One Big Thing I Learned in Paris
I didn’t write a post or send a proper newsletter last week because I was on vacation in Paris. We saved for a couple of years to be able to take the family and so…we reached our goal and we went! It was really an amazing experience. Of course, we saw the touristy things- the Eiffel Tower, the Musee D’Orsay, the Arc du Triomphe. We saw a lot of things off the beaten path, as well. It it truly a beautiful, interesting city.
But there was one thing, something utterly commonplace, that caught my attention the most: there were very few ads for women’s cosmetic and body care products. No make-up ads, no shampoo ads, no lipstick ads. None.
It was almost surprising how few ads there were. We rode the metro and a few taxis, we walked around town, we visited grocery stores and tourist traps- and the only ad I saw either for women or involving women was an ad that showed breasts for a Picasso exhibit. (I’m 43, I already have Picasso breasts!) Maybe I missed something, but the lack of advertisements was sort of astounding to me.
And also really calming.
What I realized as I walked through the streets of Paris and the neighborhood where we stayed is that most women wear little make-up compared to my American counterparts. Perhaps a little mascara and some lipstick, maybe some eyeshadow or eye liner (but never both at the same time!). It felt really freeing to not be constantly bombarded by the cultural expectations of beauty and femininity I saw at home.
In places outside of Paris there are debates about how Parisian and French women come by their effortless style and beauty. I can’t answer that. But I can make a guess that you probably feel a whole lot more beautiful internally if you’re not constantly being told you’re somehow deficient (and this lipstick or blush or hair dye will make you beautiful). Maybe you don’t even care (!!!) because there is no outside pressure to do so. What an idea!
Of course, this idea and experience got me thinking about things as a mid-life woman. One of the reasons I blog at all is that I want to change the expectations and requirements for women at mid-life. That started with the Sex Surge (there are a lot of ideas and rules about what women’s sexuality should look like at mid-life; most of them are bollocks). But it also extends to just about everything else, including how we are told we should look at this phase of life. I would like to completely and totally dismantle any ideas or expectations about what women should look like at mid-life.
Wanna go without make-up? Woo hoo! Do it!
Wanna dye your hair blue? Woo hoo! Do it!
Wanna wear sexy clothes? Woo hoo! Do it!
Wanna wear baggy stuff that feels super comfy? Woo hoo! Do it!
Wanna wear that ‘kiss me’ red lipstick? Woo hoo! Do it!
Wanna just dab on some Burt’s Bees and keep it at that? Woo hoo! Do it!
I think mid-life can sometimes be difficult because we realize we’re aging. My face looks very different when I use make-up than when I don’t. I can’t just swipe on a little mascara, add some dark lipstick, and look cute. It takes more effort and more ‘product’ to look like I used to look. I don’t get ID’d at the liquor store or a concert venue anymore. And that can be a hard pill to swallow.
But there’s two things about facing the mid-life changes and accepting that we’re getting older:
One: We get to decide. We get to decide whether we will adopt + accept + uphold any beauty standards. We can say, “I’m not going to live by these cultural standards of beauty anymore. I’m going to pick my own damn standards.” We each see beauty differently and that means we get to define beauty and ‘beautiful’ for ourselves. Paris is the case in point. Their standard is “you are fine, as is.” Maybe we could do that for mid-life women in our own cultures, too.
Two: Enjoy it while you got it. Three years ago, I did a project on Facebook called “40 Shades of Forty” where I took 40 pictures during my 40th year. One woman, commenting on my own lament about aging and pulling chin hairs, noted that when I was 60 I would miss how I looked in my 40s. So, you know what? We’re as conventionally beautiful now as we’ll ever be. If we judge ourselves by social standards, it’s only going to get worse. So recognize the good you have now and enjoy it. (I’m not a big fan of this perspective, but I am also trusting the wisdom of crones.)
I believe we’re all beautiful and that if we had fewer external expectations placed on us, we’d feel a lot better about ourselves. I think we have the opportunity to buck the trend of feeling ‘un-pretty’ at mid-life by simply rejecting the standards we are given. We don’t have to judge ourselves or others about looks. We can love how we look now – whether we use make-up or hair dye or nothing at all. We can tell our culture, our magazines, our television, that mid-life women are beautiful, as-is. We can trust women.