Why do French women feel young at 50? They don’t admit their age
Never have a birthday party, don’t wear reading glasses and change your name if it ages you is one French woman’s advice for staving off the advancing years
Mylène Desclaux: “Your first name betrays your generation. And it is usual to see people with old names who change their name for a trendy nickname by just moving a syllable or a letter.”
The presents, the parties and the social merry-go-round is over for another year and most people, young and old, while feeling a little bereft at the return to normal business, are probably also feeling a tad relieved, as too much of a good thing can be exhausting.
So it’s time to start afresh with a new year and some new resolutions – a new fitness regime, perhaps, or maybe quitting smoking or taking up a new hobby – all of these things are positive, life-affirming and will have a positive impact on your mental and physical health.
However, if a new book from French author Mylène Desclaux is to be believed, women over the age of 50 should be thinking about taking certain steps to feel and, more importantly, be perceived as being younger.
Intended surely as a tongue-in-cheek guide, Les Jeunes Femmes de Cinquante Ans or Why French Women Feel Young at 50 . . . and how you can too as it is titled in English, suggests that while age is just a number, it is one you should keep to yourself if you are female.
This secrecy involves never divulging your true age and, more depressingly, never having a birthday party – as your antique vintage may be revealed.
I don’t know about you, but this seems like a lot of hard work to me. Who cares if you are over 50? And why does she just apply these pearls of wisdom to women? Shouldn’t we be strutting our stuff no matter how old we are and revelling in the fact we are gloriously alive and in rude health rather than coquettishly batting our eyelids and saying ‘a lady never reveals her age’?
Although the mother of two is obviously over 50, she will not divulge how old she is. And when I dare to query it, Desclaux says: “Age is rather indelicate, don’t you think? Because if I mention my age, I expect a compliment and if I don’t get one, I will be disappointed.”
Desclaux, who used to work in advertising, says the pressure to look young and beautiful is heaped on women every day through the media – so if we can’t beat it, we have to join in in this denial of ageing.
“Images of perfect women in magazines or in advertising are not good for our self-esteem,” she says. “Especially for mature women, as society is cruel to us. We can’t look like airbrushed models but we must do our best – take care of our shape, do some exercise, protect our skin, dress well and smile. No one can control society but we must abide by it.”
But Anne Bolton, who is also over 50, disagrees with the French writer.
‘A load of codswallop’
“I think it’s all a load of codswallop,” she says. “Of course we should keep ourselves fit and healthy by having a good diet, exercising, cutting down on alcohol and not smoking, but we don’t need to go to all the lengths this woman is suggesting.
“Not revealing your age is really ridiculous and it is such hard work – imagine worrying about people who knew you as a child meeting new people who didn’t know your age – it’s ridiculous. I’m not afraid to tell people that I’m 54 and I think we should be celebrating our years rather than pretending we are younger than we are. I lost a friend last year to cancer when she was only 51 and I can tell you she would have given anything to be able to tell people she was 60, 70 or beyond.
“In my opinion, telling women to pretend they are younger than they are is a really old-fashioned view – I thought we were long past that sort of nonsense.”
I couldn’t agree more – even though, by Desclaux’s reckoning, at 47, I only have three more years to go before I really need to start worrying excessively about my age.
And when the time comes, other suggestions to help me through, what is undoubtedly going to be a very difficult period of adjustment, is never wearing reading glasses to a restaurant (particularly on a date as this is apparently off-putting) and, most bizarrely, adopting a different name if your own makes you seem older.
According to the Parisienne, having a moniker which may have been chosen in the dark ages could do further damage to your youthful facade, so she says it is acceptable to ask people to call you by a different name.
“With regard to adopting a younger name, I do say your first name betrays your generation,” she says. “And it is usual to see people with old names who change their name for a trendy nickname by just moving a syllable or a letter.”
I can’t quite see that trend taking off here any time soon and can just imagine the hilarity which would ensue with a request to start referring to Teresa as Tulisa, Joan as Jade or Kathleen as Kimberly.
But Mylène (if that is indeed her original first name) says we should accept our age, but should do so with humour.
“I feel young in my head so I am positive and try to be happy,” she says. “My book has a humorous tone and I would like people to say they found it funny and had a good time reading it. Laughing is a sign of youth and keeps you young. But old age is a bleak subject which happens to everybody, so the only way to handle it is to laugh about it.
“So of course accept your age, but accepting it doesn’t mean you should let yourself go – the secret is being well-balanced, without excess.”
Well, I think most of us are allowed to let our hair down every once in a while – after all, everyone knows that a little bit of what you fancy does you good. So despite my advancing years, I will start the new year with a plan to have fun, to visit places I’ve never been before, to go to as many parties as possible and to spend time just hanging out (and possibly being a little excessive) with those I love, because I happen to believe that life is for living – whether you are 19 or 90.
So don’t waste any time worrying about your age, celebrate your next birthday in style (no matter how old you are), wear your glasses with defiance, say your name with pride and enjoy every minute of this new year.
Why French Women Feel Young at 50 . . . and how you can too is published by Headline Home and costs £16.99