Comedian and writer Sue Perkins has a lot to say about the pressures around “milestone birthdays”.
According to society, there are certain “life goals” that an individual should achieve each time they hit a birthday that ends in a zero.
By 20, we should have started a lifelong career path. At 30, we should own a home. Come 40, we should probably be married and maybe have a child. And by 50, well, you should have all your shit sorted.
Of course, this is all bullshit – they are just outdated, problematic cultural pressures still prevalent in 2020. But a lot of us can hold our hands up and admit to feeling like we’ve failed if we don’t quite jump each hurdle.
One person who’s experienced this is Sue Perkins, who we know, love and miss from Great British Bake Off. Speaking on the Homo Sapiens podcast this week, Perkins talked about her “midlife crisis” and how the pressures she felt over turning 50 caused anxiety.
“I felt a curious liberation when I crossed the threshold [of turning 50],” she said. “Six months before I was almost entirely unbearable. I had a classic, lowest grade, entry-level midlife crisis.
“I wanted to be somebody who didn’t behave the way everybody else behaved, I wanted to run contrary to the narrative. But now, I just got sucked straight into that. ‘What am I for? What am I about?
Then I had a party, got hammered, and couldn’t give a shit after that. It was apprehension. Culturally, we’re hardwired to reflect on those big ones.”
Asked what specifically led to her feeling like she had a crisis, Perkins said: “The subconscious cultural pressures to examine birthdays with noughts at the end. We’re just sheep […] we just follow. No matter how counter-cultural and exciting I wish to be…”
She revealed she had a similar experience over turning 40, saying she “decimated” her life by walking out of a relationship “rather stupidly” by ending it badly.
And, recalling her 30th birthday, she added: “Yeah, the same, they’ve all been big, seismic. Even if big things aren’t naturally evolving, I feel something seismic should happen. “
Raising another important conversation, Perkins also shared the recent experience of confronting somebody over verbal homophobic abuse while walking her dog on Hampstead Heath.
“You know when something bad happens and on the bus on the way home you think of all the brilliant things you should have said – in that moment I had that very profoundly,” she said.
“At the time, I sort of went right up to him and went: ‘What did you say?’ And he sort of postured a bit almost as if he was going to hit me, almost like an intimation of something physical.”
She revealed that “it had been decades” since she last experienced a similar encounter, saying: “When I was growing up, it was just mutterings. It was all quiet and a cultural thing of that’s just not quite right.”
You can listen to Sue Perkins’ fascinating and important interview on the Homo Sapiens podcast, available on Apple Podcasts.
Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…