This 1953 Newspaper Boldly Claimed That "Older Women Can Be Beautiful"

"Women of a certain age" (i.e. over 40) have been told they need to look like "young girls" for a disturbingly long time.
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Caitlin L.
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"Women of a certain age" (i.e. over 40) have been told they need to look like "young girls" for a disturbingly long time.

The best thing about being an historian is that I can completely rationalize my collection of vintage magazines and newspapers—it’s research! I most recently picked up a copy of Chicago American from 1953 at a sale and what caught my eye about this particular issue was the headline “Older Women Can Be Beautiful” and the accompanying photos of “older women” doing various stretches and techniques to appear beautiful; or in other words, attempting to look younger.

How could I not buy this?

How could I not buy this?

It’s no secret that, in 2015, youth is the coveted mark of beauty, and if you’ve ever turned on the TV, opened a magazine, left the house, breathed in air… you know how it goes: women of a certain age are hags, shield yourself from their disgusting wrinkles and neck flaps, banish them, blah, blah, blah. 

Well, it wasn’t very different back in the mid 20th century.

Chicago American beauty editor, Kay Canfield, was very concerned with making sure that women of a certain age understood that their self worth shouldn’t be tied to how beautiful they were, but that each woman could absolutely turn heads at 70 if she practiced “infinite care” and cherished her beauty. Canfield broke up her advice into sections covering the complexion, makeup, and exercise.

If you can get past the misogyny, the base advice isn’t actually all that bad or different from most advice you’d get today. Unfortunately, it’s terribly rooted in sexist opinions and, like I said, isn’t all that different from what you’d read in a magazine today.

A Soft and Glowing Complexion

Housewife Esther Behymer offered her beauty advice for diminishing lines and wrinkles: relax for 10 minutes each day with cotton pads soaked in eye lotion over your eyes and your feet propped up.

Housewife Esther Behymer offered her beauty advice for diminishing lines and wrinkles: relax for 10 minutes each day with cotton pads soaked in eye lotion over your eyes and your feet propped up.

Skincare is important no matter what age you are, but Canfield recommended that older women take extra care and stay loyal to creams and potions to keep the complexion as clear and youthful as possible. She also advised that necks and eyes were usually the culprits in giving away a lady’s age, so they needed to rub some extra lotion onto those areas to hide their wrinkles.

Flattering Makeup for Any Age

The article didn’t supply a photo for suggested makeup, but this Elizabeth Arden ad for a product called Basic Sheen was on the same spread. (Look at those shade names!)

The article didn’t supply a photo for suggested makeup, but this Elizabeth Arden ad for a product called Basic Sheen was on the same spread. (Look at those shade names!)

“Don’t feel that heavy application of rouge and lipstick mask your age,” the article states. In fact, older women should avoid heavy application of anything, except, of course, for those wrinkle creams. Canfield advised to use only warm pink tones for blush, lightly applied foundation, and appropriate nail polishes that would compliment a well-groomed hand.

Bend and Stretch

Don’t worry, guys, she’s not sticking her head in an oven because she’s “old”—it just looks like that! Mrs. Behymer was quite excited for this bending stretch, which she claimed responsible for keeping her “figure slim and supple as a young girl’s.”

Don’t worry, guys, she’s not sticking her head in an oven because she’s “old”—it just looks like that! Mrs. Behymer was quite excited for this bending stretch, which she claimed responsible for keeping her “figure slim and supple as a young girl’s.”

Exercise was recommended as a supplement to both physical and emotional beauty. Dieting was a must. Canfield states very matter of fact to “Watch your diet. Keep your weight down.” In order to look young and turn heads, a slim figure was necessary. 

But as a consolation for women who might struggle with their weight, Canfield assured them that true beauty comes from within and that every woman should watch her outlook on life. (That sounds to me like 1950’s code for “you should smile more.”)

Other Tips

Mrs. Beyhmer also offered her advice on fashion, recommending trimly tailored clothes to compliment the body.

Mrs. Beyhmer also offered her advice on fashion, recommending trimly tailored clothes to compliment the body.

One of the very first beauty tips suggested to “women of a certain age” was to pick their best feature and keep it that way, sort of along the lines of the myth that once you hit 40, you have to pick between your face or your butt... they certainly can’t both be fantastic AND old. 

Having a hobby was also recommended to aid inner beauty, because outlets like that will “keep the spirits from flagging.” And finally, middle aged women should settle for and accept what they’ve got. “You’ll be lovely if you’re content. That’s the most important beauty tip to any woman over 40.”

Does this advice sound familiar to you? Probably. It’s still being thrown at us today—as evident in numerous essays, articles, and advertisements throughout the media machine. But when you strip away some of the more upsetting societal influences, there are actually some good take aways for people of all ages in there: take good care of your skin and exercise your body and your mind.

  • What is the worst piece of vintage beauty advice you’ve ever heard?
  • Are you as annoyed as I am over the fact that the phrase “women of a certain age” even exists?