Monday, July 19, 2010

Aging Gracefully "à la française"

The New York Times
The American author of this article attempts to unravel the mystery of aging gracefully "à la française." She gives us lots of useful information on the French woman’s eating habits, beauty routines, spa therapies and exercise regimens or lack thereof (they walk as much as possible, which is not hard to do if you live in Paris), all of which can be found in any of hundreds of witty and excellent books on the subject of what makes the French woman tick.

In the end, however, she never quite answers the question and ends up by saying something fairly anemic and dime-store romantic about the fact that she loves and is loved by her family. That’s all fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t get us any closer to unraveling the mystery.

First of all, the author makes the mistake of asking French women directly to share their secrets. That’s like asking a great chef for his most famous recipe. Even if he agrees to share it, he will always leave out some crucial ingredient so that no matter how many times you prepare the dish, it’s never as good. Likewise, a French woman will never divulge this sort of intimate information about herself to an outsider. She may toss you a tiny "amuse bouches" to whet your appetite, but you will never get to the meat of the matter.

French women are highly competitive with other women on every level. It’s bred into them from birth by their Mothers. So they are scrupulously discreet about what they choose to reveal even to their closest friends. It quite simply goes against the French grain to be too open about anything personal, much less intimate, unless, of course, it has to do with sex, which is freely and openly chatted and joked about with perfect strangers at every dinner party.

Second of all, the author makes the mistake of not going to the one person who has made a life-long study of the French woman and whose knowledge of her is encyclopedic -- the French man. My Father could have taught a Master Class on the subject. While he may not be the most faithful of husbands, the French man adores the French woman – the way she looks, the way she smells, the way she moves. While reminiscing about his late wife, an elderly Frenchman once told me that to this day he misses the smell of her hair on the pillow in the morning.

So, what is the French woman’s secret? Why does she appear to age more gracefully than her American sister? The author gets within a hair’s breadth of finding the answer to the mystery when she discusses the French woman’s enjoyment (and, yes, there are days when it really does feels like a chore) of the beauty rituals that keep her looking her best; however, I don’t blame the author for not quite getting it. The answer is contained in a word that has long since slipped off the American woman’s radar screen – Femininity.

By the end of the 60s, the pursuit of Femininity had been moved from the Virtue to the Vice side of the Feminist orthodoxy. It was deemed not only to be frivolous, but downright subversive. The French woman sailed through the last four decades relatively unscathed by American-style Feminism. As a result, she continues not only to age gracefully, but to live her whole life as gracefully as she can to the delight of the French man. Femininity underpins everything she is and does. Her individual version of Femininity may be classic or quirky, but she owns it, she works it, and she will go to the grave with it.

A healthy dash of Femininity might just be the missing ingredient the author was looking for.


  1. What a great article! So well written and so RIGHT ON!

    I like to think of myself as a woman who is aging gracefully. I am American and have turned 50, but I still take pride in taking care of myself and pamper my feminine side. I think I am like my French sisters ... I know what that competitive side is all about and I try to be discreet about my beauty secrets!

    Of course, it helps to have a French lover. My fiance is a little bit French - it counts!

  2. A "little bit French" always counts. After all, that's what the French Touch is all about.

  3. This is how I plan to age. Great article!

    1. It will be many years before you have to think about that, Elaine. In the meantime, I'm delighted you find it food for thought.

      Thanks for the lovely comment.

  4. Great post. I totally agree about the femininity. I Now spend time in France and notice it all around me in everything French women do from adorning themselves to buying and preparing food. I'm attempting to emulate them.

  5. Dear Chicatanayage (love the name!), thank you for your great comment. I will have to visit your Blog. I think we have much in common.

    Please stop by again. Love to hear from you.

    Regards, M-T

  6. I have just discovered your blog, and have been looking around, enjoying myself. This post is wonderful! I miss when femininity was a goal. Think I'll concentrate on that, and see what I can do.

    1. Delighted you found my blog and that you have been enjoying browsing around. We may have to sacrifice our youth eventually, but we don't have to sacrifice our femininity. It's our birthright, and we should hang onto it as long as we can. I'm doing my best. Sounds as if you are, too. Brava!!

      Please stop by again.

      Cheers, M-T

  7. A very interesting article !
    I think it's also a cultural difference
    I'm French abd if you intersted I wrote an article in Englosh on an American blog about :
    The impossible legacy of the perfect Parisian woman

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed my post. I agree that cultural differences play a huge role. I will be delighted to read your article.

      Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

      Cheers, M-T


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