05/08/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT
ON GLORIA STEINEMS 50TH birthday, somebody had the nerve to tell her that she looked good for her age. "This is what 50 looks like," was the feminist's oft-quoted response. Now 61, she is still turning heads—and slaying stereotypes. "At 50, the map of how to be a woman ends," she says. "Sixty is much better. By then you realize there's something else—a free, uncharted country."
Steinem charts her course with humor. "A friend and I used to joke that we were going to be pioneer dirty old ladies, on bar stools, in too-tight skirts, giving Boy Scouts money for sex," she says. Obviously that won't be necessary. "The miracle about Gloria," says her pal Suzanne Braun Levine, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, "is that she's stayed so beautiful while talking so tough."
And she has done it without conforming to other people's standards. It was only after her college days at Smith, where, she says, the de rigueur red lipstick "made me look like the Andrews Sisters," that the times finally caught up with her natural good looks. When the public began to notice, it was because, she insists, "they thought a feminist couldn't possibly be attractive."
But it was only the passage of time—and therapy—that allowed her to call a truce with her looks. Throughout the '80s, she clung to her outdated long hair and aviator glasses because, she admits, "I thought my face was fat." Today she has nothing to hide. "I streak my hair, and that's pretty much it," she says. "I have dry skin, so I'm always slathering myself with whatever's available." She abhors the thought of plastic surgery: "I'm too interested in how my body's aging. And too afraid to come out looking like somebody else." So what is the beauty secret that Steinem holds dear? "Revolution," she says, with a wry smile. "It keeps you young."