I recently met a young woman, about 21 years old, who borrows club gear from her boyfriend’s mother. Who is in her mid-to-late 40s. Yep, she just browses her future mother-in-law’s closet for a skintight tube dress, platform heel, maybe a rhinestone choker. Then she stops in mom’s bathroom for a spray of self-tanner, cinnamon lip-plumping venom and a quick hit with the hair straightener, and off she goes. With her boyfriend’s mom, I mean. Because mom still likes to party like it’s 1985.
When I heard this story, all I could think was, “Thank GOD my mom dressed like a mom when I was growing up.” She wore simple tops and jeans – not skinny jeans or low-rise jeans, but faded, mid-rise, mom-ish jeans. She wore sneakers and sensible flats. She had a perm and a few eyeliner pens and she even got manicures, but I never had to worry about her flirting with my male friends or flashing her thong and tramp stamp at a parent-teacher conference.
Lucky for me, I was not a victim of 15-50 Syndrome. That’s the phrase Good Morning America concocted to describe women who look about 50 years old from the neck up, but dress as if they are 15 from the neck down. According to a new Temple University study, these cougars (married or not) dress up like older clones of their daughters in an attempt to hang on to their youth. Some celebrity examples: Demi Moore, Kris Kardashian, Dina Lohan, even Madonna.
Except the average suburban wannabe-MILF does not look like Demi Moore. And the average suburban mom isn’t being asked to walk red carpets in Herve Leger bandage dresses.
Part of me thinks it looks sad when an older woman wears clothing from Forever 21 and acts like it’s totally normal that she’s taking shots or dancing on a banquette. But another part of me knows that being a feminist means supporting women in their personal decisions, even if I don’t personally think that a 46-year-old pierced belly button is the most flattering thing out there. The fact is, we live in a society where looks are everything, and the pressures that used to primarily affect teenagers are now being directed at more mature women. I recently interviewed a preeminent eating disorder researcher who told me that, while she only had one or two women over 35 in her program a decade ago, half of her current patients are in their 30s, 40s, 50s and above. And earlier this week, the New York Times reported on the trend of women in their 70s and 80s getting plastic surgery, including an 83-year-old great-grandmother of 13 who recently got breast implants and a lift. In the story, Nancy Etcoff, an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School who studies biology and social beliefs about beauty, put it like this: “If an older woman wants to regain eyelids or wants a breast that she doesn’t have to tuck into a waistband, then why not?” (Brilliant imagery, no?)
I hope when I’m older, I’ll have stayed in decent shape, will sport at least a few strands of hair and will have applied enough SPF 50 to avoid my face settling into a more feminine version of a sharpei puppy. But if I haven’t, I also pray I don’t boomerang in the opposite direction and start squeezing myself into halter tops and drinking Juviderm cocktails to the point where I make a mockery of myself. The most attractive thing a woman can rock, after all, is confidence.
OK, that and a little Polident, too.