Too Old to Dress Sexy?

Our over-40 dating expert on what’s sexy at midlife (confidence!) — and what isn’t.

By Sherry Amatenstein, LMSW

It started where many things do for a woman — looking at my reflection in a dressing room mirror.

I’d never felt like a head-turner, the type who got ‘em panting on the construction sites. And that had been okay. Truly.

Well, mostly truly…. So long as it still felt that the only thing holding me back from buying whatever slinky item of clothing struck my fancy was price.

Then I cruised into Ann Taylor Loft and tried on a backless (nearly frontless) sundress that seemed perfect for a hot date. I gave myself a visual once-over, recoiled and let out an Edvard Munch-ian silent scream: My bare shoulders. Were they… Were they — crepey?!

I flashed back to a 20-year-old memory of an editorial job at a magazine where the boss’s fortysomething secretary pranced around in miniskirts and sexy tees which, to my youthful gaze, looked inappropriate for a woman of her years. Was I now she — over 40 and inappropriate?

Obviously I’m not the only female to face this existential crisis wrapped in a sexy sundress. Says Barbra Williams Cosentino, LCSW, RN, a Forest Hills, New York psychotherapist specializing in boomers’ issues, "Many women in this age group define their sense of worth from other people’s perceptions of them. If they don’t see an appreciative glint in the eye of someone whose gaze lands on them, it’s a reminder that older is not considered beautiful in our society, and that’s very sad."

This is one, well, wrinkle that in some ways is easier for a non-knockout to handle. I’ve spent a lifetime telling myself I possess other attributes that make me attractive.

But Carrie Tyler, until recently the undisputed belle of the construction sites, is finding it difficult to cede her crown to a successor. A single mother, the 45-year-old New Jersey-based interior decorator says, "I’ve worked very hard to stay in shape and have always gotten a lot of positive attention. But recently while walking sandwiched between my 15- and 17-year-old daughters, I noticed men’s eyes jumping from one girl to the other, completely passing over me." She admits heavily, "This sounds awful but it was really very upsetting."

Mary Jo Fay, RN, MSN, author of Get Out of Your Boxx and Live the Life You Really Want, puts this feeling into perspective: "Those who were ‘hot’ back in the day have a much tougher time of it, worrying their looks are leaving them. If they don’t have the gorgeous guy on their arm, there must be something wrong with them."

Dating can be an ego knock even when you feel at the top of your game. Fay suggests, "Women over 40 need to switch their focus from hotness to character, emotional connection, and self-worth. Rather than frequenting singles venues, use the ‘get a life’ method of dating, which means focusing on things you love to do. Your best self shines here and you will turn heads with your charisma."

Charisma is an outgrowth of self-confidence — and for many women, assuredness finally kicks in at midlife. Devi, a 57-year-old woman confident enough to forgo a last name, says, "I have been a knockout most of my life but didn’t know it because I looked at what was wrong with me versus what was right." A designer of flattering clothing for all ages and body types, Devi affirms, "Now that I’m confident in my own skin I feel comfortable telling a gorgeous guy of any age, ‘You are so cute!’ It’s not meant as a come-on but as an appreciation." This carefree approach results in her being appreciated as well; men swarm around Devi like ice cream lovers circling Haagen-Dazs.

Back to me. While I’ve had a lifetime to become basically Zen with not being gorgeous, I’m the anti-Buddha when it comes to the idea of dressing in a way that feels like resignation to my new "status." And that’s okay. Barbra Williams Cosentino says, "It’s not about trying to look like a 22-year-old but about wearing what makes you feel comfortable and attractive, even if there’s some jiggly skin involved."

Share Your Thoughts!

Comments

Post new comment

Click to add a comment