Age, Beauty & Power.

The media lies – don’t listen to it.

But you knew this anyway, didn’t you?

Despite what the media says (American sitcoms in particular), you’ll be pushed to find a woman in her thirties who doesn’t recoil in horror at the thought of reverting to her younger self. As women, we grow with confidence and empowerment with each turn of the clock and changing of the seasons.

Because yes, despite what television likes to tell us, we do not peak at 16. Or 18. Or 20. Or, even 25.

In fact, the notion of ‘peaking’ is an entertainment-churned, Hollywood-spread myth.

There is no such thing as ‘peaking’. There is only change; transformation and evolution of the self.

Frankie and Grace (Netflix) say fuck you to the notion of peaking, as they build their own geriatric vibrator empire.

[I should also add here, for reference, that I am 27. These thoughts have perhaps been triggered by approaching 30. But I love to get excited about the woman I am becoming, and it makes me so happy to see examples – whether it’s Grace and Frankie, or an ultra-glamorous, enviably accomplished woman 30 years my senior.]

We are in our constant evolution, and that is an beautiful thing.

Whether we are young, old, or something in-between, our personhood is our own construction. We learn how to hold our bodies, we learn what makes us feel our best and look our best; life experience can give us a wisdom and understanding

And yes, there is a natural charm to youthful beauty.  Youthful beauty is charming and fresh; it’s eyes wide open and new discoveries and experimentation; it can be serious and silly and sweet and sharp all at once.

But, as we get older, that beauty becomes power. We are expected to admire a youthful face that is dressed up to be pretty; but this attention is a-given. An older face primed with beauty demands our attention and takes our breath away.

The crux? As you age, the power lies in taking care of yourself. In demanding that power through care, art and construction. Maybe I will look back on these words and hate them when I, too, am older. But an older woman who takes care of her skin, her body, her hair, and her style, who seeks beauty as a timeless and unique-to-her concept rather than stuck in a generational loophole (think middle-aged hair cut and an all Marks and Spencer outfit) is a powerful, extraordinary creature.

Beauty as you age is not, as I have observed, trying to look and emulate youth. It is pure aesthetics. A woman who has a face-lift to look younger simply looks odd; a woman who has one because the altered lines would be more aesthetically pleasing is striking, and stunning. (No one needs plastic surgery to be beautiful, at any age; this is just an example).

Beauty isn’t a slave to trends, but it is in touch with contemporary culture. Understanding and learning and growing with the world around you is beautiful, and intelligent, and very, very powerful.

A sea of faces ~ a study in aesthetics.  

These are my observations from working in a recent, excruciatingly unglamorous customer service job recently, while between internships and as the Christmas season approached. I was working in a well-known British department store that was frequented by ‘older people’ (that’s its reputation, plus I live in a fairly rural part of the country).

Long, boring days had me playing the game of spot the glamorous customer. Predominately little old ladies and frumpy middle aged customers endlessly filtered through, with a few trendy younger people thrown in. It was an endless sea of (beige) faces, I could hardly tell one from another.

Which is when I began to notice the profound impact of beauty in older women (and for older men, it really is less distinct, or perhaps I was just paying less attention, as I shall never grow into an older man and so it was of no real interest to me. Women are far more interesting to observe. anyway).

A beautiful – or glamorous/ stylish/ aesthetically considered – older woman stood out to me like a flashing neon sign.

I am currently reading Ageless Beauty by Clemence Von Mueffling on French beauty secrets. I can’t put my finger on what, exactly, Ageless Beauty is yet. I will have to let you know. It could be a chic bob, beautifully applied make-up, good posture, a timeless outfit… Or maybe it’s waltzing in on high heels, leather midi-skirt and oversized Mui Mui sunglasses, a la Carine Roitfeld (Oh, how I would like to dress like this now, let alone when I am fifty). Whatever defines ageless beauty, one thing is certain: style is s t r i k i n g.

But I do know that Ageless Beauty is hard to achieve in your youth. And why should you want to? It’s a time defined by unknowing and play; it is a wonderful, but stressful, time of experimentation with looks and style and ridiculous identities and just about anything in life (discovery never stops, and never should stop – of course – but, but teenage/ early twenties years are unique to a particularly type of self-experimentation).

As we get older, we better understand who we are, and we intimately know our own physical appearance. Ageless beauty, I would say (at this point), is a commitment to aesthetics. It’s not trying to achieve someone else’s standard of beauty, it’s understanding your own standard, your own beauty and expression as a women. It’s understanding the message you send to the world through your self-presentation; you should revel in this self-expression, because whoever you are, it’s a wonderful, exhilarating, enchanting thing to master.

