Beauty of the mature woman


In the same week I listened to Mireille Guiliano, the author of French Women Don't Get Facelifts, give her views on ageing with attitude, I read of the work of two American therapists on the same theme.

In their book Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change, Vivian Diller and Jill Muir-Sukenick -both with PhDs in psychology - make the point that although women in their 50s came of age in a post-feminist time, they're still tethered to the same blaring cultural message: "Beauty equals youth, and youth equals beauty."

"Psssht," might say Guiliano, with a French shrug. "La vie commence à 50."

French women, she says, have a different view of ageing. In France, a woman's age doesn't matter. Guiliano's view is that if a French woman is fit, takes care of her appearance and has joie de vivre, she is regarded as equal to any other.

"In France we just don't cry over our wrinkles the way American women do. Gravity is gravity; it's not what matters most after 50."

It shouldn't matter, but it appears that it does. Despite the title of Guiliano's second book (French Women Don't Get Fat came first), French women do actually get facelifts.

As one diligent US reviewer pointed out, about 10 in 1000 American women underwent some form of cosmetic surgical procedure in 2011, compared with a not-far-off seven in 1000 French women.

But, really, we're quibbling. And there is something that rings true in Guiliano's stereotype of ageless French femininity.

What's more, she has a point when she says the US is youth-obsessed to the point of insanity.

Americans tend to consider women in their 40s 'old', she says, while confidence in their own allure keeps French women in their 50s and beyond looking and feeling young. 

"When [American] women feel that they are losing their looks, they are often stunned to find themselves

re-experiencing the same insecurities as they did in adolescence," writes Diller and Muir-Sukenick.

"Yes, for many otherwise successful and evolved women, 50 is the new 15."

Despite their varied approaches - one bossy, provocative, founded on common sense; the other mindful,

sensitive and PC - all three authors appear to be going in a common direction.

Guiliano says French women age well because they have attitude. Diller and Muir-Sukenick maintain that women won't fear ageing so much if they change their attitudes.

"As Eleanor Roosevelt said, 'No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.' While you can't change the physical process of ageing, you can change your experience of ageing by identifying what you are feeling, why you are feeling it and what you can do about it," write the American authors.

Unsurprisingly, my own attitude towards ageing has adapted as I have, in fact, got older. Entering my sixth decade I'm finding a new stubbornness.

When Guiliano calls on me never to leave the house without makeup, I find myself not only wanting to slip down to the shop sans lipstick, but also without using a brush. Call me a curmudgeon, but sometimes I'd far rather fix what's missing from my pantry than fix my hair.

Neglecting to match my shoes with my handbag, failing to wear lipstick, forgetting to do my nails doesn't mean I don't care about my appearance. It just means that at the time I left the house I cared more about something else.

Thanks, Madame, but my definition of myself goes beyond what I see in the mirror.

Guiliano and I are on la meme page, however, when it comes to confidence.

Confidence is beauty. Guiliano might say that French women hold their heads high because they know they've put the effort in.

I'd like to think their confidence stems not just from looking good but because, at 50, they know their worth.

But this is a beauty column. And all three authors have good things to say about feeling and looking beautiful. So, with help from two PhDs and a very successful French author, here are five ways to face your future with style.

Reinvent your look

"Instead of holding onto old definitions of beauty or feeling anxious about change, women who find fun in

reinventing their style are able to feel attractive as they age," say Diller and Muir-Sukenick.

"Holding on and holding back looks tight and tense. A flexible attitude toward beauty leads to the ability to adjust your style and fashion sense and is key to enjoying your looks at any age."

Guiliano is blunter: "Focus on shoes and hair," she says. "Style is the manifestation of an attitude, and good shoes and a great haircut go a long way to make you look healthier and more attractive."

Focus on what you have

Stop criticising yourself when you look in the mirror, says Guiliano. Rather, take an objective look at what's there and consider whether it needs changing. Do you need a new haircut? If so, don't beat yourself up, just get a new haircut.

"I think every woman is beautiful," she says. "So, you have to find what is it in you that makes you beautiful

and play on that, as opposed to try to be trendy or want to remain young and dress like your daughter."

Be sensuous

"As we get older, we may leave behind unlined faces and bright teeth, but we never have to leave behind our abilities to connect to others in a sensual way," say Diller and Muir-Sukenick.

"Women who report feeling attractive as they age say they never forget their capacity to be sensual and hold onto it into their 60s and beyond."

French women know how to flirt, says Guiliano. "It's in our culture. There's a lot of flirtation and seduction that goes on in a very complex way. It certainly boosts morale."

Healthy ageing is better than anti-ageing

"Women who talk about feeling and looking attractive as they age focus more on prolonging the health of their bodies and skin rather than stopping the clock," advise Diller and Muir-Sukenick.

"They adapt to the changes they see. In the end, feeling attractive is based on how you experience your looks, no matter what you do, or don't do, to your face and body."

Guiliano's advice is simple: walk more, eat less, drink less alcohol and more water, and reduce exposure to cigarettes and air pollution.

Masks are pointless

"The reality is we are getting older,'" say Diller and Muir-Sukenick.

"But 'ageing' doesn't have to be a dirty word. In other words, 40, 50 and 60 are just numbers...

"After all, what does 50 really look like today? It surely isn't the picture we have of our mothers or grandmothers. From our perspective, 50, 60 and older can look great if you take off your mask and let your face grow into becoming who you are. Masks are brittle. Masks are fake. Stop hiding, take a look and see what's coming." 

Sunday Star Times