Another Boring French Guide to Being Perfect … This Time After 50


ROSE MARY ROCHE is not taking this advice on board …


Why French Women Feel Young at 50 by Parisienne Mylene Desclaux is the latest lifestyle manifesto espousing French female superiority. Coming after books about how French Women Don’t Get Fat and Don’t Have Facelifts, it’s packed with condescending advice on remaining youthful at 50, including never disclosing your age, not discussing the menopause, changing your name to a more youthful one, never wearing glasses in public, cancelling your 50th birthday party, refusing to let your hair go grey and dieting to maintain a slim figure. With a strict regime to stay youthful and attractive to MEN, French women use an arsenal of exquisite lingerie, endless beauty treatments and thorough waxing. A joyless, self-censoring and reductive tone (did she miss the feminist movement?) doesn’t make the message remotely appealing however.

There is a small problem with her treatise – even if you industriously maintain the illusion of youth at 50, your male counterparts remain indifferent to your charms. No sooner had Desclaux’s book launched, than French author Yann Moix (also 50) told Marie Claire that women his own age are invisible to him. He described the body of a 25-year-old as “extraordinary” but the body of a 50-year-old as “not extraordinary at all”. Moix was denounced for his observations but might simply have been voicing men’s secret feelings about middle-aged women: older men are silver foxes – women are clapped-out spinsters.

The double standard surrounding how men and women are treated as they age isn’t new. For decades it has been felt that a woman’s sexual currency is depleted post 40 and that older women are judged more negatively than older men. As Susan Sontag observed in her essay on ageing: “The single standard of beauty for women dictates … every wrinkle, every line, every grey hair is a defeat.” For women age is a stigma, for men it is an accomplishment.

Zut alors, if you aren’t able relax into self-acceptance at 50, what is the point? So much of Desclaux’s effort is focused on catching a man regardless that a relationship built on deception has shaky foundations and will ultimately implode. The positives of ageing such as wisdom, self-acceptance, confidence, contentment and endurance get no mention. What is the point of all the Herculean effort when the object of your affection isn’t bothered? Wouldn’t you be better off having a glass of wine with friends, reading a book or enjoying an indulgent bath?

As an over-50 female, I hope to remain vibrant and fit but I can’t see this book’s advice improving my life, one iota. As for Monsieur Moix, I hope 25-year-old hotties don’t mind some wrinkles, a little paunch and a receding hairline, but then I am sure Mylene Desclaux could give him ample advice about how he can maintain his looks and libido for a younger lover. Quel dommage they don’t get together – they deserve each other.

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