There are no rules, there is only art.

Weather it’s the restrained grace of a forties move star or the leather mini skirt fashion editor look you desire; the art is in carrying these things off, not in the actual adornment of your body. If you don’t have the je ne sais quoi (the attitude, the understanding, the way you hold your head and the way you look people in the eye), you simply don’t have it, whether you are 20, 40 or 60. I can’t tell you how to achieve it, either. Or not yet, at least. However; it can be cultivated, with observation, exploration, intelligence and action.

carine roitfield style age.jpg

Youth does not equal beauty; age does not equal power. Only fools believe these two. But mastering your beauty, your style as you age is powerful. You demand respect, and your importance in the world (as personal care and worth, not how the world values you).

And while there are no rules, there are a few things beauty is not: Beauty is not conforming. Beauty is not the airbrushed girls you see in magazines. It is not the sexual fantasies of Hollywood producers. It is not keeping your hair long because you think it’s feminine and filling your lips with collagen because you believe that’s the only way you’ll be desirable. Beauty is you; it is in the realisation of you and the cultivation of you and the art that you create your physicality and inner world to be. Beauty is not objective. Beauty is subjective. Beauty is you; you just might have to work at it to materialise your own beauty. This work could be a state of mind, or it could be a new wardrobe; a diet change, some tweaks with surgery; it could be utter self acceptance; a redefinition; it could be throwing out all the mirrors in your house in the name of being a free spirit or it could be taking a good, hard look in the mirror and deciding what you want to be. I don’t know, and I can’t tell you. It’s unique to you. It’s you, it’s you, it’s you. 

Beauty is yours to claim.

That’s what age teaches us; those of us consumed by the power beauty holds. And, I think this is something many women (and men) forget as the years go by. When you’re young, popular culture demands that you play the Game; as you age, you have to make the choice.

But, the BIGGEST beauty secret of all?

Shapes and lines and styles matter – but without nourishment from within, you will never glow. I mean this on a nutritional and personal level. Eat well, sleep well, and you will shine. Your skin will take on a healthy glow; inflammation in your body will disappear, leaving you feeling free and light and radiant. But live with joy, and you will be lit from within with an ethereal, expansive magic; living without joy shows. It just does. Look at the face of someone who lives without joy and you will see it. And that is the most important thing. Style and beauty or not. The style is the fun part, how you show yourself, but the joy of living is everything.

What do you think?

What does beauty mean to you? How old are you, and what’s your perspective? Who do you admire for their attitude and style?

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On becoming a French beauty icon (when you’re not even French)

I could write an article about how to be beautiful – French style. About that elusive je ne sais quoi that we – as distinctly non-French women – clamour to achieve.

I could write about how to be Parisienne: how to style your hair, find the perfect shade of red lipstick for your skin tone, tell you how (not what; there’s a difference) to eat and how to master that untouchable je m’en fous attitude. All in the name of becoming ridiculously, unbearably desirable.

But instead, I’m going to write about something else. Because, guess what? That’s been done a million times before.

I’m going to write about why women are so obsessed with French beauty – and what this tells us about ourselves.

What is French beauty?

It’s so much more than a look. After all; we have celebrity style icons and YouTube tutorials and books written on the topic. But they have no meaning beyond the surface. How do we get a cult following from a fresh face, statement lip and tousled hair?

As the saying goes:

“Beauty without depth is just decoration”.

And mere decoration never stirred anything deep within our hearts.

The ‘cult’ in cultivate;

In a world telling women just what we should be, how we should act, what’s sexy, what’s not; a world where your bare face has your male colleague telling you, oh so sympathetically, “you look tired today” (Actually, you woke up bright eyed at 6 am, went to yoga and then bounced into the day), and two minutes online inevitably leads to a shit-storm of opinions on women’s bodies, French beauty says YOU are amazing just as you are. You just need to learn how to make the most of your unique features.

And it doesn’t require 16 different products and two hours of prep in the morning to get achieve the French look.

Contemporary French chic is sexy –  but with almost no effort. It’s cultivated without being overdone; enhancing without hiding. The French girl make-up motto: leave the contouring to Kim K and her disciples (And don’t you want to be able to look at your bare face in the mirror at the end of the day and like what you see?).

kim kardashian is fake

Perfection is an illusion not worth the effort of trying and – let face it – failing to achieve. Perfection is boring anyway, and boring isn’t sexy – boring is bland. Bland doesn’t strike deep emotions in our hearts; it doesn’t shake us to our core.

