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ThinkstockPhotos-76314500There is a double standard about a woman’s appearance.  The media is obsessed with every detail of style icons like Kate Middleton, Beyonce and random Kardashians.  But when the average woman, especially if she is past 50, shows an interest in beauty care and fashion we are labeled vain, narcissistic and even anti-feminist.  Not fair.

Why Does Beauty Matter So Much?

Preoccupation with beauty is not an expression of a shallow and materialistic society.  Hundreds of studies published in dozens of academic journals have shown that for centuries humans are hard wired to admire beauty.  Throughout the ages, poets have immortalized beauty, writers have made them the heroine and artists have painted and sculpted their image.  Even babies just a few months old smile naturally at a beautiful face and cry at a wrinkled one.

Sociologists have plenty of theories about our fascination with beauty.  One school ties beauty to health and fertility– and its presence guarantees survival of the tribe.  Other experts point out that over centuries and cultures we tend to value symmetry and  proportions that are considered beautiful.  While sociologists trade theories, the list of beauty benefits keeps growing.  Studies have shown that attractive people:

* Get lower mortgage rates

* Earn higher salaries

* Get more promotions

* Receive better work reviews

* Get more attention from teachers

* Are less likely to get convicted at trial

* If convicted, get shorter sentences

* Have lower unemployment rates

* Have more personal relationships

* Are more likely to get elected to public office

Social scientists call this the “Halo Effect” linking intelligence and goodness to a  pretty face.

Getting Older, Getting Better?

Overlay this beauty bias with age discrimination and women over 50 seem to disappear off the radar.  Sadly, perceptions about beauty have not kept pace with  changes in the 21st century.  When I was in high school, a woman was OLD at 50.  Today the arc of our lives has changed.  We eat better, smoke less and exercise  more.  Advances in medicine have changed  diseases  like diabetes and hypertension from a early death sentence to an easily  treatable  problem.  Today turning 50 means we are strong and healthy ready to embark on Act II of our lives.  We are ready for new interests, new skills and new relationships.  It’s not the time to be invisible or irrelevant.

Beating the Age Bias

Even if you are like me, not a winner in the lucky gene pool, there are now truly effective, safe and affordable tools to level the playing field.   For example up to age 60, 90% of skin aging is due to sun damage.  Wearing an effective sunscreen every day  is a huge step in the right direction.  Because hair color fades as decades go by, covering grey roots and adding highlights  gives us back  what is arguably one of our most important tools of sexual attraction.

If A Little is Good, More May Not Be Better

Any discussion of beauty usually drifts into plastic surgery horror stories.  Admit it, who doesn’t like to read about celebrity excesses  while waiting on the line at Stop and Shop.  Photos of Joan Rivers and the Real Housewives of you name the city can make aging naturally look like a better idea. Keep in mind that these are the results of excessive procedures and pressures  for performers to look 27 for the rest of their lives.

In real life, if you have a friend that looks good over 50, they are probably taking advantage of genuinely effective anti-aging options– they are just not talking about it. To quote the legendary cosmetic queen Helena Rubinstein ”There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.”

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