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Chic & Slim Toujours: Aging Beautifully Like Those Chic French Women Paperback – April 4, 2011
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This book is full of practical advice and tips for self-care, image, style and lifestyle. I do wish her chapters on boundaries and mystique were longer. Her examples were helpful, yet I think as we go through life our boundaries change, and that does intersect with mystique. I would urge her to consider fleshing out these two chapters if she decides to update this book.
Barone's approach is always practical and dignified. She treats her subject and her readers with respect and a serious attitude, and that's apparent in this book. I appreciate it because it's illustrative of the fact that while there are many powerful women in their middle and later years, much of western culture still tries to pressure them to be what they no longer are - young. Barone's respect, dignity and savvy advice also demonstrate the difference with which France treats older women - with dignity, respect and respect for their savvy.
The only thing missing for me from this useful missive is information about more bohemian or eccentric ways to express ourselves through our style and attitude. But this lack is balanced out by the respect toward the subject and her readers, which are her hallmarks.
What drew me up short, and turned me off the entire book, was her insertion of politics. Whether or not I agree with her is not the point, politics don't belong in a book about 'aging beautifully'. I'd comment more, but, like her repeated comments, politics don't belong in a review about 'aging beautifully.'
Very disappointed as I picked up a few things.
I cracked up! The book opened to chapter 2--the Face where I read the insightful jab about the "Sisterhood of the Marble Goddess Faces" That in a nutshell is the difference between the North American approach to skin care--extreme measures resulting in a certain sameness and the French methods-- which aim to preserve individuality and expression while tidying up a few of the more egregious signs of age. While the North American consumer may wish to "see" results in an obvious bit of work and pressure her doctor that way, her French counterpart will be anxious that the work is invisible, only looking like she is better rested, glowing from within but still looking appropriate for her age. No trout pout, saran wrap skin, puffy cheekbones or surprised expressions etched into her face thank you. On both sides of the Atlantic there are doctors who will give good and bad results, but this book explains the mindset behind the consumer.
This book is about aging gracefully the French way. Not the North American way.
Some may think I don't know much about the subject. In fact because I am 57 and like to maintain my looks, I do a lot of personal research. I own several current books on aging the North Amnerican way from Charla Krupp's How Not to Look Old: Fast and Effortless Ways to Look 10 Years Younger, 10 Pounds Lighter, 10 Times Better to The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money, and More or Looking Younger: Makeovers That Make You Look as Young as You Feel and The Makeup Wakeup: Revitalizing Your Look at Any Age. I also have several favourite skin care docs in books from The Mind-Beauty Connection and to Dr. Denese's Secrets for Ageless Skin: Younger Skin in 8 Weeks. And I own more than that. I pay attention to this topic. I belong to Makeup Alley, and I own Paula Begoun's books, plus I look at the reviews on her site. There is a lot of good information in these resources BUT
NONE of these come with the information or mindset that Anne brings to the table. Her book is unique in the field.
Frequently the above mentioned authors allude to the French minimal methods, and endorse them but they don't describe the mindset behind the French attitude. Most go on to detail makeup methods that add a lot more effort (and cost) to your morning. While some tips work, others are overkill and age you all while draining the wallet. In those books there is a lot of good stuff, but the mindset behind them is, you are getting old, you have to hide it. And a certain all or nothing, take no prisoners approach to skin care and makeup.
There is a potent mindset of fear behind the North American skin care doctors and the marketing of skin care products. Fear the sun, fear the wrinkles, fear the sunspots and freckles. Fear age itself! Some of that comes from the very North American "all or nothing" mentality where we either tan till we turn to leather; or we use SPF 55 and above, staying out of the sun so completely that we now have a vitamin D crisis going on where we aren't getting enough. Some of us chase skin care "miracles" with such devotion to detail that we are in danger of becoming a member of the sisterhood of Marble Goddesses.
In the original Chic and Slim Anne contrasted teenage girls facing their first zits in France and America. In America the mother drags the teen to the doctor where she gets the message that something is terribly wrong with her, and she needs medical help to overcome it. The teen walks away with a prescription and a head filled with fear of zits for today, and skin cancer tomorrow. The French teen is taken to her first beauty treatment by her mother, welcomed into adulthood, given a skin care regime and some advice on food choice, and made to feel like a confident young adult. The cultural divide is just as strong regarding age.
Anne tackles the cultural norms head on, using the contrasts between France and America to highlight where our thinking differs.
This is SUCH a helpful approach but I think a lot of negative reviews reflect the culture shock going on. Anger is often the response when our world view is challenged. Defensiveness is natural.
If you want something different, you can't keep doing what you are doing and expect different results. You have to challenge your thinking somehow, entertain different ideas even if they go counter to current "wisdom" that is accepted as fact. No matter how many "experts" go on saying the same things, sometimes in order to change, you have to listen to opposing points of view.
Listening to Anne at first is very different. You need to really listen to overcome the cultural norms we have all been steeped in from birth, and that goes for aging gracefully too. We don't need to become French in order to benefit, just listen and learn. I find with all of Anne's books I don't really "get" the more subtle points till I am in my third reading. I re read her books constantly, finding that her arguments spark whole trains of thought in other directions in my own mind. I've made a bunch of changes that I'm delighted with (like my weight loss for one) as a result.
