Thursday, October 25, 2012

What's With All These Old People?

Ever have that moment at a party or playground when you think, "Everyone here looks really old. What's with all these middle-aged people?" And then you realize, "Oh right, these people are my age. They don't just look middle-aged. They are middle-aged."

And guess what, Paige. So are you.

Yes, I do talk to myself this way. (People would be horrified by how not nice I am to myself.) Anyway, it's true. Whenever I use the term "middle-aged" with friends, they get annoyed or roll their eyes. "Paige, we're not middle-aged.." We're not? Really? How long do you think we're going to hang around here? I'm staring down the proverbial barrel at my 43rd birthday and if I'm very lucky, rounding the middle of my life's bend. That's not bad news. It's simply the truth.

There are so many ways in which getting older is fabulous. The hard-fought wisdom. The I-simply-can't-be-bothered-to-give-a-toss-about-that anymore attitude (over things that would have crippled me a decade ago). But that's not what this post is about. This is about what sucks about it. Sorry. But some of it does.

First, in France, the "madame" thing. I am obviously well within the age territory where being called "madame" (instead of the coveted "mademoiselle") should be entirely expected. And it is. But here's the truth: Hearing it still stings the teeniest, tiniest bit.

And on the increasingly rare occasions when someone slips me a "mademoiselle," oh la la, la joie! It's absurd. I fall instantly, madly in love with whomever has said it and leave that encounter evaluating exactly what caused the error. Did I dab on extra eye cream last night? Does my leather jacket say "fun and youthful"? Is that poor fool near-sighted?

It's ridiculous. Particularly when you consider that the moniker "mademoiselle" actually has nothing directly to do with age. It's intended use is for unmarried women. (Think what you will). Any woman, once married -- be she 19 or 39 -- becomes a "madame" apres le mariage and technically remains a "mademoiselle" until that day comes. And if it never does? She's a "girl" for life. (There's practically a whole movement here devoted to abolishing the word. But I digress.)

I still remember my early days in Paris, newly married and ready to shout from the rooftops about my happily wedded status. I was 30 and heard the very occasional "madame." Back then, I thought it was great. Silly, silly girl.

Of course all this pales compared to the real stuff. The skin that doesn't fit quite like it used to. The achy lower back that won't go away. The realization that I might be too old for some trends, like city shorts worn over opaque tights or those Isabel Marant high-heeled tennis shoe things. (Okay, so maybe those are bad ideas anyway).

I take heart in the idea that French women age pretty well. (Yes, I know I'm not French. Details, details.) I'm often awed by the elegant older women I see in Paris, dressed impeccably, hair just so. Rarely dowdy or worse, desperately clinging to looks that are far below their years. They seem confident, lovely and still very much engaged in the French game of life-as-seduction.

                                                   From left: A. Devlin/Press Association; R. Duvignau/Reuters; Kamel Lahamadi. (NYTimes.com)

Not bad role models for a middle-aged girl like me, eh?
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Want to read more about the French game of la seduction? Here's a post I wrote a while back for the HipParis blog. Hope you like it.

6 comments:

  1. but the French embrace getting older, no?
    Here we are in the States buying the miracle eye cream and looking into the latest doctor who can do something with the neck. or hands (my french cousins said that my hands "told a story" which is so contrary to my thoughts of "they look old and wrinkled").
    I'm 53 and try my best to focus on the positive (instead of what I see in the mirror). My legs can run. My arms can hold my grand-babies. I keep up with current events (although I still don't see the *it* factor in Justin Bieber)and enjoy life as it is today...but if I could only put my 50 year old brain in my 20 year old body life would be *perfect* ;)

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    1. I love your perspective and totally agree. Yes, the French do embrace getting older but few women here go without a fight. (They just do it in a subtle way that appears more graceful and confident...). Miracle eye creams abound but so does the idea that one is never "too old" for something...be it a new dress, a romantic encounter, a new experience. That may be their real "secret." Thanks for commenting!

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  2. Hi paige,

    I just commented you on Hip Paris Blog, and it directly led me there on your personal site. Really interesting topic here, and you address it in a delightful way!

    As I told you on Hip P.B, there is effectively a French easiness regarding sensuality and seduction and dealing with aging is clearly part of it. And it’s the reason why this book of mine on French ways in sensual life (Being French!) has a chapter titled: Age and Sensuality.
    I start this chapter by quoting Bernard Shaw when he said:
    «We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.»

    And I truly think it’s a part of our secret about it, a sort of special wisdom in which we are not relinquishing the tiniest part of our seduction game while not being stupidly fighting the work of time. We just find the good shift allowing to appreciate what can be seductive in someone in different ages of his life.

    François Roland
    url : http://chatlibre.blog.lemonde.fr/

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    1. I look forward to checking out your book. Bravo! The French do provide us with endlessly fascinating topics to explore, don't they? Thanks for commenting here.

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  3. Ageing here is indeed looked at differently, although beauty and youth-seeking products are a huge market here too. I believe a confident attitude helps project an elegant and positive image, no matter at what age. Wearing high heels doesn't hurt to give a youthful look....well, sometimes they hurt :)

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    1. Oh you are so right! Confidence + heels (plus a few French pharmacy miracle products and a smile) are the way to go. Thanks for sharing!

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