• I feel more beautiful in my 40s than I ever have before. (Getty Images)
Finally, I felt liberated to look how I wanted to, without giving a thought to what any man would make of it.
By
Samantha Selinger-Morris

9 Mar 2020 - 11:47 AM  UPDATED 10 Mar 2020 - 2:05 PM

I feel more beautiful in my 40s than I ever have before. Now, let me be clear, this is as much a surprise to me as it is to some of the people who lay their eyes on me.

For one thing, by mainstream standards, I am not more attractive now than I was in my 20s, and 30s. Back then, my forehead was smooth, my figure trim, and if I was not exactly bouncy, I most certainly carried myself with a vigour quite at odds with how I walk through the city at the end of any day now - all but dragging my knuckles on the ground, Neanderthal-style.

Also, until last year, I was deep in the fight to look as young as possible. I would happily admit my age, but I thrilled – and feigned surprise – when people told me I looked younger than I was, even as I did everything I possibly could to achieve this. This included religious application of sunscreen and retinol, not to mention buying and wearing boxy boy’s t-shirts from the children’s section, which, it doesn’t take a top-notch Freudian analyst to see, isn’t exactly a symbol of someone embracing their age.

So, how have I found myself, now, at 46, catching glimpses of myself in store windows and giving myself a Cheshire Cat grin, when what stares back at me are the dark under eye circles of someone who’s fallen down a well, train track forehead wrinkles, and a stomach that appears permanently three-months along?

It started after a friend's husband, who I was also friendly with – and who had recently been given a grim medical diagnosis - hit on me at a party.

It started after a friend's husband, who I was also friendly with – and who had recently been given a grim medical diagnosis - hit on me at a party.

“If I wasn’t single, I’d stuff you senseless,” he said with a smile, as people wearing fancy dresses, and suits, swirled around us.

I stepped back from him, and felt blank inside. The shutters of my mind went down, and I stared at him, in silence.

“Creepy?” he said, with a half-grin.

I smiled, and started manically reassuring him, thinking of how sick he was. “You’re married, and you know that I’m happily married,” I said. I smiled again. “It’s ok. It’s ok.”

For the next week, I cycled through the various emotional stations of the cross: shame for feeling a moment of flattery, insecurity that I had perhaps brought this on myself (was I too friendly?), and then anger that he felt he could behave so disrespectfully towards me.

Maybe, I suggested to my husband, I should start adopting an entire wardrobe of power suits and stark white t-shirts, so as to give off a fuck-you authoritarian vibe, in order to help ward off future incidents like this. (I had been wearing a dress at the party.)

The confrontation made me realise that I had spent 45 years of my life constantly worrying about how others perceived me, and calculating how attractive or unattractive I was compared to other women.

And then I woke up. The confrontation made me realise that I had spent 45 years of my life constantly worrying about how others perceived me, and calculating how attractive or unattractive I was compared to other women. I knew I had a good mind, but secretly felt that I wasn’t enough, and that if I was to get by in the world, and even advance professionally, I’d have to sweeten the deal by looking as pleasing as I could.

But this anger, at being treated as an object by someone with whom I thought I shared a mutual respect, shocked me into a realisation - as fiercely as if I'd been conked on the head by a frypan in a Bugs Bunny cartoon - of my inner worth: there's wisdom in them there cankles. I was more than enough, I realised for the first time, and my appearance had nothing to do with it. I didn’t need to look good for anyone, but myself.

Finally, I felt liberated to look how I wanted to, without giving a thought to what any man would make of it.

So, after adopting the sedate vibe of a court stenographer for the first four decades of my life - because I was too self-conscious to let loose on the world how I felt inside: a mix between a sneering base player in a 1970s rock band and a 1960s flower child, chin perpetually tilted, in wonder - I started to rock out with my clothing and makeup. I now wear denim overalls whenever I can, and recently bought a pair of oversized neon orange aviator spectacles. In them, I’m channelling my musical and stylistic idol - George Harrison circa 1976 - which is all I’ve ever wanted to do.

And I've become obsessed with buying coral blush, sooty eyeliner, and balmy highlighter - not to mask what I feel is lacking in my face - but to help express the other feelings I've always had inside: the swagger of Joan Jett; the pluck of Mary Tyler Moore. The white stripes that are growing into my mane only enhance this look.

A friend told me the other day that her therapist told her that this is a thing: women in their 40s feeling they are at peak beauty.

Apparently I'm far from alone in feeling sassier than ever in my 40s. A friend told me the other day that her therapist told her that this is a thing: women in their 40s feeling they are at peak beauty.

I’d never heard of such a thing, so flooded are we with articles about women in their 40s and older coughing up thousands on anti-ageing potions to stop their jowls and crepey eyelids from making them look like the cantankerous theatre hecklers from The Muppet Show.

This isn't to say that everyone around me is as jazzed with my newfound look as I am.

The first day I wore my neon orange glasses to school pick-up, I bumped into one of my best friends, whose enthusiasm for me and elastic facial expressions usually give Jim Carrey in The Mask a run for his money. She knew my glasses were new, and was uncommonly still. While talking to me, she met my gaze, and her eyes froze there. She stared at me with the deliberate concentration of someone who is speaking to a person with a large wine birthmark on their face, and is terrified of letting their eyes drift to it.

I let out nervous little laughs while babbling to her, so shocked and giddy was I that I actually felt confident about the way that I looked, even in the face of someone who didn’t feel the same way. (Usually this would lead me to unleash a symphony of uncomfortable tics, like tugging at my hem and smoothing down my shirt.)

I let out nervous little laughs while babbling to her, so shocked and giddy was I that I actually felt confident about the way that I looked, even in the face of someone who didn’t feel the same way

Has this put an end to all my vanity?

It has not. I still have moments of looking for validation of my choices: recent Google searches include “Zadie Smith Glasses” and “Stylish Female Authors 40s”.

But, when I walked out of the house the other day, in a wacky ensemble – red and blue checked shorts, orange and red tie-dyed shirt, my neon glasses and a rainbow-checked bag – I thought, to myself. “It’s a lot. But then, so am I.” And, for the first time, it was unapologetically.

Samantha Selinger-Morris is a freelance writer. You can follow Samantha on Twitter @SamanthaSMorris. 

RECOMMENDED
The proud beauty of Frida Kahlo inspires me
If gender identity and expression is a spectrum, then why can't we progress to the stage where a woman with a moustache is acceptable?
People have mixed feelings about Liv Tyler's 25-step beauty routine
"The fact that Liv Tyler's 25-step beauty routine involves combing through her brows with a toothbrush means everything to me."
The problem with how we talk about ageing and the elderly
We need to foster a society that sees the value in all stages of life.
Can we slow down the ageing of our brains with an ultrasound scan?
What if we could improve the function of our brains, reverse mental deterioration and slow down Alzheimer's disease by simply getting an ultrasound scan every now and again? Researchers in Queensland are testing imaging technology to see if it can save our ageing brains.