Opinion | Kate Winslet, Salma Hayek, Vidya Balan: Sexy is the new middle age!

Written By: Pallabi Dey Purkayastha WION
New Delhi Updated: Sep 06, 2021, 08:33 PM(IST)

Kate Winslet, Vidya Balan, Salma Hayek Photograph:( Twitter )

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In an industry notorious for massaging the male ego and where pay parity is an open joke, it is refreshing to see women break free from the shackles of ageism and pave the path for themselves and the younger school of actresses to come.

When dabbling in the ever-evolving topic of middle-aged women in films, a funny response by Halle Berry on Jimmy Kimmel’s ‘Mean Tweets Live’ segment crops up in my head. It was 2015 and someone had tweeted about her then 49 YO breasts that went like this – “Halle Berrie’s boobs are lopsided (sic)” – to which, the actress had replied, quite nonchalant by the public attack on her supposedly sagging bosom, “Well, when they’re real, that happens.” Six years on, that is precisely the case. Female actors are, thankfully, no longer put on a pedestal when they are young and thriving and unceremoniously escorted out the back door, when they are not. The new-age ‘old’ women in cinema are fierce, unabashedly accepting of their bodies and the inevitable transition they must endure over time. They are not their lip jobs and liposuctions; they are here to render one career-defining performance after another.

Perhaps it is this newfound confidence in embracing what was (once) generationally considered wrath of nature that led Academy Award-winning actress Kate Winslet to say no to digital tummy tucks for her monster hit ‘Mare of Easttown’. Crow’s feet? Laugh lines? Stretched bellies from birthing kids? No problem.

Winslet’s contemporaries, too, are defying the age barrier that’s been rampant in films with sheer talent. Take ‘Noctural Animals’ actress Amy Adams for instance. True, her ambitious project ‘The Woman in the Window’ faced harsh criticism for, well, being a bad film but with Disney’s ‘Disenchanted’ lead Giselle in tow and the high school drama ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ in the pipeline, who’s to say if 2022 will mark her seventh Oscar nomination. Interestingly, Adams’ first nomination for ‘JuneBag’ was back in 2005 and she was only 31 years of age: the pink of her health, ageists may say. And although time has turned her into a raddled version (according to conventionalists) of her once pretty self, there is not an iota of doubt that 46 YO Adams is tailor-made for an Academy honor, the question is when.

Talking of 2021 releases, it is safe to say that Rosamund Pike’s sharp bob, pantsuits and sass made quite the entrance in this year’s Netflix sleeper hit ‘I Care A Lot’. The actress – then in her 30s – had become the poster child of troubled prettiness with her distinct act as Amy Dunne in the 2014 release ‘Gone Girl’ and exudes ghastly charm and gravitas with the same intensity in her latest outing as she had seven years ago. If anything, Pike is carving a niche for herself in this genre that few dare to tread along.

Agreed, clicking pictures with best friend Penelope Cruz – another stunning actor who refuses to slow down with age like it’s a nonexistent phenomenon – is second nature to Salma Hayek, but when she is in front of the camera for whatever role is offered to her… Boy is she on fire! Her pairing with Owen Wilson in this year’s ‘Bliss’ may have been an odd artistic choice but Hayek as a kooky crack head was a delight to watch, to say the least.  If her thick Spanish accent, like ‘Modern family’ alumna Sofia Vergara’s, could not jeopardize her career in Hollywood, age certainly stands no chance.

‘The Crown’ royalty Olivia Colman may not be distractingly beautiful like Cruz or Hayek but what she is, is mind-bogglingly talented. There are very few actresses in Hollywood, or any other parts of the world for that matter, who can stand shoulder-to-shoulder in acting prowess with the legendary Anthony Hopkins but Olivia Colman is no plain Jane—in that regard—and she does what comes naturally to her: acting. Greys or not.

Similarly, the Streeps, McDormands, Mirrens, Portmans and Blanchetts of showbiz are far too busy touching the zenith of their respective careers to care about nagging remarks about stepping away from milestone acting jobs, and what for. In an industry notorious for massaging the male ego and where pay parity is an open joke, it is refreshing to see women break free from the shackles of ageism and pave the path for themselves and the younger school of actresses to come.


Historically, the Indian film industry has struggled with the PYT syndrome for as long as I can remember—Pretty Young Thing, that is. In recent years, however, it has started to separate raw talent from preconceived notions of beauty. In modern India, quite recently, a heavyset woman well in her 40s like Vidya Balan shoulders a big-budgeted film ironically about capturing a tigress, titled ‘Sherni’. It is almost hilarious that Balan, who was once mocked and rebuked for gaining weight, is now regarded as a national (art) treasure.

Or a Neena Gupta—who had left the whole nation gasping in unison when she had announced her pregnancy out of wedlock, back in the 80s—do what they couldn’t do when the ‘age’ was right: land a lead role. In her OTT show with daughter Masaba Gupta in 2020-21, named ‘Masaba Masaba’, Gupta echoes her suppressed emotions about not being able to make it as ‘a heroine’ in her prime and how she was reduced to a mere prop, aka ‘heroine ki saheli’. At 62, Gupta realized a fraction of that dream in a series that was otherwise meant to be her designer daughter’s acting launch pad. Times are truly ‘a changin’.

Despite the organized commotion that is the cinema industry and the plethora of issues it nurtures, encounters and fights back, a cluster of women have dared to defy age and land acting jobs strictly on their acting expertise. Thus, reiterating the fact that if the youth is your moolah, then you will be spent. 

(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer.)

Pallabi Dey Purkayastha


I write about movies, TV shows, relationships, trips I did or did not take, goals I am yet to realise. One day I will write a book, till then let’s go along with the madness called life.

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