The conventional wisdom in media and fashion has always been that at 40, an actress or model has reached her expiration date and can kiss her career goodbye.
But the original supermodels of the '80s and '90s -- Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Claudia Schiffer -- and 40-something actresses like Brooke Shields, Mary-Louise Parker and Debra Messing are challenging that notion by continuing to work on major advertising campaigns and hit television shows.
"Women in their 40s are here and they're not going anywhere," said Albert Lee, a senior editor at US Weekly. "In politics, media and fashion, everyone is finally waking up to this sleeping giant demographic. These are the women at the hub of our culture."
Among the celebrities who have joined Club 40 are Halle Berry, Courtney Cox, Vanessa Williams, Nicole Kidman and Janet Jackson. And with some notable exceptions, a lot of these women seem to be aging gracefully, without overdoing the Botox.
"Women aren't as afraid to grow older," Lee said. "It's about retaining their femininity and owning it in a way that's not desperate, like, 'I'm a 42-year-old woman who wants to look like 18. I can still go get my hair blown out and buy some nice makeup and go to yoga and Pilates classes. Before it was either give up and put on some high-waisted mom jeans and drive a minivan or try to stay forever young wearing dresses with a hem too high and a bust too low and become the mom everybody whispers about. Now there's a middle path."
Lee believes women in their 40s have finally captured the imagination of advertisers and media executives, who are taking notice of this largely untapped market.
"Advertisers have excluded older women for so many years, now they are saying that was actually a dumb financial move," said Jennifer Pozner, executive director of Women In Media & News, a media analysis, advocacy and education group based in New York. "Why don't we combine the culture's current nostalgia for anything '80s with models who still look gorgeous?"
Supermodels: Sexy at 40
The women who invented the supermodel phenomenon are back in the spotlight after leaving to have children and pursue other interests. They have eclipsed their teenage rivals to helm this season's most coveted collections. Evangelista, 43, is the face of Prada; Schiffer, 38, is fronting Chanel's main collection and Turlington, 39, is promoting the designer's eyewear. And they are not the only ones.
Naomi Campbell, 38, who has hardly ever stopped working, will be representing Yves Saint Laurent this season. More impressive is her predecessor Christie Brinkley, who, at 51, renewed her association with Cover Girl and is currently the face for its Advanced Radiance cosmetics for older women.
"A fashion house decided to listen to the customer rather than follow the trends," said Didier Fernandez, ad agent at New York-based DNA Models, which represents Evangelista. "You don't see a 20-year-old buying a $5,000 product. That might be why Prada and Chanel decided to go for a woman instead of kids."
On the screen, some actresses in their 40s are also proving that age is just a number. Parker, 44, is in her third season of Showtime's dramedy "Weeds" in which she plays a pot-dealing suburban mom. She won a Golden Globe in 2006. Brooke Shields, 43, is returning for the second season of NBC's "Lipstick Jungle" in which she stars as a movie executive.