As founder of Studio10 with a makeup brand designed and formulated for women in their late 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and above, I talk a lot about beauty – beauty that it is ageless, that is not just an arena for the youth to inhabit, but for midlife women to uphold and embrace. I talk about celebrating our age, about redefining age, and about challenging the outdated misconceptions of middle age that still seem to invade virtually every aspect of today’s society.
So, watching the BAFTAs recently, I was struck by the sheer glamour and beauty of the older women as they walked along the red carpet. How fabulously feminine they were. Strong, successful women, at the top of their game, expressing an essence of womanhood with their dress – luxurious and beautiful haute couture almost reminiscent of a bygone era. It made me think. What exactly does it mean to be feminine today? And more importantly, what does it mean to be feminine and yet survive in what is predominantly still a male-dominated world?
The Oxford Dictionary defines the word ‘feminine’ as ‘having qualities or an appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness’. It goes on to list synonyms such as womanly, ladylike, girlish, soft – all words that somehow jar with how we define ourselves or how we would like to be portrayed – and not just for midlife women, but for women of every age. Words like strong, resilient, independent, competitive and successful don’t seem to equate with the interpretation of feminine in quite the same way, but they are most definitely how we perceive ourselves today. So does being resilient, successful and independent take away from being feminine?
I think that when we look at the Oxford Dictionary definition, a huge significance lies in the word ‘traditionally’. If we go back to the fifties, women were expected to identify largely as wives, mothers and homemakers. With the end of rationing, post war fashion allowed for more freedom and embraced the female shape with bright colours, defined waistlines and an accentuated bosom. Mostly, family sat at the core of their existence and, unlike today, it seemed almost impossible for family and career to converge. With demure smiles and batting eyelashes, the women of the fifties seemed to embrace the perfect vision of ultra femininity.
But within this culture these women were still authentic, and their strength and resilience wasn’t any less than ours today simply because they tended more to their families than their careers. Underneath the obvious exterior of their heightened femininity lay the inherent and timeless qualities of femaleness. Qualities that I believe true femininity is all about. Empathy, humility, sensitivity, intuition, compassion and vulnerability. Of course, we can still be strong professional women, but climbing the career ladder doesn’t mean that we have to trample over the characteristics of our femininity in the process, because surely these are the very qualities that allow for our success?
We are lucky in that, fifty years on, our culture has shifted and becomes increasingly fluid. There are more successful women in the workplace balancing their ambition alongside raising a family and running a home. In the same way that we are redefining age for midlife women, we are also beginning to redefine what it means to be a woman in a predominantly male world – and recognising that in order to compete with men, it doesn’t mean that we have to morph into them. I love the glamour of being a woman. I love the potency of a sensual dress and sassy heels as much as I love ripped jeans and a pair of trainers. Sexy or professional – I can be both – but it doesn’t define my femaleness.
For me being feminine means accepting who I am and being okay with that, regardless of the clothes I wear or the lifestyle I choose. It is our innate attributes as nurturers – as natural carers. My sensitivity recognises the need for compassion. My vulnerability gives me courage. My weakness are not flaws, they are what make me strong. My intuition allows me to know when I need empathy, and my humility means that I can be all of these things at home or in the workplace with respect and consideration for everyone around me. This is exactly what makes us the strong, self-sufficient, resilient and successful women we are. It’s what ultra-femininity is all about.