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5 Women Who Are Transforming the Way We Approach Aging

An older woman gazes out the window

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We live in a youth-obsessed society. And it’s reflected in what we see in magazines, newspapers, TV shows, and movies. We rarely see older individuals, particularly women, portrayed in a favorable light unless they’re somehow free of fine lines, wrinkles, and gray hair. Is this problematic? Yes. How can it not be? Shunning an unavoidable and natural physiological progression of the human state alienates mature women, who comprise roughly 20% of the world population. It also perpetuates the misconception that an individual’s worth to society is measured in youthfulness (hello, mid-life crisis!)—when it’s anything but. Why should an older male celebrity be considered a “silver fox” when a woman of the same age is “brave” for embracing her natural gray instead of coloring her hair?

The good news is that many female celebrities are now using their star power to challenge the ageist narrative. Discover five of the most influential Hollywood actresses speaking up against female-oriented ageism while aging gracefully here.

#1: Taraji P. Henson 

When should a woman stop working? Hollywood probably would prefer around 30, but Taraji P. Henson vehemently disagrees. After countless roles on the big and small screen—including her coming-of-age film Baby Boy and Oscar-nominated performance in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button—52-year-old Henson still feels like her career is just getting started.

She said in a 2019 interview: “…men don’t have an age limit put on them at all. They don’t. I have not seen a man stop working because of his age. So why should women have a limit? That’s what Viola Davis, Regina King, and I are all fighting for, to break through that ceiling. We’re still talented, why should we stop working?” We couldn’t agree more.

#2: Reese Witherspoon 

Reese Witherspoon, who played Annette in Cruel Intentions, Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, and Madeline Mackenzie in Big Little Lies, has just turned 45. And she's enjoying every minute of it. While most women despair over gray hair and fine lines, Witherspoon takes a more refreshing approach—reframing them as things she's "earned." To quote her in a 2019 interview, "I love watching myself age on film. I think it's so empowering to come in from a different place of knowledge, understanding, and with that comes wrinkles."

#3: Meryl Streep

Why do we see so few mature women on big screens? One big contributing reason is that most screenwriters who are hired to pen high-profile films are men. As a result, while women's overall involvement in Hollywood hovers around 30% industry-wide, the number of female screenwriters plunges significantly to about 15%. Meryl Streep wants to change that.

In 2015, Streep used her own money to help fund a screenwriting lab for female writers over 40, run by New York Women in Film and Television and IRIS, a collective of women filmmakers. Streep hopes that the female perspective can help create more roles for women over 40 and change the established rules for roles available to women over 40.

#4: Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore isn’t afraid to look her age (note: 47 this year). Barrymore is determined to avoid the allure of cosmetic nips and tucks. She’s not afraid of aging—and views it as the natural process that it is. In a 2021 interview, she said, "We're gonna age, things are gonna go south, and it's okay, and it's a part of life." Barrymore is also determined to teach her children, 6-year-old Olive and 4-year-old Frankie, to think of aging as a luxury. "If we're lucky, we are all going to age. I just want them to be at peace with who they are and not what they look like."

#5: Rita Moreno

True or false: Mature women don't desire sex. Answer: false. Multiple studies show that many older women are still sexually active beyond their seventh decade. So, why don't we see more sensual, mature women on screen? Rita Moreno grappled with that same question and came up with an ingenious solution. When approached to star as a 70-year-old grandmother (FYI: Moreno is 91 this year!) in Netflix's One Day at a Time, her first request to the screenwriters was for the character to be sexual.

In her words: "Once people turn a certain age, that [sexuality] gets completely ignored by writers, and it's a shame. I've always been a very sexual person. That doesn't mean I'm going around feeling my breasts and pressing myself against men, but I'm a sexual being. I'm 85, and I'm still a sexual being or a sensual being." To that, we say: you go, girl!

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