What French Women Know about Beauty, Aging and Mature Skin Makeup
Renowned Parisian-born photographer Michele Mattei notes that many Americans regard growing older as doing something wrong and punish themselves for it. The French, on the other hand, view growing older as doing something right . . . that is, if you know how to do it. Photo of actress and singer Anne Jeffreys (age 79) from Fabulous! Portraits by Michele Mattei.
In October 2012, French photographer Michele Mattei launched a solo show for the 25th anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C. called Fabulous! Portraits by Michele Mattei. Part of her ongoing project called Women of Influence, Age and Accomplishment, it featured a selection of large-scale images of notable women in their 70s, 80s and 90s; these were painters, sculptors, designers, dancers, musicians and collectors who shaped contemporary culture.
Some of her subjects had had ‘work’ done, others not. While Michele’s criteria were continuing impact, influence and authenticity, an unsolicited but frequent reaction to the show was a shocked, “OMG, I can’t believe how beautiful they are!”
It hit her that these women were not beautiful in spite of aging, they were just beautiful, full stop, as if it hadn’t occurred to them that they were anything else. She notes, “The binary ‘If youth = beautiful then aging = ugly’ just doesn’t exist in France. Of course, in every culture we’re hardwired to respond to the loveliness of youth–via structural symmetry and skin firmness, smoothness, evenness and light reflection–and always will. But what other cultures acknowledge to various degrees is that youth isn’t the only kind of beauty out there. Indeed, the French know that a woman can be attractive, even gorgeous, well into her eighth decade and beyond.”
Photo of Michele Mattei by Michele Mattei.
Michele set us straight on getting the French right.
(very much a compliment) FEMMES D'UN CERTAIN AGE - Meaning ‘women of an indefinite age’ and most often applied to mature women–usually over 40–who maintain their style and allure.
(very much not a compliment) FEMMES D'UN AGE CERTAIN – Meaning ‘older women whose age we know for sure who look it and not in a good way’, i.e. long in tooth.
The visibility paradigm
In this country, both men and women 50 and over experience the awful phenomenon of invisibility where they’re not heard, acknowledged or respected in public. This is very real. Michele is pragmatic in breaking it down, “The two main groups that will treat older women as if they don’t exist are snooty shop girls and straight males who are either young and virile or absolutely terrified as not being regarded as young and virile.”
For the first group, there’s nothing like a REALLY expensive handbag to pull ignorant shop assistants right off their high horses (thank you, Hermes).
As for the second group, Michele says it’s time to get real. “Remember, no matter what you do from health to fitness, skin care, surgery or even Photoshop, you’re never going to look 20 again and certainly not to a 20- year old boy. And attempts to look younger are likely to make you look silly, sad or worse.” And are these frustrated Romeos really the guys you need to be judging you anyway?
What to do
• Redefine your goal – If beauty is your thing, the appropriate goal is to look beautiful rather than to look young because the first is attainable while the second is not.
• Work your style - Karl Lagerfeld once said, “There comes a moment in life when the idea of youth and beauty has to give way to style and elegance. That’s how it is.” When you’re immaculately groomed and intriguingly styled, you will be highly visible to others who are also immaculately groomed and intriguingly styled.
• Love and like – You are never invisible to the people who like and love you and who you like and love. These don’t have to be romantic partners but can be.
• Do it – The most interesting people are the most interested people. You’re never invisible to those with whom you share a passion whether it’s athletic, artistic or anything else in this big wide world.
Mineral Air in the picture
Good health, conscientious skin care and a lavish devotion to sunscreen can help maintain beautiful skin. You may opt for dermatology treatments or surgery but that’s entirely your call. The good news is that the right makeup and application can give mature complexions access to some of the markers of youthful beauty such as symmetry, smoothness, evenness and light reflection, without pretending to be young.
Mineral Air is at the top of this list because it helps diffuse the look of lines and evens out pigment and tone so easily. Furthermore, because it’s so packed with micronized hyaluronic acid, it keeps the skin hydrated while imparting a healthy glow.
"For us photographers, it’s all about light,” says Michele Mattei. “The light in your eyes signals your engagement with the world. And the light off your skin signals your continuing relevance within it.”
“Of course, all over the world we’re hardwired to respond to the loveliness of youth–via structural symmetry and skin firmness, smoothness, evenness and light reflection–and always will. But what other cultures acknowledge to various degrees is that youth isn’t the only kind of beauty out there. Indeed, the French know that a woman can be exquisite, even gorgeous, well into her eighth decade and beyond.”