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What French Women Know About the Menoverse 🇫🇷🥂💋
(And why they'd probably never call it that... 😂)
Greetings from Covidlandia. Pardon my absence, you can read all about the ridiculousness here if you need a laugh.
This week, we do a long-promised deep dive into the things French women know about midlife and aging… because they DO seem to be especially good at it. And let’s face it, we all secretly long to be a little bit French, don’t we?
Case in point: Isabelle Huppert above. Who wouldn’t want to be some version of her? A woman with a gorgeous, largely unadulterated visage, one that speaks wisdom, affluence, intelligence, poise, passion, strength, and above all... she can still move it. Yes, she is one of the leading midlife public figures in France who continues to work as an actress, and who remains utterly self-possessed and independent.
So here’s a brief (albeit totally reductive) rundown of what French women know when it comes to being a woman aging in the world. (I expect it will grow/shrink/change.)
They know aging is not just expected… It’s revered.
Do you remember this scene from Luc Besson’s 1990 cult classic La Femme Nikita, the story of a raggedy street urchin turned beautiful, yet tortured, assassin for the French Secret Service?
In the film, Jeanne Moreau, a grand dame of French cinema, schools the still-relatively unknown actress playing a street junkie recruited to France’s clandestine services in all things femininity—its limitless power, its guile, its pleasure! What’s so compelling is Moreau’s very unadulterated presence on screen. She isn’t facelifted, injectibled, or tooth-whitened into oblivion. It’s legit proof that age matters as she is revered among all the top agents and trainers. She is wise AF and the French government knows it. They’re not looking to some 20-something TikTok influencer for a mere glow-up—they’re serious about things.
In a scene just prior, the steely Moreau surveys the mute, sullen Nikita, notebook in hand. As Moreau endeavors to coax the girl out from under years of drug abuse and PTSD, she studies her, fits her with a wig, and then just like a mother, she caresses Nikita’s cheek as she gazes deeply into the mirror, and whispers, “Sourire, sourire, sourire...”
Nikita tilts her head and tries with all her might to crack a glimmer of a smile through her grief. It is a hysterical scene. If you speak French, you can't help but remember that the word “smile” literally translates as sous + rire or ‘below-laugh’. Underneath it all... laugh, which is the true lesson of the scene.
Growing up in France, your grandmother gives you all the best skin care products left over from her life. It’s a thing. Often, she lets you try them as a little girl and you learn what's good. From her secret serums, potions, and rose water spritzes to her signature scents and her mysterious pots of creams that may have been compounded by the pharmacist just for her. And so an appreciation for certain brands and practices is born from an early age; Caudalie, La Roche, Vichy, Bioderma, Avene, Occitane, Klorane, etc. (All available at French Pharmacy.)
They know to layer on the moisture.
Because what French women know is that creams, potions, serums, oils, and mists are everything. So, the goal is to layer on moisture in ways that work for your skin and in ways that protect it throughout the day. Hence, the vitamin C serums, the retinoids, the hyaluronic creams, the sunscreens, and all the misting throughout the day. There are so many more serums and creams in France and what you find out is that pharmacists know so much about them and that to become a pharmacist in France is not a yearlong pharmacy tech course that you can take by correspondence as it is in other countries. It's a nine-year endeavor in learning the art + science of compounding and the effects of every possible product and ingredient—botanical, chemical, or otherwise on the planet. These are serious people, as Logan Roy would say. You could literally have a reality bake-off show all about compounding pharma and everyone would watch (but more on this when we talk HRT).
My favorite find from France lately… Typology. I’m all about the glowy, dewy sans acne effect and this seems to do the trick for now.
They know to skip the surgeons.
There is this marvelous scene in the Netflix series Call My Agent where the real-life actress Cecile de France comes running out of the plastic surgeon’s office, her entire face graffitied in Sharpie marker denoting all the incisions and procedures that the surgeon is planning to undertake on her already gorgeous midlife mug. As she hops on the Vespa with her agent and says, “Get me the fuck out of here,” this demonstrates what French women know: NOT to destroy their natural beauty with absurd requests from malignant narcissist Hollywood directors. Yes, if you're super inclined, fine… go for a subtle wrinkle jab here and there, but French women generally know not to mess with perfection.
They know about scarves.
Now, I love Nora Ephron, but she didn’t need to fret about her neck. She could have just called the French. They know a kajillion different ways to hide any number of sins with a scarf. There are whole tutorials. More on this in a subsequent post.
They know to eat real food.
They don't subsist on yucky bone broth or eat things like processed spray-on butter. They eat real butter (not whole statues of it like at a state fair) but actual butter and CARBS. They eat non-genetically modified tomatoes instead of pest-proof genetically grown ones. They stay away from overly processed foods, or pretend foods engineered in labs because taste matters most as it is part of the joy of being alive and what's the point of being alive if you cannot experience joy? Yes, they drink, but not to excess because that would compromise their poise. The French are not sloppy—unless they are Gerard Depardieu. And you never want to be Gerard Depardieu. (Not with that jawline.) Plus, they never snack (except for coffee, water, or the odd cigarette) because that would spoil the joy of lunch or dinner. And you can’t have that!
They know to walk bloody everywhere.
They walk to work. They walk to see friends in cafes. They walk to errands. They walk to pick up their kids from school. They walk to think deep thoughts. They’ve been doing this whole NEAP thing forever... they just don’t put a clinical acronym on it to convince people that it’s good for them. We’re quite ridiculous.
They recognize how men would be treated.
Much in line with the novelist Marion Keyes, they recognize that…
“If men had the menopause they would be given 10 years off work, from the ages of 45 to 55, on full pay. And then once they had transitioned into the Great Wise Age there would be a massive party and they would be revered. Instead, we are mocked.”
French women know this. As a result, they don’t ask permission about it. They’re not going to martyr themselves for it or suffer needlessly if they don’t have to—which is why even though Everything Everywhere All at Once is the most perfect allegory for perimenopause, they probably wouldn’t label it the ‘Menoverse’.
If they simply can feel better and keep enjoying their femininity and sexuality, they’re going to take HRT and not stress about whether it’s natural or some kind of character flaw if they can’t weather all the night sweats and brain fog. They know the importance of feeling good and that it goes well beyond the indignities of vaginal atrophy. There’s also a very different attitude toward the compounding of drugs in France—which is something we’re going to take a deeper dive into in the coming weeks as major pharmaceutical companies in the US tend to take a one-size-fits-all approach and women, being complex creatures, sometimes require a more bespoke approach. Bottom line, we need more rigorous study and investigation and we’re only just getting to it.
Ok, one more treat I want to leave you with from the menoverse… a book that will no doubt delight and is going to be part of our upcoming book club. KILLERS OF A CERTAIN AGE by Deanna Raybourn. Older women often feel invisible, but sometimes it’s their secret weapon. These women have spent their lives as the deadliest assassins in a clandestine international organization, but now that they've reached their sexy sixties, four women friends can’t just retire. Who can blame them, with so many white patriarchal doofuses traipsing about? Subscribe to join The Empress Book Club!
Ok, that’s the skinny for this week. For now, keep laughing. And until next time, remember… You are wise AF!
Yours in Grandeur,
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p.s. Again, I just want to say thank you to fellow Stacker, who runs the most amazing midlife women’s courses & community, for supporting the WISE AF campaign.