Following West and Zimmerman's (1987) theoretical understanding of how gender identities are created and maintained, this paper examines the ways in which older women learned from their mothers how ‘to do gender’ through their bodies and specifically their physical appearances. Extracts from semi-structured interviews with 44 women aged 50 to 70 years have been drawn upon to identify and discuss the ways in which women perceive, manage and present their bodies using socially-constructed ideals of beauty and femininity. More specifically, three ways that women learned ‘to do gender’ are examined: from their mothers' criticisms and compliments about their appearance at different stages of the lifecourse; from their mothers' attitudes towards their own bodies when young and in late adulthood; and from the interviewees' own later-life experiences and choices about ‘beauty work’. Interpretative feminism is employed to analyse how the women exercised agency while constructing body-image meanings in a social context that judges women on their ability to achieve and maintain the prevailing ideal of female beauty. The study extends previous research into the influence of the mother-daughter relationship on young women's body image. The findings suggest that mothers are important influences on their daughters' socialisation into body-image and beauty work, and exert, or are perceived to exert, accountability across the life-course.