How-to Books Make Aging a Thing of Beauty

The self-help category has a new niche: beauty books that instruct baby-boomer women on how to transform themselves from crone to cougar, from old to hot, from withered to wow. The reason is demographics, says writer/director Nora Ephron, 66, whose 2006 best-selling memoir "I Feel Bad About My Neck . . . And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman" just arrived in paperback.

"There is a huge number of women in their 50s who are discovering the truth about aging. Let's be clear. Yes, it's better to be in your 50s and 60s than to be dead. But they can't pass the mirror without averting their eyes."

At work on the film "Julie & Julia," starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, Ephron believes there is no single reason for this anti-aging mania. "For some people, it's denial, and for some people, it's 'if I can fix it, why shouldn't I?' "

Christopher Hopkins, 44, stands ready to help. His "Staging Your Comeback: A Complete Beauty Revival for Women Over 45" (HCI, $22.95) presents a step-by-step guide to help women look more attractive.

A Minneapolis makeover expert who has appeared twice on Oprah Winfrey's show, Hopkins chose to feature ordinary women in his book. And deliberately excluded plastic surgery. "Most women cannot afford or can't justify cosmetic surgery," he says.

His most important advice: "The first step is defining who you are with adjectives -- i.e., classic, casual, romantic, dramatic, alluring, innovative. Then balance who you are through your haircut, clothes and makeup."

Hopkins dislikes the sneering tone of many current TV makeover shows and magazines. "They make women fearful."

But he also disapproves of women who let themselves go. "When did taking pride in your appearance become bad?"

A lot of women over 45 are simply paralyzed, he says. "They think it's better to do nothing than to make an effort and fail. ... It's easier to pretend you don't care."

Hopkins insists he prefers the challenge of working with older women: "Anyone can take a 25-year-old model and make her look beautiful."

To help women over 50 look younger and more attractive, Manhattan nutritionist Oz Garcia sends them into the kitchen. The author of "Redesigning 50: The No-Plastic-Surgery Guide to 21st-Century Age Defiance" (Collins, $27.95), Garcia states emphatically, "If you want to look good, your central tool is the food you choose to eat. You can't dodge that bullet."

His new book focuses on diet, exercise, stress reduction and lifestyle. Too often, baby boomers approach nutrition in "a very flat manner: Does it make me fat?" Instead, people should be asking: "What foods can improve my skin, the quality of my hair, or preserve my eyesight?"

And because of his own age -- 57 -- Garcia has a personal interest. "I wanted to approach aging in a way that wasn't about being old, infirm and taking a multitude of pharmaceuticals."

Anne Kreamer explored the ultimate symbol of aging -- gray hair -- in her 2007 book "Going Gray: What I Learned About Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Really Matters." She was asked so much about her decision to stop dyeing her hair at 49 that she's adding a chapter on how to make the transition without extreme measures in the paperback edition due in January 2009.

Because she focused on U.S. women, the book's international success has surprised her. "It's a best seller in Australia. It's very big in Brazil and Italy. It's not just us."

Kreamer notes that these seemingly trivial decisions about appearance and grooming are really about "power and identity."

Other recent titles:

• "Gracefully: Looking and Being Your Best at Any Age" by Valerie Ramsey with Heather Hummel (McGraw-Hill, $24.95). Tips from 68-year-old professional model.

• Charla Krupp's best seller "How Not to Look Old: Fast and Effortless Ways to Look 10 Years Younger, 10 Pounds Lighter, 10 Times Better" (Springboard, $25.99).