In the 1980s, the "Glamazon" look was in style. This was the era of big, blown-out hairstyle, big breasts, long legs and a ton of make-up. In the 1990, the "heroin-chic" look was in style. This was the era of rail-thin, somewhat boyish-looking, very young women like Kate Moss. What the 2000s it-look was, I haven't a clue because I stopped paying attention the day I saw rail-thin little women dancing around outside a department store advertising MAC products. I did a double-take. They weren't women. They were female impersonators. And I realized that it was now easier for relatively fat-free, long-legged, zero-hipper young men to epitomize the "perfect woman" than actual women. The apotheosis of woman to underage-looking teenage boy was complete.
Fortunately most men are not attracted to underage-looking teenage boys, but to real women with breasts and bottoms and thighs. Of course, like other human beings, they are drawn to facial symmetry, which is why we women stare into our make-up mirrors and busily try to make nature more symmetrical. Our parents often pay vast sums so our teeth will be more symmetrical, too, although this is less common in Britain where the natives say they are unnerved by American "chiclet" teeth and Georgia Jagger pouts at the camera with her mouth open, gap-teeth on display, looking unnervingly like a spaced-out, tarted-up twelve year old.
Fortunately, most men are not as obsessed with female beauty as women are. They don't think about it; one just finds this girl pretty and that one not, whereas another man may think the opposite. And they are not so obsessed with aging. This is, in fact, one of the themes of my novel. My heroine is in her 30s. Her boyfriend is in his early 20s. Her boyfriend is clearly attached to her, but Catriona waits constantly for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. She is older; he is younger. No matter what he says, the relationship must be doomed.
But I have been ditched twice for women considerably older than me, a life lesson I am unlikely to forget. One of my rivals was over 40, and told me she could not do better than the rat who had bounced to me and then back to her. She said I would understand it all when I was over 40 myself. I'm very grateful to her because I spent the next 10 years making sure I never did. Instead, I have learned some very good news, and it is that men are not just attracted to youth and beauty. They are also attracted to energy, confidence, happiness, kindness, brains (tempered with modesty), social position and fame.
This is particularly true in Europe, where 50+ film stars like Kristen Scott Thomas still play romantic leads. In the UK, Tilda Swinton and Helen Mirren are still considered attractive, and Tilda Swinton has always been odd-looking. Definitely attractive, with those huge, expressive eyes, but odd-looking. And I think a large part of this has to do with the fact that they are famous film stars and the media raves on about how marvelous they are. Thus, society has accorded them status.
It's amazing what gives you status. In Germany, young university students do not shun older university students just because they are older. In my experience, German undergraduates think friendly graduate students are cool. This may be because Germany is still a terrifically hierarchical society, the hierarchy being based on expertise. When I studied in Germany, I was so overwhelmed by the attention of German undergraduates that I sought out another foreign student, a priest, to moan about my culture shock. But in the words of a very sweet undergrad from Hamburg, "We are only undergraduates; you are doing a DOKTORAT!" They actually felt honoured that I wanted to hang out with them. And one or two of them tried their luck...thus exacerbating my feelings of culture shock.
Sadly, this was not at all my experience back in the USA where a nervous undergraduate goggled at me because I tried to sign up on the orthodox students' club retreat ("Oh...um....are you faculty?") and the chaplain emphasized that I was not one of them ("They're great kids, aren't they?") Therefore, I am not sure how helpful my words of wisdom are for American readers. The generation gap in the USA seems very huge to me, and Mrs Robinson is a major figure of fun. Still, it may cheer you up to know that this is not true for the whole world.