I’m often asked why I blog about style even though I’m over 40 years old. The question is meant kindly, but the implication is clear: Do people really care what a woman wears if she isn’t 20-something, hot, famous, or all of the above? The answer is “yes” and here’s why.
Popular culture, the beauty and fashion industries, and every dermatologist and plastic surgeon in America would like women to believe that personal style for women over 40 should center around combating, hiding, or erasing all outward signs of aging. It’s a strategy that makes a lot of people a lot of money year after year after year, and I’ll be the first to admit those folks have made plenty of money off me.
The most unfortunate consequence of this message, however, is not that it exploits a middle-aged woman’s insecurity about getting older, but that it divides us and forces us into one of two camps: Adamant Rejectors and Adamant Promoters. Condemn the message as a lie or embrace it totally, even if it costs you your soul.
As with politics, religion, or any other polarizing ideology, our collective conversation about style and aging is taking place between two parties more firmly committed to being right than discovering what’s true. And what’s true is this: Personal style is deeply connected to who we are as women and the cultivation of that style in our middle years, when approached honestly and humbly, is an exploration of our true selves that can lead to profound self-discovery and self-acceptance.
Facing the psychological and emotional challenges of aging and entering our middle years as women is difficult. The fact that these internal challenges are reflected externally in our physical appearance can be somewhat mortifying. When we stubbornly denounce or promote cultural pressure to fit one standard of beauty or style, we invalidate this struggle and cut ourselves off from an opportunity to grow.
In the bible, Jesus of Nazareth said “where your treasure is, so your heart will be” indicating that we need only look at how a person uses their money to know what they value most in their heart. In the same way, we need only look to a woman’s outward appearance to know how she feels about aging. If she has allowed it to depress her and has given up any hope of transitioning into old age gracefully, she likely looks dowdy and haggard, out of shape and out of fashion. A woman who looks pumped and plumped and botoxed to within an inch of her life like a Barbie doll despite the DOB on her driver’s license is most likely having a hard time accepting the loss of her youth, trying to recover the bloom of her twenties.
Our style – the mode in which we move about the world – should be an outward expression of who we are, not who we think we are supposed to be. The way a woman dresses, decorates her home, manages her health, spends her money, hosts a party, or wears her hair may be superficial or aspirational expositions, but they should still reflect her true self.
Most of us want to journey through middle life (as opposed to going around it) with grace and poise; but we also want to look good while doing it. For this reason, it’s tempting for many women to focus their time, energy, and money on combating the signs of aging from the outside, in. While this is a slippery slope that can get out of hand quickly, it is a natural reaction to our image-obsessed culture.
But unless our personal style honors who we were created to be, it is a denial of our true selves and an inauthentic expression of who we are. It’s a lie. A small lie, to be sure, but one that interferes with our freedom, erodes our inner peace, and takes us away from the people we were designed to be.
The ultimate goal of style in our middle years is simple: We want our style to reflect the women are inside in the most beautiful, healthy, authentic way possible.
Despite tremendous social pressure to adopt our style to match the most current trends or latest standards of beauty – most of which are introduced to us by models, actresses, singers, and social media stars in their twenties that we don’t especially relate to or look like – I believe most of us, once we reach the age of forty, are trying to redefine our own standards of beauty. We no longer look like the models and celebrities we see in magazines and Instagram, if we ever did, but we don’t necessarily want to either. Most of us aren’t aiming to look young; we’re aiming to look like the very best version of the women we are inside.
Recently, Allergan published a study that confirms this. After surveying 8,000 women from 16 different countries, the company, which makes of Botox and the dermal-filler Juvederm, found that 74% of women said they make an effort to look good primarily for themselves. Sixty three percent of the women surveyed said their goal isn’t to delay the aging process, but to enhance their appearance as they age. Moreover, the older a woman was at the time she was surveyed, the more likely she was to favor inner beauty over outer beauty.
The goal of style in our middle years may be simple to define, but it’s challenging to achieve. As grown women in our middle years, it’s easy to neglect our personal style. We are burdened with the honor and responsibility of raising children, tending to our marriages, managing complex and varied relationships and careers. With so many important balls to juggle and so little discretionary time, funneling a lot of resources towards the cultivation of our style doesn’t always make much sense. Who has time for weekly manicures? Who has the lifestyle to warrant designer clothing, not to mention the budget to acquire it? I can barely keep up with my kids’ sports and social calendars, let alone plan a Pinterest-worthy party for my daughter’s birthday. We love style! We want style! We just don’t want it at the expense of everything else. It simply isn’t worth it.
How does a forty or fifty year old woman cultivate this kind of style? The same way she manages the rest of her life: Thoughtfully, honestly, and humbly, guided by her self-respect and her conscience.
Our personal growth is dynamic and changing, so it’s natural for our style to evolve and change over time, too. The best way for our style to evolve is to continue taking calculated risks, experimenting, and living fearlessly. trying out a new hairstyle, a particular way of putting an outfit together, or a friend’s delicious recipe is a fabulous and fun way to determine or calibrate our own style.
Making conscious choices to expand our limits and try new things, however shallow and unimportant they may appear to be, helps us discover who we are. The process of trial and error and experimentation, of incrementally tweaking and redefining the ways we express ourselves to the world, takes us deeper and deeper into who we are as people and helps us get better acquainted with our true selves.
Why do I blog about style even though I’m over 40? Because middle age is a time to assess where we’ve been and where we’re headed, who we’ve been and who we are becoming. We are not only our bodies, our faces, what can be seen, but we are physical beings, as well as spiritual ones, and a conversation about style that denies one or the other reality keeps us from parts of ourselves that are yet unknown and need to be brought into light. When we give each other permission to shine a light onto those dark crevasses inside us, we give ourselves the power to claim over 40 style for ourselves and redefine it for our sisters in the next generation.
Thanks for reading,