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2 April 2009 73,725 views 6 Comments Tags: , ,

And Why That is the Good News!

m_100639129Recently 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.

m_100638516To 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.

m_febcovnewsstandFor 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.


Photo Credits: More Magazine. All rights reserved.
Jamie Lee Curtis, Photographer: Andrew Eccles, More magazine, July/August 2008
Helen Mirren, More magazine, April 2008

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  • Cheryl.Antier said:

    Hi Suzanne,
    I love the new site and am thrilled to be signed up! One of the things I love about turning 50 is the freedom that comes with it. I’m “finally” old enough to do the things I want to do – and not the things I’m expected to do.

    I love feeling comfortable with who I am, and what I look like and being me.

    I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of 50 is the New 50 – and read about the lives and wisdom of other women who are enjoying figuring out what they’re going to do with this adventure that is life now!

    As always, thank you for caring and bringing new insight, ideas and laughter into the process!


    Cheryl Antier

  • Emily Harris said:

    Suzanne is my new hero. I have struggled more and more lately with the issue of aging, and I had always naively thought I would be immune to these negative feelings about myself. I commend Suzanne on leading the way towards self acceptance, and celebrating the beauty of who we are at every age. We have to take her cue and band together to help break down these stereotypes which have us wasting precious time looking for the fountain of youth, when we already have our own well, rich with experience and self knowledge.

  • Karin Lippert said:

    An article by Jane Glenn Haas, “Our Time/Special to the Orange County Register is getting a lot of attention…”Our Time: Welcome to the change – 50 Candles on the Cake Signal a Woman’s True Liberation” was published last week, and is about “Fity is the New Fifty.” It is being reprinted in other newspapers because the positive image of the 50 Candles speaks to women everywhere!

  • Gabrielle Livingstone said:

    “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.”

    What a very powerful statement from a very inspirational woman! As someone who is celebrating a new decade of living in my 40′s, I can clearly see the best is yet to come. Thank you, Suzanne!

  • Ashton Applewhite said:

    Terrific blog, Suzanne. As a 56-year-old feminist, I couldn’t agree more with the point you made at last night’s Age Boom dinner that we have to start saying our ages. It’s a good way to confront our own, internalized ageism. It’s also a way to hold our own against what I call “age creep”, which I’ve written about in my own project about people over 80 who work (http://www.stayingvertical.com/?q=node/91).

    Keep up the good work; I’ll be tracking it.



  • Ina Sherman said:

    Today is my sixtieth birthday(!) and I just finished reading your book about 10 minutes ago.  I didn’t realize that you had a website until about five minutes ago and here I am, initiating a conversation with you!  That is the difference between me at 60 and me at any earlier age.  In the past, I would have thought that in order to send in a message, I would have to do several drafts before what I wrote would be “good enough” to submit.  But today, I just do it and don’t worry about being right or perfect.  As you so aptly described this new feeling in your book – I am finally good enough, and what I think, write, do, etc., is good enough as well!!! I agree with so much of what you have said in this book and in “Reinventing…”. While my life is full of paradoxes and contradictions, I am finally at the  place of acceptance of all that I am and therefore, able to move toward appreciating my authentic self.  I am grateful to be this age – and I too, dislike being told that 60 is the new anything! I am finding the journey to be more exciting with every year. Thank you for sharing your insights, the wisdom of the women you have met, and creating a forum for the discussion of the opportunities available to us in every decade of our lives. On to a birthday dinner with my circle of friends, where I can thank the women who have been my “horizontal role models” for their love and support as well!

    Ina Sherman

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