When you live in a society where women are celebrated for their youth and beauty, coming to terms with the fact that both are slipping through your fingers can be a difficult pill to swallow.
However, psychologists say this time in a woman's life can actually provide the perfect opportunity to do some "soul searching" and discover "what really matters" to them.
Emma Thompson is 60 and has said, contrary to lamenting the loss of her youth, she “loves ageing”.
"When women come to me lamenting that they don't get 'looked at' like they used to, I see this as a really great opportunity to invite them to think about and attend to their other qualities that are even more important than how they look," says Brisbane-based psychologist Christine Bagley-Jones.
She says "encouraging women to focus on their other attributes and skills" – whether it be their health and fitness or making a positive career change – is key to helping women through this period, which for some can lead to depression and impulsive behaviours, such as having affairs or rushing into cosmetic surgery.
Melbourne psychologist and author Meredith Fuller, who regularly works with women in their 40s and 50s who are struggling to deal with their diminishing youthfulness, agrees.
"I get them to start thinking about all their other attributes or unused parts of themselves that perhaps they've been neglecting," she says.
She also works with clients to help rebuild their confidence by getting them to focus on their health and fitness, and even on developing their own personal sense of style, to help them appreciate their own "inner and outer beauty".
"There's nothing more beautiful than seeing someone who is full of vitality, no matter what their age. And that's what I try to encourage my clients to strive for. To find that meaning that will give them that vitality," she says.
First, women should be given permission to "grieve the sense of loss" that many of them feel at this time.
“The biggest issue for a lot of these women is that they start to feel invisible,” she says.
We've never lived through a better time, in terms of women taking on really exciting senior roles in the workforce.
“They tell me, ‘People don’t look at me or notice me anymore. People have always looked at me and I took it for granted'.”
“For these women, particularly those who have been validated by the way they look for much of their life, there is a real loss of self and they should be allowed to grieve for that."
She says once they have worked through that grief, it can mark the beginning of an even richer and more fulfilling life.
"I like to encourage my clients to start exploring new interests or new directions, including employment opportunities. We've never lived through a better time, in terms of women taking on really exciting senior roles in the workforce. This time in their lives can be a really rewarding time in terms of their careers."
Bagley-Jones agrees that rebuilding womens' confidence and self-esteem and providing them with a chance to refocus on what they really want in life is integral for those struggling to come to terms with their diminishing looks.
“I think most people are going to have the occasion in their life when they suddenly feel invisible or like they’re the more mature member of the crowd and often it will trigger a bit of a mid life crisis,” she says.
“For some, it leads to depression or dysthymia, where they start to have more of a bleak outlook on the future, where they feel like they’ve lived their best days, because all of the things they loved and celebrated about their youth, including being noticed and validated by the way they look, are drawing to an end.
“I also have clients who start impulsively making decisions about their happiness and wellbeing … where they pack up and leave a happy relationship, for example, because they think there’s more out there for them."
I like to remind my clients true self esteem does not come from one source, and certainly doesn’t come from something as transient as looks.
“They believe they’ve got a narrowing window to suck the last bit of marrow out of their youth and they can be impulsive and sometimes make regrettable decisions."
She says many women also start to feel "a bit nostalgic, as they realise it might the end of era for them" and for others there is a sense of disillusionment.
“Women tell me it’s disillusioning because it reminds us of the ultimate shallowness of humans, that we still attribute so much value on one’s external appearance,” Bagley-Jones says.
She says this period is “immensely” harder for women who have been validated by their looks for much of their life and also for those who find themselves single and looking for a relationship in their 40s or 50s and beyond. She adds the experience is different for men because “let’s face it, they never had the same level of pressure as women to be beautiful in the first place”.
“It isn’t like every single woman will go through this,” she says. “It will be the ones that have really enjoyed beauty and youthfulness and celebrated their physical attributes who typically struggle the most, because often they’ve neglected to acknowledge the other attributes they have that are equally important, if not more so.”
“But there’s lots of other ways to be noticed, or validated, if that’s what you’re striving for and it doesn’t have to always lie in the arena of how you physically look."
Bagley-Jones says a lot of women will turn to cosmetic procedures and while she encourages women to “do whatever makes them feel good” she warns women against thinking “that looking good is the only way to be happy.”
Instead, she says it can be the perfect time for women to “recalibrate what actually matters to them and what is meaningful to them and to focus on those things, instead”.
"I like to remind my clients that true self esteem does not come from one source and it certainly doesn’t come from something as transient as your looks,” she says.
“What we might lose in those superficial elements of being noticed and desired for our youth and beauty, can actually be replaced with something far more rich and meaningful."
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