This post is made possible with support from AARP’s Disrupt AgingⓇ. All opinions are my own.
As you may have seen on my Instagram, last week I turned 40. As I shared in my post that day, milestone birthdays have always been tough for me, as they tend to be reminders that life is short and ticking by too quickly. There is so much I still want to experience, and every passing year feels like a challenge to my ability to do and see it all. At every milestone I have found that the lead up to the milestone is where the thoughtfulness and processing happens in regards to aging. Thoughts are usually around professional success, taking stock of accomplishments and what I’d still like to achieve, where I am in life physically and mentally, and of course, the physical aging process. I’ve noticed that the importance of each of those areas varies with each milestone, as well as my feelings about each during that point in time. For example, the things I had to process when turning 40 were different than the ones I processed when I turned 35. At 35 I remember being worried about things like wrinkles and gray hair, and losing the “look” of youth, but by 40, my concerns were a lot less about beauty and instead about things like fulfillment and achievement. It’s always a bit validating knowing that I am not alone in these thoughts. A survey of women’s reflections on beauty, age, and media brought to you by AARP and Disrupt AgingⓇ sheds much light on this. The Mirror/Mirror research series, which launched in 2018, has shown that there is “a gap between how women experience aging, how media and marketing portrays aging, and how the marketplace meets women’s needs for products and services.” You can read more and see all of the AARP Mirror/Mirror study findings here, but there are a few key takeaways from the 2021 update that hit me, and I’m digging in with my thoughts on them in today’s article.
In processing why my thoughts on beauty and aging are different at this milestone, I have also wondered how much the pandemic affected my feelings on this, as priorities changed for me this past year, with a renewed emphasis on health and self-care… not so much about beauty, but about wellness. Per the 2021 Mirror/Mirror study, this seems to be a sentiment shared by many other women: “under stress from the coronavirus pandemic, women have placed a renewed emphasis on inner health, well-being, and self-care.” I think the last year helped me evolve and grow in many ways I had not expected. I take things less personally, I protect my boundaries, and I hold the important things even more closely. Heck, I even found a deeper love for gardening and classical music, things I very distinctly recognize as similarities to my parents! But these changes in appreciation aren’t limited to hobbies or inner work. I believe that my perception and appreciation of beauty has changed as I approached 40. The self-reflection has allowed me to see past what the media has always idealized as beauty (an impossibly youthful image that I was so fearful of losing when I was 35). I now feel a lot more comfortable in my own skin than I did at previous milestones, and see much beauty in changing skin, hair, and bodies. I feel like it is important to talk about since marketing and media tend to show us a singular side of feminine beauty that holds youth as the ideal, while beauty comes in many gorgeous forms throughout our lives – forms that should not only be represented, but glorified!
The AARP Mirror/Mirror study found that many women share feelings like this as we age, yet there is a gap between how aging and beauty are portrayed back to us in the media and in marketing.
73% of women say they feel more comfortable in their skin as they age.
This is so very true for me. As I said earlier, I was very concerned about gray hair and more prominent wrinkles a few years ago, but that concern has been lessening with each passing year. I feel less like I need to change myself to stay looking young, and am more happy and accepting with my naturally evolving face and body. There is a different kind of confidence that comes with feeling more comfortable in your skin, and it is a good feeling. Something I found interesting in the study results is that this is actually lower for Latinas in my age group (only 64% of Latinas between 18-49 feel more comfortable in their skin as they age, which is lower than the average), but increases with age (78% of Latinas age 50+ feel more comfortable in their skin as they’ve aged).
87% of women say they wish beauty and personal care ads had more realistic images of women their age.
I feel that a lot of my body and aging acceptance has come from personal work, which has been an uphill battle for the last 10 years given that most of what we see portrayed as feminine beauty is essentially teenaged youthfulness. I saw something online recently that pointed out that in our society there is one ideal for beauty for women and two for men. For women, it is teenage/youthful beauty, therefore marketing targets us with ways to keep that as long as possible and by any means necessary. For men, there are both youthful beauty and distinguished aging handsomeness. Clearly, there are even more phases than that, and yet they are not represented in Hollywood or in marketing advertisements. Yet, as the numbers show, women want to see it! We want to see more accurate representation of the ages and stages of life in beauty and personal care ads.
79% of women prefer to buy from brands that feature a mix of ages in their ads.
Women are speaking loudly and clearly that not only is representation important, but it would also be rewarded. It is much easier for me to shop from a company that I can either identify with, or that feels like it “gets” me.
This is 40… not quite young, not done growing or changing, but becoming more content and confident with exactly where I am right now. And while I am still processing my personal feelings on aging, this quote by Betty Friedan is helping with my perspective: “Aging is not ‘lost youth,’ but a new stage of opportunity and strength. It’s a different stage of life, and if you are going to pretend it’s youth, you are going to miss it. You are going to miss the surprises, the possibilities, and the evolution that we are just beginning to know about because there are no role models, no guideposts, and no signs.” When I think of it this way, the next phase feels like an exciting new experience of its own. So why the heck don’t we see it portrayed in commercials and other media? How do you think we can start changing that? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below or join in the conversation with me on Instagram and Facebook.