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Posted by Julie Hafer on

When I was studying in France, I lived in the apartment of a divorced woman in her mid-50's. She was cute, vivacious, loved her body and style, and had a really cool Corsican boyfriend who would come and bring her oranges and specialty cheeses from the island when he was in town. She would twirl around and point to her toned butt: "Je suis en forme, n'est-ce pas?" after a weekend of hiking. Confidence was NOT an issue for her.

Since she knew I was a stylist she would ask me occasionally to freshen up her haircut "Ça manque une coupe!" and do her makeup. Maintenance and staying on top of her look was fun for her, not a chore. She introduced me to French skin care products I could get at the pharmacie instead of having to go to the dermatologist (like peel-strength acids, hooray!) and frowned when she saw I had picked at my face out of stress. Beauty products and makeup were in every drawer and nook and cranny in the bathroom, and they were applied with love and excitement. 

And it wasn't like she was just some quirky character. She, like other French women I know, just have a confidence I don't see here in the States. When they look into the mirror, French women gaze with admiration not resignation--they actually SMILE at themselves. They put on their creams differently--with care, as opposed to despair. 

I grew up seeing my mother frowning at herself in the mirror, making exasperated noises "Eh, ah! <big sigh>" I also noticed my grandmother, as vain and beautiful as she is/was, frowning and rubbing her lotions furiously into her skin and uttering disparaging remarks on its changing appearance. 

Much has been written on the subject but I'll add my two cents to it: the French versus American model of self-care is a contrast between love and élan versus hatred and fear. American women are taught that aging means the end of attractiveness. Be very aware of that, and reject it.

If you're starting to feel past your "prime" (I really hate this expression), you can and should take both a sociological and psychological, evidence-based approach to having confidence and sex appeal. Let research be your guide to regaining confidence and starting to enjoy your beauty routine.

Studies show that contrast in the face is the most important indicator of youth, and that especially contrast around the eye area lends allure. Notice the French women's photos in this article . You see how awesome their eye makeup is? Take note, because you can wear more than you used to. I'm not saying Tammy Faye levels of mascara (I like buildable formulas, not clumpy!), just saying don't be shy with the eyeliner.

You can also make sure your skin is bright, even-toned, and healthy-looking using luminizers, acid exfoliants and a tinted primer. Don't shy away from blush, either, as long as it's well-blended. But eye makeup is the key. A little heavier will not make you look crazy, I promise. It's just a matter of balance. You can also do a bold lip for contrast. I'd steer clear of heavy eye makeup and a bold lip at the same time, though.  It can look "travaillé" (overworked), which is not what we're aiming for.

There's a difference between trying to look like you're in a different decade and looking like you love yourself and believe you deserve attention and I'm just going to say it--sex. I love how French women keep wearing clothes that play up their bodies instead of covering up and flying the white flag of oversized tunics and flats. 

I'm not saying French culture is perfect (far from it--it can even be argued women are overlypressured to be and stay sexy there), but it's certainly less messed up in the sense that the French don't slap a label on women's foreheads after a certain age that says "Expired" or "Needs Botox."

Before you say it I'll say it, okay, I know I have little right to lecture on this subject because I'm not "there" yet. I can say though that as I approach 40 I'm very aware of how American culture makes a big deal out of that particular milestone. Which is INSANE! At least I'm not in California, I guess. The expectation that you'll turn to heavy plastic surgery, fillers and face-freezing injections is high out there. 

The East Coast look is more subtle. And I'm not even against "enhancements" if they truly ARE subtle. But so much can be done with skin care, brows (like a great tint and shape) and makeup. I'd always suggest trying new techniques in those areas first. And really working on your brain--the underlying assumptions you're making based on the very unhealthy American rejection of (women) aging. 

Because after all, it's not just a feminist issue, it's a basic psychological health issue. Feeling comfortable in one's own skin and one's ability to attract others, getting one's needs met, both professionally or personally and again, yes, sexually, stays important from decade to decade to decade to decade. 

If you're feeling unsure of where to start, come see me for brows, skin care or makeup! Self-confidence is your right.


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