03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

FACE IT: Experience Is Back

I was at a friend's 60th birthday party recently and noticed that, far from impaling herself with the cake knife, she was beaming. She has not looked this fit in years, is writing her second book, and her kids are thriving. I believed her when she said, "I don't think I've ever been this happy." Why should I be surprised? I too take pleasure in the "you couldn't be" comments, and as I walk around Columbia University as a matriculating madam, I feel re- invigorated and at the top of my game. No, the guys aren't asking me to their mixers, but I do sense them cozying up more and more for some life lessons. Hey, I'll take it.

Not that there aren't times when I return, like so many of my contemporaries, to feeling invisible. Small wonder, considering the barrage of potent potions and inane infomercials reminding us our wrinkles only spell doom. It's cool to be wise and all that, but god forbid it should be visible on the visage. Well, from what I have seen in 2009, there is hope.

Is experience--which seemed to have gone out when ipods and apps came in--- back? And can it be beautiful?

It may be a stretch to say Meryl Streep has never looked more fetching. But at 60, there is no denying she is not only at her peak as an actress, but her movies are actually making serious money. (Watch for the upcoming Vanity Fair and ask yourself when the last time a woman over 40 made its cover) Nora Ephron, the writer-director of one of Streep's trio of winners this year, had previously hit a dry streak . Now, in her sixties, she has a hit movie, a blockbuster book and a successful play. While her voice has stayed its unique self, there is a more humane tone that meets the edge. And yes, she looks terrific.

I would submit that Hillary Clinton has finally found serenity in power and it makes her more attractive, more respected and more her own woman. The shrillness has been replaced by a, well, stateswomanlike manner. As Diane Sawyer prepares to take over the ABC anchor desk, she too obviously remains as driven and competitive as ever. And dammit, she seems to grow more gorgeous by the year.

Whoopi Goldberg and Sally Field are two longtime stars who have passed through many a stage with us, and both seem to have settled into a comfortable stride. They have found homes on television that allow them to use their long and productive lives to add depth to what could be trivial enterprises. They have stopped trying to fight time and both look great. (And men notice: Sally seems to be fighting them off on Brothers and Sisters)

Speaking of men, let me move across gender lines for a moment. Some of the guys too have made memorable returns recently, proving that all those years of doing something well have not diminished their self worth or sex appeal. Think McCartney, Fogerty, Sting and Bruce. And in the world of professional sports, who would have thought Brett Favre at 40, (that's 60 in quarter back years) would be a potential MVP?

All those guys look their age--and we respond with forgiveness and fantasies-- but let's not kid ourselves. It's still a lot tougher for women to proudly parade our hard earned gray hairs and nab a partner, a job, an agent. Having recently co-authored a book with two models-turned-therapists, I have come to understand that aging with grace need not mean replacing the resumes with the Restalyne. But it does involve saying goodbye in order to say hello.

"For some women, beauty is equated with youth, an equation with no possible solution," explains Dr. Vivian Diller. "Long lasting beauty, in fact, is attained by the opposite: by letting go and moving on, by no longer feeling bound by narrow definitions so often dictated by contemporary culture." For a generation that thought we would be forever young, this is no walk in the park. "The challenge is to keep youthful optimism in our hearts and minds while letting our faces follow their natural courses," adds Dr. Diller.

That's easier to do when your cheekbones haven't gone south or you look like Demi at 45. But this is not about Cougar-ing: Let her defy the odds with Ashton, let Madonna date her 22 year old Brazilian model. More power to them, but something tells me these are not women who feel great in their own (natural) skin. "There is nothing more unattractive than fear and anxiety on the faces of midlife women today," says Dr. Diller.

Fear and anxiety are no doubt here to stay ,but this holiday season, let's celebrate women who have stayed around, are performing at high levels, and letting it show.

Michele Willens is a journalist, playwright, student and the editor of FACE IT: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change. (Hay House 2/10)

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