Enjoy your youth, those are the happiest days of your lives – or so many of us were told. But now, according to a new study, women in Northern Ireland are at their happiest when they reach 35.
It claims that is the age when women here begin to feel free to show their true character and are more at ease with themselves. The research also showed 40% of older women regarded themselves as spirited compared to those under 35. The findings also showed local women are busier than ever, mastering the art of multi-tasking.
On average, a local woman now juggles an impressive 14 different roles within her daily life, including wife, mother, homeowner, bargain hunter and handyman through to sports fan, stylist and socialite. Single women were most likely to manage multiple roles, with 91% juggling different parts of their lives compared to 79% of married women. Confidence (71%), intelligence (59%), and strength of character (59%) were top of the list when it came to defining today's spirited woman in Northern Ireland, along with possessing an inner beauty (45%).
Helen Mirren, Margaret Thatcher and Nigella Lawson were voted the top three most spirited women of all-time by females in Northern Ireland, alongside Florence Nightingale and Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With The Wind. While women in their 20s and early 30s cited friends, money and career as the key influences in shaping their personalities, older women chose marriage, life experience and family.
One of those who would no doubt fully endorse those sentiments is Newtownards native and TV personality Christine Bleakley. The 34-year-old is set for a busy year, combining work with planning her wedding to footballer Frank Lampard later this year.
Findings from the study of 4,000 women, commissioned by Baileys, contrast to expectations a generation ago when women were limited to a handful of pre-defined duties.
Tessa Dunlop, cultural historian, said: "In the last 60 years women have seen their roles expand unrecognisably. More money in women's pockets and an increased degree of independence has provided more options. The female character has been revolutionised."
It was a defining year... I was confident, loved my job and life, says Maureen Coleman
If I had a Tardis and could travel back in time, I would return to my mid-30s. To be fair, it wasn't that long ago, but I'd gladly jump at the chance to be 35 again. It was a defining year in many ways.
Having come out of a relationship I found myself single again. But whereas in the past I might have stumbled half-heartedly into a rebound situation, I had the confidence to stand on my own two feet.
I no longer cared whether or not I found a good man to settle down with. I embraced my status with much enthusiasm and had a wonderful time.
Friendships took on a new meaning for me. I began to appreciate more the bonds I shared with the females in my life.
I loved my job and had a great social life. I juggled many roles – career girl, socialite, daughter, sister, flirt, freedom-lover, homeowner, music fan, festival-goer. It was also the first year I attended Glastonbury.
So, yes, I do agree that the 30s are the years a woman comes into her own. I certainly felt more comfortable in my own skin and worried less about what people thought about me.
But is 35 the age I first felt able to show my true character? I'm not sure about that. I think I've always been honest in that regard. Even at school the teachers said I paddled my own canoe.
It's interesting that only 2% of Northern Irish women reveal their true personalities in work.
I think my colleagues would admit that I've never really been afraid to be myself in the office. I tend to stand my own ground.
'Spirited' is a word I've often been called to my face (it's 'diva' behind my back!). I've always looked up to strong, feisty women. Divas too, I guess. Funny enough, when I was younger, my nickname at home was Scarlett O'Hara. I did a lot of foot-stamping back then. And I adore Helen Mirren. Any woman who can sport pink hair in her 60s gets the thumbs-up from me.
Nigella Lawson's not so much my cup of tea. I admire her confidence, but at the end of the day, she's a curvy woman who cooks. As for my opinion of Margaret Thatcher, let's just say "this lady's not for turning".
The very last thing we should do, ladies, is to throw in the towel in our mid-thirties, says Lindy McDowell
The seven stages of woman – Baby, Babe, Yummy Mummy, Botox Addict, Cougar, Grumpy Oul Doll and Crone.
The accepted wisdom seems to be that, unlike wine, women do not improve with age. And that whatever age she is now, a girl's best years are likely to be behind her. Such is the focus on youth (particularly in fashion and the media) that you get the distinct impression there's such a thing as being on the wrong side of 14. And yet, according to a survey from drinks firm Baileys, women here believe that actually it's at age 35 that they feel free to really show their bottle, when the self-confidence starts to fully kick in, and they begin to regard themselves as "spirited".
They're juggling numerous roles – up to 14, according to the survey (surely an under estimate?) – and most of them feel secure enough to behave just how they want (although, perhaps wisely, not in the workplace.) But is that it then?
Do women's lives truly peak in contentment around their mid-thirties and from there on in is it a long slide towards the anti-wrinkle serum and Nice 'N' Easy Root Touch Up?
Tellingly, the inspirational role models chosen by local women (Helen Mirren, Maggie Thatcher, and Nigella Lawson the local top three) are almost all well into the 40-plus bracket.
And in terms of defining "spirited", what local girls rated most highly was confidence (71%), intelligence (59%) and strength of character (59%). At 45%, inner beauty (however you define it) also won out over a good blow dry and lash extensions. It all suggests that women here value maturity over youth and artifice and far from fearing the advancing years actually look forward to what lies ahead. Life is what you make it and telling yourself it has peaked or, even worse, it's all over at 35 is just sad nonsense.
Most of the women – real and fictional – on that inspirational list came into their own in their latter years. The cult of youth is primarily an obsession of the glossy mags and the body fascists who have no concept of how "real women", as they patronisingly term us, think and feel. The seven stages of woman? The one you really want to avoid sisters, is Throwing In The Towel.