Vanity Over 40 (by Jenny Heitz)

Image courtesy of Samantha Steele, via Flickr.It’s one thing to recognize we live in a youth obsessed culture, but once you’ve hit 40, you’re officially on the other side: No Longer Youthful.

Yeah, magazines preaching to the peri-menopausal set can prattle on about how “40 is the new 30,” but we all know that’s b.s.. 40 is the threshold for belly fat, for official skinny face, and for behinds which seem to want to drop off the back of us, as if they’re seeking a new owner found on the sidewalk.

After 40, the real aging begins. And with it comes the split between women, with those who embrace everything science has to offer, and those who just talk about it.  My friends and I fall into the latter category, for the most part.  Even though we reside in Los Angeles, none of us are the very blonde, duck-lipped, super exfoliated over-40 types seen around town.  Actually, those types are really only seen in Beverly Hills, probably because that’s where all the dermatologist and plastic surgeons have their offices.  Go to Neiman Marcus any day and you’ll see them in hordes, all looking essentially the same.  I’m not really judging these women for their vanity, it’s just not ever going to be my personal aesthetic.  And, I kind of respect the willingness to admit to the vanity, spend the time, spend the money, and embrace the age fight, because I don’t have it in me.

None of my circle does.  Having all hit the 40 mark and now gone officially beyond, we spend a fair amount of time, I think, complaining about the things we see.  The dark circles, earned through years of child rearing sleep deprivation.  The small lines around our eyes and lips that show up because we smile, frown, laugh and cry.  The worry creases in our foreheads, and the sagging skin on our bellies.  There’s a litany of complaints, a feeling that our bodies are betraying us, and that our youth is slipping away.

Of course, botox, fillers, and tummy tucks are mentioned.  Breast implants are knocked around as an option.  But none of us ever actually does it.   For myself, I might see things that annoy me, but not enough to stick a needle into my face. I certainly wouldn’t judge anyone for doing it, though.  Hey, why not? And why wait? What are we waiting for; do we really think aging will improve?

It’s just not like when you were in your 20s and you had an outrageous night of partying, and the next morning you looked like five miles of bad road.  Back then, you just dragged yourself up, went off to breakfast, drank tons of coffee, and knew that the next day, you’d be back to your lovely self.  Not anymore.  Now, when you get up after a night of not partying on any level, you look… less than fresh. And it’s not a temporary state of affairs, there will be no transformation back to dewy youthfulness.

Which is why, I think, we should stop complaining and enjoy how we look right now.  It’s not going to get any better.  If you want to take action with some injections or a little surgery, now’s the time to do it, with no apologies required.  If you don’t have the stomach for it, stop complaining.

On the other hand, there is the opposite problem: an over-40 lack of vanity.  You know what I mean, those women wandering around in sweats with graying hair and zero makeup, and kind of reveling in it, as if it’s a virtue.  One friend proudly mentioned to me that she was out in a group of women, and “none of us had a stitch of makeup on.”  Ok.  Why is this an accomplishment any more than saying all the women in the group had tons of work done?  It’s sort of like reverse vanity: “I’m so evolved and less vain than you.”

The truth is, an over 40 face and body needs a little help.  It needs exercise, sleep, and far less abuse.  It needs sunscreen, maybe a bit of concealer, and some blush.  My face and body benefits from a facialist with superb hands and a good colorist to get rid of the occasional gray hairs popping straight out of the top of my head (I call them the weathervanes of age).  Those are the things, along with pretty intense exercise (which I mostly do for my sanity), that I do for vanity’s sake.  And sometimes, I don’t want to admit to these things, because it seems shallow and silly.

Rather than calling these fix-its vanity, as if there’s something wrong with it, let’s call it self-care.  That over-40 face and body has done a good job for you, and you should return the favor by caring it for it, whether that means using Retin A on wrinkles or buying a new lipstick.  There’s a big connection between the image we present to the world and how we feel inside.  You’re not just taking care of your outer self here, your inner self is fed, too.  Once that inner vanity is cared for and assuaged, you can get on with accomplishing the more substantive parts of your life. 

So, over-40 women, enjoy how you look, right now.  Make the most of it.  Because, one day you’ll look back and realize you really looked great.  As one of my friends said, “We really just want reassurance from one another, that yes, we do look younger than our age.  Of course, one day that won’t be true and we will look our age.” 

So true.  Perhaps I will revisit this at 50.

Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad ( Jenny’s op-eds on education have been published recently in the Los Angeles Daily News (  Jenny also writes for the Los Angeles private elementary schools blog, Beyond The Brochure ( She has  served as a guest blogger for The Well Mom, Hybrid Mom and The Twin Coach.  She has a BA in Journalism from UC Santa Cruz and an MS in Mass Communications from San Jose State University. Jenny has a 9-year old daughter and teaches Pilates. She lives in Hancock Park, Los Angeles.