Are you a victim of “15-50 Syndrome”?

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.

 

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7 Responses to Are you a victim of “15-50 Syndrome”?

  1. bdaiss says:

    Oh, I most definitely don’t fit in that category. In fact, I’ve never been what you’d call a “fashion follower”. Being the jock/tom-boy, my style is all about comfort. I can dress up with the best of them, but “club wear” has never graced my closet, and most of my dressy stuff would fall in the “classic” category. Simple, understated, and covers up all your bits and pieces. And with my arthritic big toe, super high-heels are out the window. 3 inches is my max and those don’t last long.

    I guess my children will someday thank me for not flashing anything at a parent-teacher conference. : )
    bdaiss recently posted..I’m Burnin’ Baby! Burnin’!

  2. charlotte says:

    I need more guidance! I’m afraid of becoming a 50-15 – heck, you’ve seen my gym attire (tutus, neon colors, animal prints etc) but that’s kind of a costume right? I own a ton of F21 stuff (and I’m 33) but mostly they are basic tees I use for layering. Okay and ONE pair of lipstick red cigarette pants. Maybe I look desperate and no one will tell me?? What’s the cutoff age?
    charlotte recently posted..Favorite New Fit Trend: Runaway Brides [Plus bloopers from beach workout photoshoot!]

  3. Beth says:

    I find this article interesting. The thing I would suggest to all women 35 and under is to consider how you will age gracefully. Your desires to be attractive, fit, in fashion etc., etc. will probably not change. You will still want to have a nice body, a current hair style, nice makeup, muscle definition, a flat stomach, clothes that make you feel sexy, comfortable and not like your mother.

    Our mothers were of a time that few had expectations to they stay thin, dress a certain way, lift weights for definition, whiten their teeth, get Lasik, etc. I once heard a woman say “You know I’m invisible – I’m 41″ and she received a few giggles.

    As someone who just turned 42 (yikes! how did that happen?!), I struggle with this issue. I teach fitness so I am very body conscious. I want to wear cute athletic wear, but will people judge me and think I’m trying too hard to hang on to my supposed youth? Would it be ridiculous for me to put a feather extension in my hair? Can I wear a self tanner that will make me glitter like gold?

    How the fuck do Demi Moore and Madonna do it? Am I weak and lazy that I don’t have their arms of steel and cellulite free thighs? Oy! The pressure and how high these women in their near 50s have set the bar.

    I personally struggle with this issue and on first glance of your article I felt offended. But, of course you make a valid point. I don’t want to look like my teenaged daughter, but I don’t want to be invisible either.

    I’ll look forward to seeing how your generation handles this issue. I hope my generation helps pave the way demonstrating you can still look great while avoiding mom jeans, belly button piercings and gray hair (trust me on the gray hair thing – it is an evil thing to try and embrace). Hopefully we’ll model great health, nice style and bodies that haven’t given way to tucking our boobs into our waist band.

    The real thing to consider, you young things, is that you too will age and how are you going to face it?

  4. JavaChick says:

    I’m with Beth. I’m 41 and when I read something like this I always end up thinking that I have no clue what I should be wearing. Granted, I’m not wearing club wear – I didn’t when I was in my 20′s either, not my style. I work in a job where fairly casual attire is allowed (software development). I like to be comfortable but I also like to look somewhat stylish. I also tend to look young for my age (still nowhere near having to color my hair – yay!). So it’s all very confusing.
    JavaChick recently posted..Seven Days of Yoga–Done!

  5. Beth and JavaChick – we’re actually all in the same generation – I’m 35. I think you maybe misconstrued my point – i don’t at all think we should dress in paper sacks or stop caring about how we look. I still shop at H&M and workout all the time. I’m just saying it can look sad when an older woman attempts to look like her teenage daughter…and it’s even sadder that we live in a society where this is sometimes expected. Thanks for the great commentary!!

  6. Alyssa says:

    I remember reading an article about this a few years ago in which clothing retailers were seeing the new phenomenon of women AND their teenage daughters coming in and wanting to dress like they’re 25.
    I think it’s fairly sad; kinda like the women who get cosmetic surgery and convince themselves they look 30 when, actually, they just look like someone who’s had surgery.
    I also just turned 42. I sometimes wonder where these lines and gray hairs came from, but I also figure I’ve earned every single one, lol!
    I was watching a TV show recently that featured a number of women in their 40′s and 50′s, none of whom has had surgery. it was so refreshing to see! They were so beautiful and sexy without trying to look any younger than they were. It was great!

  7. JavaChick says:

    Hey Leslie, didn’t mean to sound like I was picking on you. :) I just see these discussions from time to time and end up wondering what exactly my age is supposed to look like. I do agree with you – it’s possible to care about your looks and be stylish at any age and it’s also possible to go too far trying to look youthful.
    JavaChick recently posted..Not the post I planned to write…

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