The Rise of the Handsome Woman

Photo: irinamcguire/Flickr.

Natural beauty, and "graceful aging" gets plenty of lip service, but when it comes right down to it, not much real respect — at least not until recently. Not coincidentally, along with seeing women in more powerful positions in politics, business and Hollywood (mostly in the great television roles that have been proliferating recently, as well as behind the scenes), we are also seeing a new respect for older women's beauty. It is a small, but real step towards what men have long enjoyed; as they age, some are considered at least as good looking or more so than when they were younger. (Though this has never been true for all men, it is more common for them.)

I think the rise of "The Handsome Woman" (as MORE magazine's March issue calls her), and the ascendency of women's power go hand-in-hand. Not only do women in charge like to see themselves represented in an attractive light (and so will create ways for that to happen), but society at large sees these older, wiser ladies in a positive light as they step forward and take space on nighttime talk shows, political debates and news discussions that used to be the realm of men only.

Almost all of the handsome women in MORE's article about the trend are those with some kind of power. Check out their list of examples: "Need a visual? Try Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, standing before a microphone with her perfectly cut suit and killer cheekbones; Carolina Herrera, with her immaculate white shirt and insouciant air; Trudie Styler, with her sui generis face and strong convictions; or Angela Bassett, with her fierce physique and take-no-prisoners vibe." The women are older, stronger and more self-assured than their less-experienced counterparts, and they aren't all that interested in chasing youth.

So, are handsome women born or made, and how hard is it to become one? Turns out it's mostly about attitude. Dr. Jacque Lynn Foltyn, professor of sociology at National University in La Jolla, California told MORE, “Because they have other sources of self-esteem, they tend not to be as devastated by the aging process,” which sounds like a worthy goal. The article goes on to detail, "That confidence informs everything from how they dress (pared down elegance) to how they walk into a room (standing tall). Sure, a good tailor and great cheekbones help (when do they not?), but more important is the attitude that goes with them."

While the rise of the handsome woman isn't going to reverse our culture's obsession with youth (the human desire to look young again while knowing all of those things that take a lifetime to learn isn't going to change for men or women). But maybe looking older will become less of a big deal to women, allowing them to grow older without feeling like they are losing a part of themselves, or, as many women feel, that they are less valuable and treated less well by society in general as they age. And for some of us, maybe getting older can actually — gasp! — give us more confidence about how we look. As Libby Edelman (cofounder of Sam&Libby; shoes) said in her interview for the handsome women piece, “I love how I look so much more now than I did when I was younger.”

We all get older, and the only way out of the process is death, so doesn't it just make more sense to embrace it? And maybe even (dare I say), enjoy it.