Anyone still in doubt that Shakira and Jennifer Lopez are two of the hottest women in show business right now need only have watched the Super Bowl LIV halftime show. Last night, in a glorious ode to Latinidad, the women breezed through their respective greatest hits with casual feats of athletic prowess: Shakira’s hips still don’t lie, and J.Lo dazzled with pole moves she’d picked up on the set of her 2019 hit, Hustlers. I’m an anti-NFL grouch — solidarity with Rihanna! — but even I couldn’t help feeling joyful (and, let’s be real, a little turned on) watching the performance for the first time this morning. I’m half convinced that Shakira waggled her tongue at the cameras, to the bafflement of Fox News, especially for her legions of lesbian fans.
For a lot of viewers, the real surprise of the night was the fact of these women’s ages: Shakira just turned 43, and Lopez is 50. Everybody tweeting in shock and amazement that a 50-year-old woman could still look really fucking good must have missed this news cycle the first time around, when Lopez’s age (and apparently paradoxical beauty) became a focal point of the coverage around her role in Hustlers. When Lopez went viral last September for wearing the same green Versace dress that, back in 2000, inspired the creation of Google Images — to close the designer’s spring 2020 show — it was because of those recycled assumptions: She is older, and yet still hot! Wow!!!!!
Lopez isn’t the only star whose age is frequently cited in a gee-whiz way whenever her looks are concerned. Jennifer Aniston, fresh off a career-best turn as the star of The Morning Show, gets the same treatment; last month, the New York Post spoke for many when it ran a story titled “How Jennifer Aniston Looks So Damn Good at 50 Years Old.” While women face a lot more pressure to be hot forever (I think about Amy Schumer’s “Last Fuckable Day” sketch, like, once a week), male celebs are also dubiously rewarded for subverting the ridiculous expectation that to get older is to become uglier. Apparently there are still some people who can’t get over that, for example, Jen’s infamous 56-year-old ex, Brad Pitt, has been consistently hot for “literally 30 years.”
Of course, the most obvious explanation for how these rich celebrities look so good is: They’re rich. Unlike the rest of us, celebrities employ teams of people devoted to the sole task of keeping their bodies in tip-top condition: chefs, trainers, stylists, facialists, and, yes, plastic surgeons. It is, in fact, part of their jobs to be conventionally good-looking. If so many people are consistently surprised that millionaires manage to look “good for their age” — whatever that even means — what does that say about our culture’s attitudes about ordinary people in their fifties and sixties?
A widely shared study from 2018 found that, in the online dating world, women reach their peak desirability around age 18 while men reach that same peak around age 50 — which, yikes. Aging men are afforded assumptions of power, prestige, wisdom, and virility; for women, many of whom spend thousands of dollars on skincare to delay physical signs of aging at all costs, to age is to slide ever further toward cultural irrelevance.
But that could be changing. As author and former BuzzFeed senior editor Rachel Wilkerson Miller tweeted after the smash success of the halftime show, “perhaps we should let women over the age of 40 do things more often.”
While straight culture might have a ways to go, queer culture has long recognized the particular beauty and value of older women. One of the rare items in the center of the Venn diagram between gay men and lesbians, after all, is our unrepentant love for middle-aged women actors, especially if they’re obscure or underrecognized. (Give Amy Adams her Oscar already!!!!!)
Both gay men and women, in fact, are far more likely to have relationships with 5-, 10-, and 20-year age differences than straight people are. That isn’t to say, though, that ageism doesn’t run rampant in queer circles, especially in the gay male world; actor Sam Pancake, on a recent episode of the podcast Lovett or Leave It, delivered a passionate and eloquent speech about a young gay comedian who told him he’d rather be dead than Pancake’s age. But, in general, freed from the confines of heteronormativity, queer people tend to write our own rules when it comes to what’s considered beautiful.
To me, Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Jennifer Aniston, and Brad Pitt (whom I would go straight for at any consenting adult age) aren’t hot in spite of how old they are; they’re hot because of how old they are. Shakira and J.Lo at the halftime show were exhibiting the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of work and talent — the music, the dance moves, the intoxicating confidence — as well as showing off their gorgeous and unthinkably expensive heads of hair. As Vanessa Friedman writing for the New York Times put it: These women, stunning in their sparkly unitards, proved that “dressing your age” has become a meaningless aphorism. Lopez’s character in Hustlers is so beguiling, too, at least at first because Ramona knows her shit. She knows how best to relieve men of their cash; she knows how to dress herself in luxurious furs; she knows how to show younger women to thrive in their own right.
I get personally offended whenever anyone expresses shock that someone in her fifties can look so good — which, even when the remark is perfectly well-meaning, it carries the assumption that regular fiftysomethings are dried-up, old bags. I’m dating a 53-year-old, and not only is she, in my completely biased opinion, a total smokeshow — she’s all the more alluring to me because she carries with her the poise and self-possession of someone who knows who she is, what she wants, and what it means to live in her truth. And neither she, nor Lopez, nor anyone in their fifties is in their twilight years; these women are hot as hell, and they are just getting started. ●