn 50, some fairly famous female mugs among them -- supermodel Beverly Johnson, author Amy Tan, former gymnast Cathy Rigby -- so Collins and the other editors at More decided to develop a book that showed the new look and attitude of the Big Five-O, Fifty Celebrate Fifty (Meredith Books; $30). Inside its pages, 50 women between 47 and 56--- many celebrities (including Meryl Streep, Sally Field and Diane Sawyer) and some simply deserving of celebration (including archaeologist Sue Hendrickson, attorney Laura Carroll and Episcopal priest Beth Long) -- share their thoughts about age, life and lessons.

Collins, 54, talked with us about putting the book together and what it means to be in your 50s in the second millennium:

What do you mean by "rebirth?"

We feel wiser; some women say they feel smarter. Fifty's not what it used to be. Women have more of a choice now. Many of them are entering their second or third careers at 50, 50-year-old women are getting their own shows, I wrote my first book after turning 50. It's a beginning; it's not the end.

What's changed to make this possible?

This is the generation that had the pill. We fought for women's rights and rights for African-Americans. We were the generation first in Harvard business or law schools, back when there were 10 or 15 women in a graduating class. This is a generation that broke barriers and changed the rules, and now we've reached middle age and decided we don't want to get so old so fast.

How does the book show this?

It's 50 notable women -- some famous, some not famous but notable in their own right -- meant to inspire other women and epitomize what it means to be a role model. The women in the book look so wonderful. They're healthier than our mothers were, they eat better, they get more exercise. Some even talked about having a little work done. It shows other [fifty-ish] women that they're not alone and they really are young.

How did you choose who would be in the book?

We wanted to put women representative of our generation in it: women who'd lost children, changed careers, traveled the world by themselves, chosen single motherhood over high-powered careers, women who had babies in their late 40s and adopted in their early 50s, women who were inspirational.

Like Susan Sarandon, who wrote the book's forward?

Yes, just look at her! My God, not everybody can look like that. She takes really good care of herself. She's made choices in her life. She has a partner [Tim Robbins]; she doesn't need to get married. She's a social activist; she marches and is vocal for causes she believes in. Yet, she's just like the soccer mom in that she has to juggle one kid's baseball game, another's play and a third's concert.

The book's subtitle is Fifty Extraordinary Women Talk About Facing, Turning and Being Fifty. What can the ordinary woman get from their stories?

I think she can find a little bit of herself in each one of these women, I really do, and I think she'll find these women inspirational and say "If she can do that, I can do that" or "I didn't know that about her." There's a leap year baby [Kathy Werther-Kapsy] in the book who really thinks she hasn't accomplished much, but she got pregnant at 17--- and where I'm from, that would have been it for you -- and now she's going to get her master's this year. There's also a nurse who volunteered in Vietnam who was just extraordinary and I think inspiring to other nurses.

Did you find any themes throughout your interviewing?

One of the themes I found was spirituality. So many of these women are finding their spiritual selves -- Cybill Shepherd, [talk-show host] Iyanla Vanzant, [former Olympic runner] Madeline Manning Mims, Reba McEntire. It's part of the journey for many, they've developed their own sense of a higher purpose in life. And the optimism of the women was a theme -- hard work and optimism and relaxation; so many of them seemed to have found a balance of those things.

How would you characterize your 50s?

I feel so much better now than I did when I was 40. I don't worry as much; I don't beat myself up when I make a mistake. I've learned that I'm human and that you just do the best that you can. Age brings you to that realization; it's an acceptance. You get tired of fighting the things you've fought all your life and you finally know the things you can't change. You just let it be, let it go and focus more on living. In March I'll be 55. I have a new career, I had a face lift, I lost weight. I feel better at 55 than I did at 50, and I'm hoping I'll feel even better at 60.

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