PARIS—By contrast, French women prefer results that look as natural as possible. (Cannes photos of Isabelle Huppert, 57, show elegant, un-enhanced aging.) In France, I have only one friend who has confessed to having had surgery, a discreet operation to firm up a sagging chin and flabby neck. She is thrilled with the result: No one notices.
Hair rituals come in two kinds: getting rid of the unwanted stuff on legs and underarms (older women tend to prefer depilatories), and making the most of what's on top of the head. That means a good cut every three to four weeks, and a reasonably natural color. A plethora of beauty salons (50 of them in my arrondissement) and mostly low prices (as little as 18 euros, or about $22, for a cut, shampoo and blow-dry) make frequent hair maintenance easy. French women use conditioners and other post-shampoo treatments, followed by a cold-water rinse. "It helps the circulation," said a friend.
For French women, aging seems to be a matter of mind over makeup. If women feel good about themselves, right down to their La Perla 100-euro panties, they look good, too. Francoise Sagan once wrote, "There is a certain age when a woman must be beautiful to be loved, and then there comes a time when she must be loved to be beautiful." And many French women seem to be well loved as they get older—by their tight-knit families, their friends and, perhaps most importantly, themselves. Case in point: my loony neighbor—completely coordinated, perfectly made up, thoroughly French.
TEN WAYS TO AGE LIKE A FRENCH WOMAN
Look out for No. 1: "French women are more elegant, more aware of their femininity," says Dr. Michel Soussaline, a Paris plastic surgeon. "They simply take care of themselves better."
Keep it natural: Heavy makeup emphasizes wrinkles and pores. A little blush, mascara and lip color are all most Frenchwomen use. They spend a lot on skin care and beauty products, but not always on the most expensive brands.
No soap: They use lotions and hydrating creams for the face (and body), often applied with a cosmetics sponge that provides enough abrasiveness to remove dead cells but not hurt delicate skin.
The wonder of water: French women swear by cold-water rinses - after face-cleaning, shampoo or shower. They say it improves circulation, bringing all-important oxygen to the skin cells.
Diet: Women of a certain age maintain their weight by eating carefully: fresh, never-processed, foods, especially fruits and vegetables, in small portions. If they do put on the kilos, they take them off immediately—with the aid of pills or other treatments.
Exercise: Why? Go to a spa instead.
The doctor is in: Frenchw omen love their dermatologists. As one friend put it, why take a chance with over-the-counter skin remedies, when doctors can provide treatments that really work. Besides, the visits are largely covered by the French medical system.
The surgeon is in: If French women opt for cosmetic surgery, the objective is to look like themselves - not someone 20 years younger.
The look: Paris, like New York, is becoming very informal, but Frenchwomen never try to dress like their daughters. Accessories count: good jewelry, fantastic shoes or boots, and a scarf casually wrapped to conceal those neck wattles. And since Frenchwomen tend to have great legs (with help from varicose vein treatments), they wear more skirts and dresses than their American counterparts.
Think sexy: As the French writer Francoise Sagan wrote: "A dress makes no sense unless it inspires men to take it off you." Buy some fun, new underwear.