Let's not kid ourselves. Getting older is a drag, and middle age is particularly fraught with tension. Do the sexy clothes you wore in the past now seem just plain wrong? Will smoky eye makeup that looks great on 19-year-olds make you appear just plain crazy? Part of the problem is that aging often requires change, but most women don't want to move to a frumpy town called Middle Age, where sensible shoes and boring clothes are de rigueur. Here are the 11 most common mistakes aging women make--and how to avoid them.
Not realizing you need to change
The biggest mistake women make is not doing anything at all. Hair, makeup, and clothing that made you look fantastic in your younger years, often won't cut it as you grow older. If you want to age gracefully, you'll need to make some changes. "Many women keep doing the same things they've been doing for decades, which very often no longer works and may not be as flattering for a woman over 50," says Barbara Grufferman, author of The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money, and More. "They often don't even realize they are making mistakes, so it's all about finding what those mistakes are before they can happen."
Not spending enough on your clothes
Remember the good old days, when you could snag a bikini off the sale rack and look like hot stuff on the beach? Unfortunately, those days are gone. (Unless you're Madonna, Helen Mirren, or happen to look like them.) The rest of us need to invest in clothing that's a bit more, well, constructed. Think Lycra panels, butt-boosting jeans, and Spanx. It's a challenge to find flattering clothes at any age, but it's even harder in middle age. You'll probably need to fork over more dough for body-squeezing swimsuits and well-fitted business clothes that do the trick.
Comparing yourself to you in your 20s
Have your kids ever asked, "Who's that pretty lady in your photo album?" You're not alone. Few people look as attractive in middle age as they did in their younger years. So take a walk down memory lane if you must, but don't get depressed if you run into your younger self. The goal is to look as good as you can--and be as healthy as you can--not recreate the body and face you had decades ago.
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Tempted to stop working out as you get older? (Or use it as another excuse not to start?) Sorry, that won't cut it. You'll have to exercise despite the aches and pains of middle age--the bum knee, tricky back, or it-just-makes-me-feel-like-hell feeling. Exercising can actually relieve pain, and stave off health problems in coming years, such as creeping weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, or dementia. If you can manage a marathon, great. If not, now is the time to check out the gym pool, start taking yoga, or fall in love with power walking.
Not getting enough sleep
Gone are the days when you could stay up all night and still make it to work with a glowing complexion and a spring in your step. The fact is, you may have heard a "you look tired" comment even after a good night's sleep. (It's OK to grit your teeth on that one.) While it may be tempting to shortchange sleep, particularly if you're juggling parent- and child-care duties, this may be one more thing you need to change. Fewer hours of sleep are more likely to show up on your face, true. But it's also linked to a greater risk of diabetes and other health problems, which become even more important as you age.
Ignoring your teeth
You may be focusing on your wrinkles or thinning hair, but don't forget to smile at yourself in the mirror. One thing that can make you appear older is yellowing teeth, but it is about more than just looks. Dental health is closely linked with overall health, and gum disease--which gets more common as you age--has been associated with a higher risk of heart problems. So don't skip those visits to the dentist.
Overdoing anti-aging efforts
This is a common mistake made by celebrities and real women alike. No one likes crow's-feet or laugh lines, but a frozen Botox face or scary lip plumping isn't a great look either. The right skin products (such as those containing retinol) can help diminish fine lines and wrinkles. If you're not happy with the result, then explore other alternatives--but don't aim to look like a teen again. "No wrinkles can be unrealistic and unnatural," says Grufferman.
Thinking there are hair "rules"
Do you have to cut your tresses short or above the shoulders once you're 50? No, because there aren't really any hair "rules" for middle-aged women, says Grufferman. "It depends on a woman's height, shape, lifestyle, and the condition of her hair." The fact is that your hair will probably get more gray and thin as you age, and the texture may get coarser as well. Choose a cut and color that's flattering, keeping in mind that it probably won't be the cut and color that worked for you in your 20s and 30s.
Using the wrong makeup
The makeup colors and brands you've been wearing for years probably don't reflect what's best for your skin anymore. And resist the urge to slather on heavy-duty powders and concealers to cover up wrinkles and under-eye circles as caked-on or dark makeup can make you seem even older. For a more natural look, Grufferman suggests using a magnifying mirror and having a "lighter touch" when applying. Keep your cosmetic bag current--replace foundations, powders, and concealers every 6 months to a year, and steer clear of dated makeup styles too.
Wearing the wrong bra
It's inevitable--gravity has an impact on our bodies. But while you might be saggy where you were once perky, that doesn't mean you have to stay that way. "Many women continue to wear the same size and brand they've always worn, without considering that our bodies change as we age," says Grufferman. The right underwear can help lift and slim your body, so re-evaluate your undergarments and invest in some new pieces. Most large department stores and lingerie shops offer free bra-fitting services.
Settling for a boring sex life
Our culture tends to sell the message that young equals sexy, but you don't have to buy into it. You should have the confidence and freedom to dress and feel as sexy as you want to, and explore your sexual needs as well. "Women over 50 can have the best sex of their lives," Grufferman says. "For many women, it's the first time they are having sex for fun and enjoyment, not for a result (children)."