Notions of ageism plague women in the entertainment industry, as they continue to limit the available roles for women over 45 in Hollywood. It’s a touchy subject — one that often leads to misunderstandings and misquotations. This standard of youthful beauty not only gives us undue cause to worry about a completely unrealistic pursuit (trying to appear perpetually youthful), but also entirely devalues women who have moved past what society deems to be their sexual worth.
That’s terrifying for a whole handful of reasons — two of which particularly strike me. First, being a woman with a healthy sexual appetite, the thought that I might make it halfway through what I hope to be an average or longer lifespan (81 years of age being the current average for women in the United States) to be deemed sexually unattractive is a little heartbreaking. That’s an emotional struggle millions of women are coping with right now.
But even more concerning is the loss of public role models that comes from age shaming. We see this all across the board, from female politicians being referred to by their age over the admirable work that they do, to Hollywood’s shortage of blockbusters boasting strong female leads from a diverse background. Without a variety of iconic, mature female roles to inspire us — because let’s face it, Hollywood is in the business of inspiration, and furthering our human narrative — many women are at a slight loss for defining what beauty can look like after a certain age.
If you’re looking to the stars for a female role model, here are seven women, each over 45 years old, who are undoubtedly beautiful, embrace the skin they’re in, and actually look their age. Inspiring examples of what womanhood might entail, these ladies teach us that maturity does walk hand in hand with beauty.
7. Phylicia Rashad (Age: 66)
If you’re like me, and grew up watching The Cosby Show, no doubt you’ll have fond memories of the maternal figure, Clair Hanks Huxtable, that Rashad played for eight years. Clair Huxtable was voted “TV mom closest to your mom in spirit” in a 2004 poll, and it’s roles like hers that exemplify strong, successful matriarchs. Between Emmy Awards and NAACP Awards, Rashad sets a high bar for women off-screen as well. Strength and success, coupled with a timeless, genuine smile make Rashad truly lovely.
6. Julianne Moore (Age: 54)
With an Emmy and a Golden Globe on her mantel and a long history of impressive female leads, Julianne Moore clearly knows what it takes to be successful. But she also retains her integrity, and consistently chooses roles that portray women with great emotional depth. Moore also reminds us of the importance of self-acceptance with her Freckleface Strawberry series of children’s books.
5. Margaret Cho (Age: 46)
Not only does Margaret Cho love the skin she's in, she's also unafraid to bare it! Well known for her incredible body artwork, as well as her great comedic wit, Cho is a youngster by comparison to some of the ladies on this list. However, she's duly worth noting, as in the years to come, those of us who have opted for ink will be looking for equally colorful role models — a role Cho could easily fit into. Having dealt with her own body issues, Cho champions a body positive attitude and continues to be an active supporter for human rights.
4. Helen Mirren (Age: 69)
Dame Helen Mirren not only has a multitude of accolades and awards for her inspiring acting career (including an Academy Award for Best Actress and three Golden Globes), but she’s also received a Damehood for Services to the Performing Arts. Now that’s admirable!
And when we look at Dame Mirren, what do we see? Wrinkles? Honestly, yes. But more importantly, we see a woman who’s spent a lifetime not only experiencing personal emotions, but also portraying them. Mirren’s age gives her confidence, and the sort of happiness that only comes after years of accomplishment and learning to live fully, both on stage and off.
3. Rita Moreno (Age: 83)
Talk about a life lived to the fullest! One of the few performers to have won all of the major American entertainment awards, Rita Moreno boasts a long list of film and television titles, and has helped pave the way for many Hispanic women to step out of what were initially very limited and stereotypical roles in the movie industry. Moreno has been stunning every step of the way, and still maintains the vivacious attitude that led to her success.
2. Viola Davis (Age: 49)
It seems these days that Viola Davis can do no wrong — how beautiful is that? Seriously though, Davis is a woman on fire, weaving her way from screen to screen, full of poise and honesty. She follows Phylicia Rashad, being the second African-American woman to win a Tony Award — but didn't she stop at just one (Davis already has two Tony Awards)!
During her recent SAG Awards acceptance speech, Davis spoke publicly of the importance of diversity and variety when casting female roles, and she couldn't be more right. The stories of our legacies as women start at the top, and it’s vital that we not only cast women of great diversity in those stories, but also that we support more women in writing them.
1. Jamie Lee Curtis (Age: 56)
Another actress turned writer, Jamie Lee Curtis is the type of woman whose beauty stems from her infectious smile and charismatic attitude. Curtis is an excellent beauty role model, because she has the courage to embrace how her body has changed, and she's frank about the realities of aging and the frightening pressure placed on women in Hollywood to go under the knife.
While she’s no stranger to personal struggle, Curtis maintains a lifestyle dedicated to philanthropy and championing human rights. What’s more beautiful than a woman who stands up for others? Maybe a woman who can rock grey hair the way Curtis does!
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