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The buzz: Women can be sexy at any age

Thank goodness for changing times and youthful spinmeisters.

Forty-five is the new 30, according to the authors of Buzz: Harness the Power of Influence and Create Demand (Wiley & Sons, $27.95), a book by three Manhattan marketing executives who argue that word-of-mouth carries more weight with today's consumers than media or advertising.

According to these marketing mavens, the word-of-mouth phenomenon is responsible for a cultural shift in which women 40 and up _ at least those who can afford trendy fitness trainers and lavish beauty services _ are society's new sex symbols.

If a 40-year-old can be half as bodacious as Demi Moore, a "mature" actor who sauntered onto the stage of the 2003 MTV Movie Awards in a clingy, satin minidress and knee-high boots that stretched like plastic wrap across her sculpted calves, then bring on middle age.

The Buzz authors say that Moore is simply the latest celebrity to further the baby boomer bombshell trend.

"When Princess Diana died at age 36, people kept referring to her as being at the height of her beauty," Buzz co-author Marian Salzman says. "Now, Madonna is on the cover of People magazine talking about great sex in her 40s, Sharon Stone is as desirable as ever, and Rudy Giuliani's new "trophy bride' (Judith Nathan) is a 48-year-old-woman."

Katie Couric, Angela Bassett, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer and Sonia Braga trump "hot young thangs" such as Carmen Electra in the world of male fantasy, the Buzz authors say.

In Gail Sheehy's 1977 book Passages (Bantum, $8), the author uses the phrase "The Forlorn 40s." In The New Passages (Ballantine Books, $15.95), published in 1996, Sheehy's outlook is less bleak: "Imagine the day you turn 45 as the infancy of another life," she writes.

Regardless of Sheehy's new outlook, or the philosophy forwarded by the authors of Buzz, some women continue to have more hangups about getting older than they do hangers in their closets.

Some women turn into zombies around their 30th birthday. For some, depression sets in weeks beforehand. Others spend their 30th acting like it's any other day. Reality sets in a week or two after cutting the cake when Ms. 30 becomes so glum, her only option is to practice her well-honed coping mechanism: She curls up on the couch with a pint of ice cream.

These women should realize that aging fears often are more pronounced in youth. As years pass, birthdays are no longer seen as mileposts on the march to the assisted-living facility but opportunities to celebrate still being in the game.

Dig a bit deeper into the Buzz philosophy and the premise becomes that the 30s are this bubbly, carefree, uninhibited time when people are old enough to know their limits but young enough to still party. It's as though the door to frivolity swings opens at 21, begins closing at 30, then slams shut at 50.

Not true. In the real world, most 40-somethings are not like Moore, frolicking with a 20-something boyfriend (Ashton Kutcher) while her children are safely in the care of a nanny.

That raises one more reason the Buzz trend is suspect: Single men in their 20s have no game. They sleep late, talk trash, avoid domestic chores unless charcoal is involved and plan their time around guzzling beer with pals. It's difficult to conceive why a 40-something woman would care to expose herself to such behavior.

Here's an idea that sounds novel but shouldn't: Live as though age isn't a factor. If dropping by a nightclub or donning a bikini sounds appealing, do it. If the thought of such youthful activities prompts exhaustion or embarrassment, forget it. The best lesson of maturity is this: Do what you want, and pass on the rest.

Bottom line: People don't have expiration dates. The winds of time, blown by market research, have blurred notions about age and lifestyle.

That's the real buzz.

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