How old is a beautiful woman?

‘At 20, being a babe was great. But at 34, I’m at my peak and feel in control of my own life’

‘The maturing of a woman is beautiful to behold… she is stronger, looser, tougher and sexier.’ So says Naomi Wolf in her book The Beauty Myth (Vintage, £ 6,99), and most of us would agree she’s right. Inner confidence, sexual maturity and emotional independence mean that most women grow into their looks, often achieving true beauty and sex appeal later, rather than earlier. As Lauren Hutton says: ‘You don’t really turn into anybody until you’re 35, or even 40. Who wants to be 20? I don’t miss it one bit.’ And she should know: she’s still modelling for Revlon in her fifties. Gorgeous women can be any age – but for most of us there’s a particular time in our lives when we feel at our personal best. Our looks, self-esteem and sense of style all coincide to give us an irresistible aura of beauty and power. Some women experience this early on – they’re never as gorgeous as when they’re fresh-faced and 18. Others, like Leslie Kenton, find it in their forties and beyond. But for many of us, it comes in our thirties, when our confidence – about the way we look and the way we think – is at an all-time high. As fashion photographer Steven Meisel once famously said: ‘There’s so much more to photograph with a woman than with a girl.’
The women on the next five pages prove this point. They know that what’s going on in your head is reflected in your face, your body and the way you relate to others – and that this can make you look better than any number of AHAs or liposomes ever could. It’s a case of having hit their stride, personally and professionally. True beauty is the result.

Kim Wilde, 34, singer/songwriter. Her new album is released this month

I was quite comfortable with myself as a child. I felt pretty, and boys seemed to like me. But at secondary school I had all the confidence knocked out of me. I was quite tall and I had big feet; I never felt cute, but I wanted to be. ‘I was about 20 when my first record came out. The spiky haired look came from my years at art college. I cut and bleached it myself. I never realised blokes would like me so much. Suddenly, being a pop star and a babe was great. I had boyfriends, success and admiration. However, by the late Eighties, the novelty had worn off. My self-esteem was very low. I put on weight and everyone noticed. The papers were very cruel; it was awful.
‘I’m at my peak now, physically and psychologically. Whatever’s on the outside is a projection of what’s going on inside. When I’m in control of my eating and drinking, I can give 100 per cent to the world. When I feel low, I can only give 50 per cent.
‘I’ve never been scared of getting older. I’m blessed with good skin, though I used to smoke and drink a lot, which damaged it. I’ve got crow’s feet but most men seem fond of them; they’re not all looking for perfect tits, body and face. I admire older women: Jeanne Moreau is one of the sexiest women in the world’.