Ageing is a gift. Right? As someone who became a beauty editor at the ripe young age of 25, I thought I knew all there was to know about ageing. Or rather, anti-ageing, and the entire industry that seemed hell-bent on preventing the signs of it. You know, fine lines, wrinkles, jowls.
While ageing is inevitable, I—along with many millennials in the height of youth—arrogantly never processed that it would happen to me in the way that it has. It was ignorance at best and hubris at worst. But that’s perhaps every generation: you never internalise that finally looking your biological age—loose skin, the odd grey hair or hormonal weight gain—could happen… to you. I’ve spent the past several years of my career in penance for my complicity to ageing anxiety, preventing photographers from photoshopping wrinkles and extra curves. Removing age as benchmark in casting models, using the phrase pro-age over anti-age in stories where we can. And yet, as someone entering this new season of life, I can’t help but feel dissonance within.
40 and ageing: A new outlook
Staring at Amanda Seyfried’s barely airbrushed forehead in her latest Lancôme campaign, horizontal lines gently etched on her skin, I’m encouraged by the progressive attitudes to age in beauty marketing. These soft expression lines don’t diminish her beauty. Not one bit. In fact, as someone with those exact forehead creases myself, I know they’re from a lifetime of eyebrows raised in curiosity, frowning when deep in thought, and importantly, laughing with life and animation. The image makes me feel strangely seen.
Now, unlike the generations before them, elder millennials turning 40 are ageing in real time, on screen, throwing added shades of anxiety to the spectrum of complex feelings.
What if your mum bod came in too soon or your idea of a Friday night rager has always been a face mask in bed? Are you a lost cause if you have the stamina of a 62-year-old ahma? Are you only fabulous if you, as a 40-something, look 32?
Thanks to technology, better standards of living and the odd cc of preventative Botox, we’re not ageing like our forebears. As women, pockets of society have expected us to look younger or ‘good for’ our age. Never mind the world’s expectations for us: how can we exist without putting these demands on ourselves?
The age of reckoning
“It all happened at once for me because I had Oscar. I was 39 and actually felt like I was in the best shape ever. My skin was also at its healthiest. And then pregnancy hormones got the best of me—I was hit with pregnancy acne and melasma,” explains spirited 40-year-old lecturer, musician and mum of three, Aarika Lee. “The acne eventually cleared but I haven’t managed to get rid of the melasma and it’s not going to be easy. It’s also such an obvious pigmentation when it didn’t go away after having the baby, it was when I started to feel like ‘hey, things are changing. My body and skin aren’t what they used to be’.
“Post-pregnancy also meant recognising that I wasn’t getting ‘back into shape’ (I don’t like this phrase now because we have such unrealistic expectations of ourselves) as quickly as I did with [my elder children] Zola and Ari. And it was obviously because I was much older now and had to recognise that. My body had just been through a lot and I needed to cut it some slack.”
Changes in skin, body shape and metabolism come as a collective confrontation for many women in their 40s. Lee confesses to feeling mildly frustrated that her accelerated “ageing” had happened “in the blink of an eye” after noticing the changes virtually overnight.
“I can’t say I didn’t feel any grief. I definitely did,” shares Lee. “But I also felt like my physical body was not keeping up with me because I don’t feel old, and yet my body was starting to respond in a way it never used to.”
“My transformation evoked feelings of unease and paranoia,” says 42-year-old arts insider and mother of twins, Nor J. Wang. Beneath her mellow, grounded aura is an undercurrent of confidence. “As I become more attuned to the newfound strengths, abilities and potential of my evolving self, I feel more empowered and liberated with time.
“I do not feel displacement or grief about my changing body. Instead, I find empowerment in the process of ageing and embrace its signs as symbols of wisdom and divine feminine energy.”
“I embody the strength and grace that come with the passage of time, honouring the beauty that resides within that radiates outwards, transcending societal expectations.”
Reconciliation with the self
As Sza sings: “Half of us chasing fountains of youth, when it’s in the present.”
Ageing is happening whether we’re ready to embrace it or not. Acknowledge there’s room for both insecurity and magic—holding space for the tenuous, tender areas that are still experiencing growing pains. Perhaps this suffering, which is elective, can be remedied by loving ourselves however imperfectly out loud.
“Every part of me is a line in my story and all of it is not something to be disappointed or embarrassed about,” Lee declares, processing the many natural biological and chronological changes in flux. “It’s something I feel strong and proud about. The best thing is knowing that I am healthy and loved and that my outward appearance doesn’t define me. And it took ‘getting older’ to know that.”
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Death and rebirth
“Motherhood, working full-time and managing a household have brought about significant changes in my relationship with my body and the way it ages due to biological, hormonal factors compounded by time and energy constraints,” shares 42-year-old art insider, Nor J Wang. “The road to recovery: losing 30 kilos, returning to healthy sleep patterns, healing from bodily wear and tear was hard and is still an ongoing process. I’ve survived and thrived, so no point obsessing about lines and stretchmarks in my new lease of life.”
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“The best thing about being in my skin is that it’s a reflection and an embodiment of my diverse ancestry—the spirit, beauty and courage of a strong lineage of women who reside within me,” says Wang.
A new season of self calls for a striking bold look. Pair Dior 5 Couleurs Couture eyeshadow palette in 279 Denim with a neutral lip, such as MAC Cosmetic’s Glow Play Lip Balm in That Tickles.
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My essential self
Tame those tresses with K18’s Molecular Repair Hair Oil, available at Woorailoora. The silicone-free oil instantly smooths frizz and flyaways and lends instant shine to locks without weighing them down.
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Life in her 40s for Wang is about, “Cultivating a deeper appreciation for one’s gifts and focusing on self-care. So not skipping sunscreen, cutting out sugar and toxic energies because prioritising one’s well-being is the key to happiness.”
Explore daring new sides of the self. Make a bold impression in gothic berry lip hues, blending the black-toned Rouge Hermès lipstick in 84 Brilliant Rouge Abysse and 72 Brilliant Rouge Bruni together for dimension and shine.
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Channel your inner rebel in this ’90s redux:think tawny brown hues in a matte finish anchored in a high-contrast liner. Get the look with Chanel’s Les 4 Ombres Multi-Effect Quadra Eyeshadow in 268 Candeuret Expérience.
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“Can my tattoo say “I have arrived”?” asks Lee. “I definitely find myself embracing that more. That I have arrived. And not look at ageing in such a negative way.”
Beauty direction: Alli Sim
Associate beauty editor: Emily Heng
Make-up: Kenneth Chia
Hair: Yuhi Kim
Manicure: Felicia Widjaya
Photography assistants: Sin Yean Yam; Michelle Yap
Models: Aarika Lee; Nor J. Wang