Madonna, Berry Lead the Charge of 40+ Stars

Scar-Jo? Oh, no. Tough luck, Tila Tequila. Megan Fox? Meh.

Halle Berry blew 'em all out of the water, scoring the coveted title of Esquire magazine's "Sexiest Woman Alive" in the November issue. At 42, with a baby under her belt and an Oscar on her mantel, she manages to eclipse starlets nearly half her age, and even she seems surprised.

"I've been in the business for more than 20 years, and you decide now, at this particular time, that I'm the sexiest woman alive? Come on. I mean, you couldn't go with the Bond-girl year?" she says in Esquire.

Apparently, age has given Berry the opportunity to reflect on what's really sexy. Hint: It's not made of silicone, and it can't be bought at Victoria's Secret.

"I know damned well I'm sexier now than I used to be," she says. "Let me make an argument here -- not so much for me, or even for my age being sexy but for what I've learned. I've picked up a little over the years. Sexy is not about wearing sexy clothes or shaking your booty until you damn near get hip dysplasia; it's about knowing that sexiness is a state of mind -- a comfortable state of being."

The conventional wisdom in Hollywood has long been that by 40 an actress, musician or model has reached her expiration date and can kiss her career goodbye.

But along with Berry, 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 magazine. "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 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.

Take Madonna: The reigning queen of pop music turned 50 in August, days before kicking off her Sticky & Sweet tour, which is winning rave reviews as it sweeps the country. Time hasn't toned down the Material Girl. Her show is as aerobic as it is musical -- with her rock-hard thighs, resounding voice and ability to craft hits that are as catchy today as her classics were in the '80s and '90s, she's pratically the prototype for how to get better with age.

"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.

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