So why should we even try to be perfect, aka. ‘bland’? Highlighter, two inches of concealer, and all of our insecurities about your appearance can go to hell.

Yes, appearances do matter – and the French girl knows this. But not like you think.

Looking in the mirror and loving the shape of your nose, wearing lipstick to emphasise your unique smile, using expensive creams for silky soft, glowing skin to pay tribute to the oh-so-you shape of your face is the very thing that will leave someone (and not everyone – but why would you want to please everyone?) star struck in the street at the sight of you.

For someone raised outside of this personal beauty acceptance, it’s mind-blowing.

You mean, I’m not ugly? I can look like myself and still be attractive?

This revelation is a godly and out-of-this-world, out-of-this-body experience. But for women raised on self-loathing for not looking like a Victoria’s Secret model, it can still be hard to believe. Self-criticism and the need to wear full-coverage foundation is deeply woven into the fabric of our being.

But we should be asking ourselves – why don’t we want to look like ourselves? Why do we want to appeal to the gross beauty standards of a mindless, cotton candy pop-culture Hollywood executive who you’re never going to meet? What’s the point? Where’s the authentic beauty? Who has the most to gain out of us wanting to look like something and someone we’re not? (Hint: it’s not you, it’s industry $$$$)

We know how the French girl dresses. You’ll be drawn to this mysterious girl who seems to shine above the rest; that casual elegance while everyone else is simply trying too hard. Everything she owns is timeless, fits her perfectly, and spoke to something deep in her soul to be expressed in the externals. Impulse purchases are not in her vocabulary.

But we know this already, right? Let’s call it mysterious minimalism – simplicity, with all of the intrigue unadorned beige and white plains are missing; sultry in a way a reality TV star could never (and let’s face it, wouldn’t want to; they never did do a Parisian ‘Jersey Shore’, after all) master. It’s quality over quantity, and quite frankly, in this terrifying world of excessive consumerism and environmental carelessness tearing the very ground we live on apart – the fact that less (possessions, not skimpy clothes – but you do you) can be sexy is a relief.

And, we all know that the quintessential French girl we’re trying to dig up deep within ourselves is sensual. It’s one of these reasons she’s so irresistible. She drinks freshly ground coffee in the morning whether or not the latest study says she should drink it, and takes an evening walk in the sunshine as August falls softly into a golden September and the last of the summer sunshine touches her bare shoulders. Mindful sensuality is a life philosophy: you learn to fall in love, continually, with life’s pleasures while understanding that overindulgence is not a pleasure – it’s your undoing.

So, you see? French beauty is soulful. It’s accepting your unique charm instead of trying to fix it; it’s seeking quality over consumerism and recognising that life itself is an experience. No other aesthetic touches on the void left by the impossible type-A standards we’re held to in our own cultures: that we need to be more, more, more.

Didn’t get up to go to the gym at 5? You failed. Not thicc-thin? Forget about calling yourself sexy. Big nose? Curly hair? Straighten it. Fix it. Don’t you dare call yourself beautiful – that’s for someone else to decide.

You can appropriate this.

Yes, French women are not ethereal beings free from cultural standards of beauty and prejudices for not conforming, etc, etc. And no, not every French women embodies this ideal and is free of insecurities.

French beauty, however, exists as a cultural force of it’s own, reaching beyond the city confines of Paris and into the hearts of women everywhere.

So, instead of damning the fact that we weren’t born in Paris and raised to embody that je ne sais quoi, we can appropriate French chic without being held to any of the standards French women are held to. And in the process, we can cast aside our own culture’s standards and redefining our self-worth, beauty and empowerment.

(The West fucked everyone over anyway, so take what you can and make it your own).

jeanned

In a world of perpetual want and achievement, French beauty be a return to the abyss; it’s a release; a freedom. We find an acceptance of who we are, how we really look, and that our power is in making the most of the very thing our own cultural beauty standards tell us are unlovable.

So find you’re perfect shade of lipstick, don’t even think about touching your hair, and forget that contouring even exists. You. Are. Beautiful. So learn how to make the most of it.

And let that be a Fuck You to the beauty standards shoved down your throat. Because guess what? Tu t’en fous.

French beauty is powerful.  It’s no wonder we’re all so obsessed.

 

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