More women over 50 are flaunting their bodies. And that’s a good thing.

Photo: brookeshields, elizabethhurley1, officialterihatcher
Photo: brookeshields, elizabethhurley1, officialterihatcher

Salma Hayek, 53, Brooke Shields, 54 and Elizabeth Hurley, 54, all rocked bikinis this year and Yahoo readers — and the world — were mesmerized.

Not to be outdone, Melanie Griffith, 62, took a selfie in two-piece lingerie, Kathy Griffith, 59, posed in a bra-and-underwear set, Jada Pinkett-Smith’s mom Adrienne Banfield-Norris, 66, floated in a bikini, and Suzanne Somers wore her “birthday suit” as she celebrated turning 73.

These groundbreakers are trampling on assumptions about the sex appeal of women over 50. But according to psychology professor Wendy Walsh, the host and producer of the podcast Mating Matters, Baby Boomers (those with birthdays between 1944-1964) were born to disrupt.

“These are the women who led protests and marched for feminism,” Walsh tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Now they’re creating a roadmap for aging where none was.”

The wellness obsession and Instagram lighting are useful, but self-esteem actually improves during middle age, due to stabilized careers and a deeper investment in social and romantic relationships. In fact, determined the Psychological Bulletin study, age 60 is when self-esteem peaks, solidifying for a decade.

“Age allows you to be clear on your purpose and cherish who and what you are grateful for,” Terri Hatcher, 55, wrote on Instagram on Dec. 10 to accompany her bikini shot. “You have enough age to see the miracle of life and enough youth to revel in that knowledge. You can be vulnerable and strong at the same time. You can forgive others and yourself. You are willing to put in the effort to reach a goal...or not. And that’s okay.”

That determination has a sexual reward. “Our data shows that women are more sexually satisfied with age,” Justin Garcia, PhD, an evolutionary biologist and sex researcher from The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “They may have sex less often due to menopausal changes but the quality improves — they’re having more intentional, slower sex with oral stimulation.”

At this life stage, says Walsh, “Some feel like, ‘We still got it.’ Yes, the body ages, but the spirit is the same. Women can look young without being fertile. So it’s sort of a trick of the eye.”

We might pin our fascination on the obvious: The aforementioned women are supernaturally beautiful — who wouldn’t look? But psychotherapist Bethany Marshall, PhD, says it’s more organic. “Younger people might aspire to become these women or are curious about what’s in store later,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “And older ones may measure themselves against peers of their age. In both cases, seeing a healthy body ensures us of survival on some level.”

If anything else, adds Marshall, novelty drives interest and how many times can we worship the exact same group of bodies?

But all this empowerment can backfire as expectations for female bodies don’t cease with age.

“Some women find that showing their sexual side after they’ve already achieved success brands them as insecure,” Walsh tells Yahoo Lifestyle. That also happens to women approaching midlife, as we’ve seen on Instagram: Kate Beckinsale and Heidi Klum, both 46, were accused of having “mid-life crises” when posting swimsuit pics. “People can get confused when women use their sexuality and wisdom,” she says. “When it comes power, it’s often either/or.”

All women should inhabit their bodies as they wish. “We’re seeing now that aging is not that scary,” says Garcia. “That’s a pretty cool attitude to be ushering in about ‘older women.’”

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