Women Over 40 Pushback Against The Ageist Discourse Surrounding "The Idea Of You"

A couple, with the man on the left and the woman on the right, walk arm in arm on a street. The woman holds a coffee cup. Other people can be seen in the background
Courtesy of Prime
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

In The Idea of You, Anne Hathaway plays a 40-year-old single mom who gets swept up in a romance with a 24-year-old boy-bander.

Interestingly, what struck many viewers of the Prime rom-com was how Hathaway had somehow stopped the onslaught of time because she doesn’t look like a brittle old woman at her advanced age of 41.

“Ok this movie is cute but Anne Hathaway is not believable as a 40-year-old mother of a teenager,” one person tweeted.

“No one is going to believe Anne Hathaway is 40 I mean come on!?” another tweeted.

“It is 2001. Hollywood is trying to convince you Anne Hathaway is ugly,” one person tweeted alongside a still from The Princess Diaries and a photo from The Idea of You. “It is 2024. Hollywood is trying to convince you Anne Hathaway is old.”

What exactly is a 40-year-old woman supposed to look like? A The?

In response, a number of posts cropped up on Threads and X, formerly called Twitter, where women over 40 shared selfies to dispel the idea that 40 is the end of the line when it comes to sex appeal. (Some men participated in the trend, too.)

“If you’re over 40, post a pic. People need to see we’re not old and gray,” the caption to many of the posts read.

Genevra Siciliano, a 47-year-old photographer and podcast host, was among those who posted.

Those who had a shocked reaction to Hathaway’s appearance, she said,  “haven’t been spending enough time around women who are physically rocking their 40s — and not just their physical appearance but giving it off energetically too.”


The startled reactions to Hathaway came at an interesting time. For months there have been conversations online about how millennials look good for their age, very possibly because they’re the first generation to really, truly value SPF.

As some pointed out, Hathaway looks like a typical 40-something woman who has a dedicated skincare regimen and gym routine. (Her character in The Idea of You is also an upper-middle-class mom in Los Angeles, so it’s not a stretch to imagine she’s been dabbling in Baby Botox for years, too.)

“There is so much emphasis these days on self-care that didn’t exist when my mom was in her 40s raising me and my siblings.” said Krishma Arora, a 44-year-old writer, who posted a “This is 40+ selfie.”

“Advanced skin care, knowing to use sun protection, and the importance of exercise and eating a healthy diet are all things that help women in their 40s feel and sometimes look better than they did when they were younger,” she said.

For what it’s worth, Arora said, she “absolutely” still feels as attractive and desirable as she did 20 years ago.

“I may have stretch marks from giving birth, but I’m healthy, strong, fit, and take care of myself, not just physically but also nurturing my mental health,” she said.


Many responded positively to TV writer Gennefer Gross’s commentary on the The Idea of You age conversation.

“The discourse around a 41-year-old Anne Hathaway not looking 40 is further proof society was gaslighted by rampant misogyny that women over 35 are undesirable hags. When, in fact, they’re more vibrant, hotter, and hornier than ever,” she tweeted. “There is nothing sexier than lived experience.”

Hollywood has a history of prematurely aging actresses, casting performers as moms and even grandmas long before their time: Last year, Emmy Rossum was cast as Tom Holland’s mom in Apple TV+’s The Crowded Room despite being only 10 years older than him.

The Rossum/Holland casting harkens back to The Graduate, where Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) was only six years older than Dustin Hoffman in real life, and eight years older than Katharine Ross, who played her daughter. At the time, Bancroft was a mere 35.

Man (shirtless) and woman covered in sheets in a bedroom, looking at each other intently
Sunset Boulevard via Getty Images

In an email interview with HuffPost, Gross said she’s sick of actresses of a certain age being “relegated to book clubs and knitting and the frumpy, haggard mom chasing after her kids.”

The writer thinks such casting “brainwashes” the public into believing that a woman in her 40s loses all her desirability and couldn’t possibly look like that. If she is “hot,” she’s portrayed as an outlier: the rare cougar in a sea of sleep-starved moms in cardigan sweaters.

The controversy around Anne Hathaway “is rooted in the archaic, misogynistic notion that women over 35 shrivel up into old hags and couldn’t possibly look sexy and appealing at that age ― something that’s perpetuated in film and TV for more than half a century,” Gross said.

Gross’s personal experiences just don’t sync up with that.

“I’m a mom at this stage in my life and not only do I think I look damn good, I feel more vibrant and confident than I ever did in my twenties and am not slowing down anytime soon,” she said. “My teenage son can’t even keep up with me sometimes!”

Woman with wavy blonde hair holding a cocktail with a lime garnish, smiling at the camera
Gennefer Gross

Enocha Edenfield, 42, posted a “this is 40-something” selfie, too. She hoped her post would get other women in their 40s talking about how proud they are of their own appearances.

“I don’t consider myself an overtly sexy person, but I also know that I don’t look like what most people think a woman in her 40s should look like,” she said.

Edenfield believes that women are under no obligation to “age gracefully” but can still be proud of how they are aging.

Like the other women we interviewed, Edenfield said she’s more comfortable in her body today than she’s ever been, mostly because she dresses for herself.

“My teens, 20s, and even the majority of my 30s were spent trying to make myself appealing for public consumption,” she said. “Now that I’m in my 40s, I just don’t care what others think I should look like. Yes, I still exercise and wear makeup and nice clothes, but it’s to present the version of myself that feels most authentic.

A person with glasses and blue hair smiles in front of flowering bushes. The text discusses how 40 looks different for everyone and mentions genetics and skincare

Louise Dockery, a 48-year-old resilience coach for women who posted a selfie, feels that way, too. Turning 40 was when she finally felt happy in her own skin.

“That showed on my face and in my personality,” she told HuffPost. “I look back on photos of me in my 20s and 30s and I was stressed and burned out from constantly trying to prove myself and please everyone.”

Everything started to come together in her 40s, too, Dockery said: She started her own business at 40, met her partner and had her first child at 45.

“I’ve never had more energy or passion for life,” she said. “My friends and I go to festivals and gigs, plan our outfits, dance in the sun, and have as much fun as we did in our 20s. I’m sure we’ll still be doing it in our 60s, why not?”

Louise Dockery (left) and her sister smile with arms around each other, celebrating Louise's 48th birthday. Text discusses generational mindset shift

Sarah Zink, 63, also posted a Hathaway-inspired selfie. She thinks that it’s not until women hit their 40s that they begin to realize the shallowness of our cultural beauty standards and come into their own.

“That’s when we begin to understand the value of our bodies, desires and appearance,” Zink said. “I’m seeing more women working on their self-esteem, versus their wrinkles. They are working on healing their past trauma versus flabby thighs. Internal work is surpassing the need for external work.”

“We learn that we can say ‘no’ to what we’ve been mindlessly buying into, and finally begin to ask, ‘What else might be true?’” she told HuffPost.

Sarahzsays' post: "People saying Anne Hathaway doesn’t look 40? This is 63." Includes photo of Sarahzsays with long hair, purple lace top, smiling in a car

Zink said she’s definitely much more comfortable in her own skin now in her 60s than she was in years prior.

“Excuse the language, but I am un-fuck-withable,” she said, with a laugh. “I don’t need anyone’s approval of what I wear, how I wear it, or anything else. I will never be enough for some people, but ― for the right people ― I am more than enough.”This post originally appeared on HuffPost.