FIFTY IS THE NEW FIFTY
And Why That is the Good News!
Recently there was quite a tizzy over two photographs of women in their forties who looked pretty damn hot. First, 43-year-old supermodel Cindy Crawford appeared in classic calendar-pose wearing nothing but well-placed foam in the pages of Allure Magazine. Then, 49-year-old actress and Jenny Craig spokeswoman Valerie Bertinelli put on a bikini for People magazine. Both of them looked great. Both of their bodies looked not a day over 30.
The message that many took from this was that they had achieved a break-through for us all by demonstrating that almost-50 is “the new thirty.” The trouble with that “new” message is that the moral is the same as the old message – as we age, all we should want is to look younger.
Actually both Bertinelli and Crawford sent a much more liberating message. By being up front about their ages, they asserted that looking good was just as much part of being 43 or 49 or, as a matter of fact, 59. They redefined what being over forty looks like. We of a certain age are rightfully proud of how we take care of ourselves – working out, eating right, and feeling good about our lives. But the object isn’t to look an age that isn’t our own; it is to look our best self. As Gloria Steinem famously said on her fortieth birthday, “This is what forty looks like.” The very same week that the Crawford and Bertinelli photos came out, Gloria turned 75! And if that is what seventy-five looks like, I want some.
To take a few other celebrity examples, Susan Sarandon – who is in her 60s – is one of the sexiest-looking actresses around; no one would mistake her for a 30-year-old. I’d like to think that her social activism is a pheromone. Or Helen Mirrin, 64, the gifted British actress whose persona bespeaks maturity and whose bikini self impressed many of us a few months ago. Madonna, the one-woman reinvention operation, just turned 50. As she builds and hardens her body, she is looking a bit like an android, but she isn’t hiding her age.
Forty or fifty is NOT the new thirty. Each birthday commemorates something much more exciting – the discovery among many women that they like where they are chronologically and would never want to go back to earlier lives. That is what I mean by the title of my new book “Fifty Is the New Fifty.” Each of these formerly denigrated birthdays marks another step into a new stage of life for women, one that our mother’s couldn’t have dreamed of, one that we didn’t see coming. It is a time of self-discovery, adventure, and personal authority.
Just think back a decade or so, when another world-renown model, Isabella Rossellini, one of the most beautiful women ever – then and now – was fired as spokesperson for Lancome in 1995 soon after she turned forty – only because she had become what the managers considered “too old.” And when Bertinelli disappeared from the house-hold name list and put on weight, the celebrity magazines had a field day with her. She was clearly “over the hill.” Both women were ultimately liberated by the expulsion from the eternal-youth sweepstakes. Each has said that she is feeling better about herself, less fearful, and more empowered in general now that she isn’t thirty any more. Rossellini, now in her mid fifties, is working on a cutting-edge series of shorts for the Sundance Channel called “Green Porno,” a project, she announced recently, she would never have dared before she was fifty. Bertinelli, who reported being very nervous about appearing in a bikini after thirty years, said that what gave her the confidence was her new musculature. “I never, ever had deltoids!” she boasted.
“Fit,” you could say, “is the new beautiful.” Michelle Obama’s well-toned deltoids have become as much of a source of admiration as her fashion sense; according to several trainers I have talked to, women are asking for routines that will give them “Michelle arms.” She is 45. She has said many times that when she was ten or fifteen years younger, she wouldn’t have been self-assured and experienced enough for the job she has.
For most of us, a cover-girl silhouette is not in the cards (in fact, it never was, much to the detriment of our self-image growing up). But feeling better than ever about ourselves most definitely is in the cards. Our sisterhood is among the women in DOVE campaign that showed bodies of all sizes and shapes and ages in all their glory – and celebrated the joyous and powerful women inside them.