Anne compares and contrasts everything from makeup and hair care to body care. The attitude towards aging in France isn't to ward it off completely but rather to age gracefully with signs of maturity still in evidence. As with weight control and clothing, moderation is the key element.
What I got from the book was more moderation-- in sun exposure for example-- a little won't harm you. A lower SPF (several quotes from French women mention SPF from 25 to 30) when you do go out, avoiding the sun between 10 am and 4 pm which we all used to do back before SPF cream came out. Hats, gloves, sunglasses. Covering up when the sun is hot and high in the sky. Getting out and gardening in the early morning hours or late evening. Walking when the air is still cool from the night or after supper in the evening.
And having the odd wrinkle or freckle or sunspot won't harm you, or detract from your appearance. If you practice moderation early in life (I'm making my daughter and daughter in law read this book) they will only be a little character, not huge defects. If you weren't moderate, Anne's book encourages you to get the help you need, but without the fears.
Another example is the redness we often deal with in the centre third of the face. The books above tell how to cover it completely which is quite helpful for certain circumstances but is a very North American approach, while Anne's book quotes a French woman who dusts on a little bronzing powder. I've used both methods, and the bronzing powder is easier and just makes you look sunkissed not sunburnt.
If a French woman does use foundation, it will likely be a tinted moisturizer or a mineral powder or even just pressed powder after moisturizer in the morning. Laura Mercier's iconic product is her tinted moisturizer, almost all books on aging gracefully mention it in their must have lists, and no surprise ----she is a French makeup artist more concerned with a sheer natural glow rather than total camouflage.
And that brings me to products that Anne mentions. As always Anne is honest about what she uses and likes, and things she has considered trying or has heard good things about. Why is the mention of the actual products a problem for some reviewers? I find it helpful, because then I can research it further using Makeup Alley or Paula Begoun's books or site.
I appreciate Anne's tell it like it is anecdotal methods. It allows me as the reader to make up my own mind about something.
I don't find a hard sell anywhere in Anne's books, rather I feel like a friend wrote me a letter explaining something I asked about. It's coming from her point of view naturally, and I am free to disagree wherever I like. As a point of fact, I find I can't use most "natural" type products as natural fragrance oils like peppermint burn my skin, so I look beyond to "chemical" ones like fragrance free Olay Regenerist serum. I adapt her recommendations to my own skin as she recommends. I can't afford Guerlain bronzing powder, but I found one by Rimmel that works just as well by researching on Makeup Alley. (It's Rimmel Natural Bronzer with natural minerals in #027 Sun Dance by the way) Thus adapting her concept to my budget, again, just as Anne continually recommends. (Debt is not chic!) Natural hair colour leaves me itchy and less than impressed; but I love L'Oreal Preference #65 Light Amber Brown for my version of "certain age French Mahogany". Now does that make me a sales rep for any of those? No, it shouldn't. I just mentioned what works for me, just as Anne does.
Anne gives it straight. Exactly how she presents her material across all her books. She tells you what she thinks, and expects you to make the connections in your own brain, with your own life. When she says something politically charged, there is a point to it, relating to the matter under discussion. When she recommends something she expects you to use your own discretion. She acts like a big sister, guiding you thru the scary forest of aging. On the left there are bogeymen and fears of cancer, wrinkles, incontinence and on the right are a bunch of anti aging weapons, which often cost a lot, with less than stellar results. Anne takes you thru with a common sense, no fear, no nonsense approach to accepting the minor signs of age, fighting off the more serious problems and leaving you feeling better about your life & your age.
So at the end I've taken away some wonderful tips, and a mindset of exploration and adventure.
Edited to add:
about Anne referring to various French women by name and asking the reader to Google their images rather than including photos. I don't have a problem with this either.
She uses them as examples of what she is talking about. Google images for most people with a computer and connection to the net will be far more comprehensive and up to date than any book. Studying a photo of Ines de la Fressange for example will tell you about her hair, makeup and style choices without wasting time on a long description. When Anne includes someone as an example, she explains why, what you should be looking for in the photos of that person. And most important of all, this proves her points. She isn't just pulling her observations of French women out of her hat, this is stuff that she is VERIFYING by referring to these women and their photos. Of course for this to work, they do have to have some fame. And like North America, French film stars, & models that have wide popularity are used by other French women to work from in developing their own individual take on style.
French female politicians are included along with TV news anchors. I can't think of another country where the preponderance (not single individuals but a large percent) of female politicians of all ages are models of chic and style that women would actually copy. I'm reminded by a bit in Helena Frith Powell's book All You Need to Be Impossibly French: A Witty Investigation into the Lives, Lusts, and Little Secrets of French Women in which she compares the mental image of British politician women to the reality of Segolene Royal. I quote: "Imagine a female English MP. She is short, broad and badly dressed. Her hair looks like a dead badger that has been dumped on her head. She wears little or no makeup. Lets not even think about her shoes and handbag. She is serious and she is plain." Helena than goes on to describe Mme Royal's appearance along with some other figures in French politics.
From actresses and models to politicians and women married to prominent French politicians, the common theme is aging. How these women, conspicuous enough to have lots of Google images to look at, handle their own aging. Anne uses them to make her point clear. The book stands on it's own, her observations are great even without looking up these Google images, but they simply underscore the point she already made.