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For many women, life begins at 40

With the insecurities of youth behind them, women are finally in control of their lives, writes Upala Sen.

india Updated: Oct 01, 2006 17:13 IST
Upala Sen
Upala Sen

One silver head and another salt and pepper one rummaged through the shelf marked 'A-line Skirts' at Fab India.

"Too bright", "too short", "too young"–these were some of the phrases that were tossed into the air as the search continued. After a while, one of the shop assistants approached the women with a warm smile and a "How tall would she be?" "Who?" asked the taller of the two women. "Your daughter," replied the shop assistant helpfully.

A moment's silence, followed by a very matter-of-fact reply, "Oh no, no, I don't have any daughters. Only daughters-in-law. Nice girls both. But tell me, these skirts are a wee bit short. Where can I get my size?"


 1. Know It All: You have been there, done that. With experience and wisdom, you are finally in control of your life. You could even write one of those best-selling self-help books.

2. Game, Set, Match: You have already waited for Mr Right (maybe you have found him, maybe you have not), but either way, you now have the confidence to get to know a few Mr Wrongs.

3. Winning Ways: You do not have to prove a point to anyone. Hits are a bonus, and people are less harsh about the misses.

4. Chill Factor: You do not have to worry about the children’s homework or the forgotten birthday card (now thoughts actually matter more than ceremony.)

5. Mirror, Mirror: You no longer have to look at the face in the mirror with trepidation. You have made friends with it at last.

"Today, 40 is the new 30," comments television actress Smriti Irani. And just in case you were wondering, no, she is not being 'sizist'. Photographer Prabuddha Dasgupta however, feels that it is a "curiously contradictory state of affairs".

"On the one hand, these are youth-obsessed times and yet everywhere I go I see older women in charge of things—be it marketing or advertising or top corporate positions. They are also very aware of their physicality and it reflects in their toned bodies and well-groomed selves." Dasgupta calls it the "resurgence of womanhood in India."

Dressed in tight jeans and a candy pink tee (showing off a well-maintained figure), with her bobbed hair and buttersmooth skin, television producer Anita Kaul Basu makes a very striking 40-plus woman.

So does actress Lilette Dubey. Says Dubey with a laugh, "The only very 40-plus thing I do is colour my hair. And that too because I am in showbiz. My mother always said that all you had to do to look decent was wash your face, slap on some cold cream and get some good sleep. Would you believe it, I got my first facial only a year ago?" We believe her, but the fact is that increasingly Indian women (and we are not talking about the girls) are going beyond the cold cream and talc routine.

In India, the 40-plus image is one of off-white cottons, staid buns and either a string of prayer beads or grandchildren. It is time to stow away the silks, leave the bright yellows and pinks and parrot greens to daughters, daughters-in-law and mothballs (not necessarily in that order) and let the adipose be—it is a mark of prosperity after all. If you have daughters to marry off, all the more reason for you to look your dreariest best, if you have sons, the adipose serves the purpose of a statutory warning for the daughter-in-law, and if you are still single, then this is the only thing to do because it is in any case no longer possible to mingle. But no longer.

Says hair-stylist Ambika Pillai, "Beauty parlours all over the world have actually germinated to cater to the 40-plus clientele. The younger lot come in for a hair cut or streaking, but it is the middle-aged women who come in regularly for touching up their hair–that old henna-at-home routine is now passé–and facials. In the last five years, there has been an increasing awareness."

First Published: Oct 01, 2006 14:29 IST