Aging, Discovering Who We Are, Visibility

Julia Child – Midlife Badass

One might not think that Julia Child was Midlife Badass Woman, but she was.

As  I was growing up she stood bigger than life on the PBS screen.  She taught cooking dishes I didn’t understand and thought I would never eat.  She seemed eccentric and ethereal both at the same time. Her 6’2″ frame filled our tiny television screen.  I thought that she had always been a groundbreaking woman; changing how we cooked, changing PBS, then I found out that she was a late bloomer.  I added that she was a “bastion of hope” to her resume.

Julia Carol McWilliams was born in Pasadena, California in 1912. Other than watching her Grandmother cook doughnuts, Julia wasn’t interested in cooking- her family had someone who did it for them.  She grew up to be a self-described romantic, studying history at Smith and going to the big city, NY, to become a famous novelist after college.  Her novel didn’t happen but she got a job as a copywriter.

Hold up- I had wondered when I was cursing my lack of personal success (I went to NY to become an actress), did that mean that Julia Child wasn’t always THE JULIA CHILD?  Nope. Did that mean that her younger passion burned for something other than cooking?  Yup. And like so many of our early dreams hers were circumvented.  She returned to California to help her sick mother then was hired by as a typist to help the war efforts – she was too tall to enlist as a WAC.   What?  A typist? A common typist?

When does she begin to COOK?

Wait, this is why she is a Midlife Badass.  She didn’t stay as just a typist.  She was promoted and travelled throughout the world- literally and figuratively in the OSS.  Among other things, she was kind of a spy,  responsible for keeping track on index cards where all the operatives were.

She meets her sophisticated, older husband to be in 1944 and then in 1945 enrols in a cooking class to prepare to be a wife.  Oh dear, this daring, worldly, medal winning woman felt as though she must learn to cook before she married.  It wasn’t enough to be daring and worldly, one must be ready to do housewifey things.  However, she failed at that cooking class and a french housewife class a year later.  Her cooking was so bad that her husband is quoted as saying he “was willing to put up with that awful cooking to” marry her*.

She fell in love with food and found a fascination with cooking during a meal in Rouen that she described as an “opening up of soul and spirit”*.  She was 36.

For the next 14 years, she pursued cooking as an intense hobby; taking classes, giving classes, and joining with friends in the hopes of writing a book.  Doesn’t that sound woefully normal?

It wasn’t until 1961 that her collaborative book Mastering the Art of French Cooking is finally published, and she becomes a professional chef and writer.  She was 49. In 1962 Bosten Public Broadcasting took a chance and aired a new kind of show, a cooking show, The French Chef, with middle-aged Julia child, at 50.

Child’s career continued for 42 more years and is the stuff of legends.  She wrote 18 more books and did 12 more cooking shows, changed how America cooked and ate,  in addition to the multitude of awards both for her cooking and national service during WWII. Whew…

When I feel too, too old to start something new, I think of Julia Child.  A 42-year career, born out of a hobby that didn’t really begin until she was 49.

Yes, she was a Midlife Badass.

As always,


Who is your inspiration?

* My Life inFrance,   Julia Child w/ Paul Prud’Homme,2006