By Dr. Vivian Diller
September 30, 2010
I have learned a lot about what makes women feel attractive as they age. And by that I don't mean which over-the-counter remedy works best or how to get just the right nip or tuck that leads to looking like a model on a magazine cover. What I mean is what really works from the inside out for real women who want to look great at any age.
Having worked inside the world of beauty—as a Wilhelmina model in the '70s—I discovered trade secrets from women whose lives were all about looking the best they could. (Yes, our objective then was to make it to the cover of those magazines!) As a psychologist for more than 20 years, I came to have a different goal: to help women understand themselves so they could feel and look their best. My two careers led me to write Face It, a book exploring the psychological answer to, "What really makes women feel attractive for life?" I interviewed hundreds of women—current and former models, psychologists, corporate execs, stay-at-home moms and women from all walks of life. Their responses revealed a number of surprising similarities and are summarized in these eight psychological tips that work from the inside out. 1. Show Confidence Inside and Out
The most frequent comment I heard from the women interviewed was that beauty is about confidence. The comment resonated with something Wilhelmina Cooper (the founder of Wilhelmina Models) told me the first day I worked with her agency. She said, "The chances of booking work for us rises the minute you take on an air of confidence, no matter what you look like." I learned pretty quickly that success as a model wasn't about being the prettiest—everyone was. Or about being perfect—no one was. It was about how you carried yourself and how self-assured you appeared. So it is for all women at any age. Holding your head up high, with poise and self-confidence, is probably the number one quality that women say leads to feeling and looking beautiful at any age.
2. Focus on What You Do Have, Not on What You Don't
The sum is not always greater than the whole of its parts. Sounds counterintuitive, but when it comes to feeling beautiful, it's important to keep this in mind. Women who focus on features they like (rather than those they don't) and use them to serve their self-image are more likely to say they feel attractive. It is well known in the fashion industry that some models are branded for their great legs or long necks. They use these assets to feel beautiful. Sometimes only their hands or feet are considered marketable material. Take a look at yourself and choose one feature you like and embellish it. Delicate wrists? Wear an eye-catching watch. Thick hair? An elegant headband or jeweled clip can draw attention where you want it. Good posture? Standing tall can make everything else about you look and feel more attractive. 3. A Radiant Smile Works Wonders
A woman's smile is reported as the single most important physical feature that leads to being viewed as attractive. Women say it conveys what they call their inner beauty. This, too, resonates with my experience as a model, as well of the experiences of many of those I spoke to. We all know women who draw positive attention toward themselves because of their great smiles. Think of a baby's smile. Does anything bring more pleasure to the eyes of others than that spontaneous toothless grin? Women talk about using their smiles to bring what they feel inside to their exterior, regardless of their age. A generous smile is the best facelift you can have. Even better? It's free and natural.
4. Reinvent Your Look
Flexibility is key. Instead of holding onto old definitions of beauty or feeling anxious about change, women who find fun in reinventing their style are able to feel attractive as they age. Holding on and holding back looks tight and tense. Moving forward and letting go appears relaxed. Remember, letting go of your former self-image doesn't mean neglecting yourself. It's like learning to enjoy walking when you may have jogged in the past or taking yoga in place of Spinning class. A flexible attitude toward beauty leads to the ability to adjust your style and fashion sense and is key to enjoying your looks at any age.
5. Sensuality from Sixteen and Sixty
As we get older, we may leave behind unlined faces and bright teeth, but we never have to leave behind our abilities to connect to others in a sensual way. Many women who were interviewed said that sensuality was equated with feeling and looking attractive at any age—from teenage years to midlife and beyond. Models I talked to agreed. During photo shoots, models are often told to "make love to the camera" because photographers know pictures can look cold and dull no matter how beautiful a woman is. Safety pins may pull at a model's clothes and fans may blow wind into her face, but she has to look into the eyes of the photographer in an alluring way to get a good shot. Women who report feeling attractive as they age say they never forget their capacity to be sensual and hold onto it into their 60s and beyond.
6. Leave Competition Out of Beauty
It's important to remember that beauty is about looking the best you can for your age rather than competing with others. Successful models whose careers last the longest learn that lesson early on. From the day they start working, there is another younger model ready to take their place. So they cope best by looking forward, not sideways or backward. Theirs is an exaggerated and intensified version of what many women experience when they compare themselves to younger women. Women who say they feel attractive as they age are interested in looking and feeling healthy, robust and vital, not younger. They don't focus on having the smoothest skin, the thinnest waist, plumpest lips or the youngest body. They feel like winners, not because they come in first in a competition, but because they get out of a race they know they can't win and channel their energy into achieving their personal best. 7. Replace Anti-Aging with Healthy Aging
The words "healthy aging" have always made a lot more sense than "anti-aging," the catchphrase that has become so popular in the media and cosmetic industry. What does anti-aging mean anyway? How do women feel when they are told that the key to looking beautiful is equated with not getting older? As a model, there is enormous focus on keeping the aging process from showing on your face and body. Plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures have become common practice for women in the public eye to ensure a youthful look. Women who talk about feeling and looking attractive as they age focus more on prolonging the health of their bodies and skin rather than stopping the clock by trying to "fix" themselves. They adapt to the changes they see. In the end, feeling attractive is based on how you experience your looks, no matter what you do or don't do to your face and body.
8. See Yourself as an Example for the Next Generation
Perhaps the best tip I heard from the women who age gracefully is that they see themselves as role models for the next generation. They feel a responsibility to demonstrate that being attractive at midlife is not only a possibility, but that the meaning of beauty can be broadened and deepened with age. These are women who don't panic as their looks change, so their bodies and faces appear calm and relaxed. At social and professional gatherings, they show the kind of poise and grace they want their daughters and younger colleagues to emulate. They say they owe it to themselves and others to look forward optimistically to the years that lie ahead so that they pass on that kind of confidence to others. Strength and beauty is reflected proudly on their faces and bodies for all to see.
Vivian Diller, PhD, is a psychologist in private practice in New York City. Dr. Diller was a professional dancer before she became a professional model, represented by Wilhelmina, appearing in Glamour, Seventeen, national print ads and TV commercials. After completing her PhD in clinical psychology, she went on to do postdoctoral training in psychoanalysis at NYU. She has written articles on beauty, aging, eating disorders, models and dancers and served as a consultant to a major cosmetic company interested in promoting age-related beauty products. Her book FACE IT: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change (2010), written with Jill Muir-Sukenick, PhD and edited by Michele Willens, is a psychological guide to help women deal with the emotions brought on by their changing appearances.For more information, please visit VivianDiller.com.