Attractive Older Women: Our Obsession With Aging Well

Updated January 24, 2023by ReGain Editorial Team

It is well established that women are expected to age a certain way. Entire industries have been built on the premise that women must maintain a certain degree of attraction as they age; facial creams, cellulite lotions, fat-removal procedures, and Botox all work to minimize the standard effects of aging to make women appear younger and, consequently, more attractive. The world's obsession with women aging is both well-known and well-documented. What is the purpose of this obsession?

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What Constitutes an Attractive Woman?

The term "attractive" is largely subjective, both when it pertains to women and when it pertains to men. There are the classic facial features that are considered attractive (symmetry typically designates this). A general idea of a body shape that is considered ideal (with the hourglass figure considered the most "perfect" of the female forms), but attraction itself is often linked to youth, rather than a distinct size, shape, or general appearance of one's features.

This interest in youth as a measure of attraction is not new; descriptors such as "rosy cheeks" have long been linked to feminine beauty, and pink cheeks are often associated with children. Full lips, large eyes, and smooth skin are also often associated with attractiveness, and each of these traits is also linked to youth. As you age, your skin loses much of its plump appearance and grows both thinner and lower, and skin might begin to show wrinkles, pockmarks, and discolorations. These signs of aging are inversely related to attractiveness, suggesting that younger women are more attractive than their older counterparts.

Aging and Attraction

Even in relationships, age has been linked to a decrease in feelings of attraction. One study found that men consider their wives or partners less attractive as they age, and although love might not decrease with age, attraction and sexual interest often do. This means that, although men might not leave their wives as they age and still consider their love life strong and vital, they might allow their eyes to wander more to "make up for" the loss of attraction they experience for their wives.

Conversely, women often do not experience this same change and might even experience the opposite. While attraction is often largely due to physicality for men, women usually have a more robust set of traits that inspire attraction for someone and may feel that closeness, compatibility, and love are ways to increase attraction, regardless of someone's actual physical appearance.

Youth and Its Appeal

Some evolutionary scientists have posited that youth's interest as an indicator of beauty is based largely on the need to procreate and further your line; younger women were more likely to be fertile and were, therefore, more desirable to men. Although this might have been believed to be true at one point, increasing bodies of evidence suggest that this is not necessarily the case and that women are fertile well into their thirties and forties with only a small increase in maternal and infant mortality rates, provided that a healthy diet and lifestyle are adhered to. Men, too, experience a significant drop in their hormonal ability to father children as they age, suggesting that the idea that perpetually fertile men and women with a small window of fertility should pair up is inaccurate.

Nevertheless, the notion of youth as an indicator of beauty persists. Young women are encouraged to wear makeup, display their figures, and engage in adult behaviors younger and younger, with children as young as ten already learning how to apply makeup, dress in a way to suggest a more mature figure, and rid their bodies of hair. Youth is simultaneously suppressed ("Look more like a woman!") and idealized, creating quite a chasm for young girls, women, and aging women, alike.

Aside from an evolutionary impulse, though, there may be another reason youth is considered an appealing driving force in attraction; younger people will likely have less emotional baggage in a relationship. Someone middle-aged or older might have a larger backlog of broken relationships or have been through a divorce, or have kids. These factors can complicate relationships, making them unappealing for someone looking for an easier introduction to a long-term relationship.

The World's Obsession with Aging Well

The world's obsession with women aging well, then, seems to have little to do with concern for women's well-being, concern for a woman's health, or any derivative of these; instead, the obsession with women aging well seems to focus entirely on preserving a woman's attractiveness-attractiveness that, when gone, dramatically diminishes a woman's ability to get a job, attract a mate, and even get paid appropriately for the job she is performing. Women are the source of countless ad campaigns and industry standards to improve their appearance and reduce the appearance of aging because a woman's physical appearance plays a large and powerful role in whether or not she is perceived as being worthy of countless experiences in life-experiences that are considered commonplace and expected for younger or more attractive women.

The obsession with aging well focuses largely on the skin and other readily-visible physical markers, such as a woman's figure. A stroll through any supermarket reveals lines and lines of products emblazoned with claims to reduce cellulite, improve the skin's appearance, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and plump skin. Products are offered that make lips appear fuller, that fill in any wrinkles that have dared disgrace a woman's skin, and that create contours to fulfill the illusion of youth and a strong bone structure. The walls are often emblazoned with women pursing their lips, tilting their heads, and grinning widely, promising the power of youth and beauty, if only those crow's feet were banished, and those eyebrows were filled in properly.

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Despite some movement toward inclusion, encompassing people of all sizes, races, and ages, the fact persists: most models are young, slender, and light-skinned, and any deviation from these standards is considered an anomaly rather than something to be expected. Women like Helen Mirren are lauded not merely for aging well but for failing to age in the way that is expected, by looking far younger than her actual age and maintaining a figure that would normally be celebrated on a much younger woman. While aging well is certainly something to aspire to, much of the conversation revolves around women appearing to age well, rather than women actually taking on the healthy strategies and lifestyle behaviors needed to encourage health, vitality, and longevity as they grow older.

The Ideal Attractive Woman: Aging, Women, and the Beauty Industry

Although much has been made recently of the unacceptable standards placed on women, there is still little to actually be done about it. Still, entire industries benefit from and operate on the insecurities and fear that women have about aging and appearing older. Women are encouraged to begin adopting anti-aging skincare routines in their early twenties, while wrinkles and a widening figure are regularly demonized. Rather than celebrating the growth, wisdom, and strength that often comes with age, women are encouraged to focus their efforts on hiding or reversing the effects of aging, sometimes at the detriment of their health and wealth.

Although the people directly in contact with women rarely offer such a narrow scope of consideration regarding age and beauty, the advertising industry and film and television industries certainly carry a significant amount of weight with them, and the message that women are not worthy of time, affection, or interest unless they are young, beautiful. Slender is blared constantly, in the form of who is chosen for ad campaigns, which is offered leading roles in film and television, who is chosen to grace the cover of magazines. It is offered as the ideal to work toward in print and televised media. All of these messages converge to create a staggering weight on women's shoulders: be attractive or be forgotten and overlooked.

The standards placed on women can be overwhelming and can breed an unhealthy obsession with your appearance and tie to your worth. If you find that you fear aging or find your self-esteem consistently falling as the years on the calendar climb, it may be time to consult a mental health professional. While a therapist cannot remove all of the pressures society places on women to look a certain way and keep their youth intact as much as possible, a therapist can help you develop healthy coping mechanisms and a more forgiving, accepting mindset, which can help you find strength and confidence, no matter your age, the number on the tag inside of your clothes, or the number of wrinkles gracing your visage.

While the beauty industry's message is clear (your worth is found in your attractiveness), there is far more to living, breathing, and being than being young and beautiful. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and varies from person to person and culture to culture, while youth and vitality are not mutually exclusive. Women of all ages can enjoy a life rich with health, vitality, and joy, whether 19 or 89.

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