This week, first lady Michelle Obama made headlines by revealing that she would not say no to Botox to remain youthful.
“Women should have the freedom to do whatever they need to do to feel good about themselves,” she told People. “Right now, I don’t imagine that I would go that route, but I’ve also learned to never say never.”
Many women panic about remaining vivacious while aging. Yet, as she turns 50 on Friday, Obama makes it look effortless. Still, in the battle for older women to remained centered in our youth-obsessed culture, it is doubtful that the first lady is totally immune.
Leaders in fashion and life advice agree: meeting 50 for women takes a boost of self-love and an assessment of values. Here’s what we might learn from Michelle Obama — plus some tips she might appreciate — as she exemplifies a new approach to aging for women.
50 as strong and sexy
For image activist Michaela angela Davis, first lady Michelle Obama is a new icon for how to turn 50 with aplomb. Particularly for black women, she represents accessible inspiration for being empowered.
“I don’t know if that had been a black publication, if that would have come up,” Davis said of the now-famous Botox quote. “For black women, we have a different experience around age. We don’t have the same timing in terms of ‘decay,'” she jested.
“But this is also when our health starts to fail, when diabetes, or being overweight becomes a problem. Michelle is also showing us that 50 is strong, and 50 is sexy, and that there is a lot of life ahead.”
At 50, Obama also remains a pivotal figure in the battle against negative stereotypes of black women. Davis noted that it is, “particularly important for marginalized groups such as black women and black girls to see her, so that every day the world has to look at black women through her… even though she has really been embraced by the mainstream.”
Focusing on the fabulous
Service is central to her identity, but C. Nicole Mason, PhD, author of Me First, A Deliciously Selfish Take on Life, sees her 50s as a time when Obama can gain more pleasure from life than ever.
“New research shows that sex, relationships and well-being all improve once a woman reaches her golden birthday,” the lifestyle writer told theGrio. “I suspect the reason this is true is because when women have lived a half century, they are less fearful of what’s ahead, are more comfortable in their own skin, and possess confidence that can only come from the wisdom learned from past mistakes, or experiences.”
Obama’s apparent ease in making this transition could be a model of how to beautifully embrace getting older.
“Michelle Obama is a perfect example of a woman who makes turning 50 aspirational for younger women,” Mason continued. “She’s experienced tremendous success in her career, has a wonderful family, looks fantastic and exudes self-possessed confidence. For women who are a little scared of the big 5-0, or who have celebrated their 45th birthday five years straight, I would say embrace this next chapter of your life and continue to live your passions.”
Despite the difficulties of aging, 50 can be a time to look ahead.
“Take what’s going well and build upon it,” Mason said. “Continue to dream, laugh, dance, go on vacation and wear that dress you probably shouldn’t.”
Staying fiercely stylish
Speaking of daring dresses, fashion guru Monica L. Barnett has some keen advice about using fashion for a fierce 50s. The author of Without Saying A Word: The Silent Power of Style says, “The 50s for any professional woman — and I dare say the first lady is one — is somewhat of a transitional period that should be focused on fashion and function and punctuated with personal flair.”
The first lady, she suggests, might have more fun with her sophisticated, feminine look, while every woman can be inspired by her example.
“The style questions to be most concerned about are: ‘how do I look current without looking trendy?,’ ‘how can I add flair to my look without going overboard?,’ and ‘how do I ensure my look is fresh even though I’m doing plus, or minus, that same thing I’ve been doing for years?'”
Barnett believes becoming more daring is the answer.
“Ladies moving into their 50s, whether they are the first lady, or just at the top of their game, should spend a little professional capital on pushing the comfort zone,” the stylist said. “They should be wearing shorter hemlines — knee-length not mid-thigh — creating leaner and longer silhouettes by rocking one color, and adding pops of color and prints, such as leopard print blouses and candy red blazers, to their dark-colored suit bottoms[.]”
Michelle Obama’s style and substance
Discussions of shorter skirts and leopard prints are hardly trivial. Appearance is a critical part of the national conversation about womanhood that Michelle Obama turning 50 might spark, particularly around aging.
“Everything that Michelle has touched, she brings more substance to it,” image activist Davis told theGrio. “Michelle is just living her life in this very substantive way. She has really been able to shatter some notions around sexism, racism, and now around ageism. After 50, if you can take care of yourself, you can have so more much life.”
While she will certainly continue to shine, stylist Barnett hopes to see the first lady express even more of herself through fashion, “giving us a few more peeks of skin, a la shorter hemlines, and showing us an everyday look that is less ‘demure first lady’ and more ‘professional Rock Star Michelle Obama.'”
Regardless of how Obama goes on to demonstrate that 50 is fabulous, we can count on the first lady to express the truths about this decade of life that are becoming increasingly true for all women.
“Milestone birthdays are a time of reflection and new beginnings — make 50 your power decade,” self-help author Mason said. “It’s the only decade in which you truly have the wisdom, maturity, resources, and perhaps fewer responsibilities, to do whatever you want without guilt or apologies.”
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter @lexisb