I believe the reason French women age naturally (and well!) is because they live well. More precisely, they have healthy habits throughout life so that as they get older, they age well. And by this I mean not only how they look, but how they feel and their overall wellbeing.
So what are these healthy habits? How do older French women take care of themselves to keep their vitality longer? There are so many cultural norms and learned habits in France that contribute to healthy aging. Here is my twist, plus some ideas for making this work no matter where you live!
Self-care rituals are not selfish or exclusive
The French love a good spa, thermal bath, massage, or an indulgent facial. They are also big fans of monthly trims at the hair salon. But self-care in France also means indulging in simple pleasures throughout the day that foster happiness and relaxation. Slowing down to sit and enjoy an afternoon tea or coffee, taking a stroll to spend a few precious moments in solitude, creating space in the evening for an at-home facial or pampering evening routine.
The French feel no guilt in pleasures and self-indulgence. In general, women do not sacrifice all of themselves for their families or for work. They will generally make space for themselves and their own form of self-care.
Women know that these rituals are an integral part of wellbeing throughout their adult years, not a one-off practice before a big event or during a vacation. They scatter these throughout their days and busy schedules as possible. French women age naturally and well by thinking of themselves first!
Do like the French:
If a spa treatment is out of your budget or unrealistic with your schedule, plan a weekly wellbeing ritual for yourself. Block an hour or two on a Sunday night for example. There are plenty of at-home facial products and hair masks available at your local Target or Sephora that won’t break the bank. Put it on your calendar or planner every week or at least once a month! If you have young children, wait until they are in bed or get the help of a sitter or friend to keep them out of your hair for an hour or two. Make it your personal priority, not a luxury. It’s not just about nicer skin or shinier hair, it’s about valuing yourself and putting your needs ahead of others every once in a while!
DID YOU KNOW? France is home to famous thermal spa towns scattered throughout the country, with municipal thermal baths that are affordable (some as low as $25 per day). The most well-known are in Evian, Vittel, Aix-les-Bains, Vichy, and Laroche-Posay.
Skin care is non-negotiable
French women may not wear a lot of cosmetics but they make up for it in their skincare products. To say that the French are obsessed with skincare is an understatement. Some of the world’s most famous sought-after skincare brands are French. These include Avene, La Roche-Posay, Bioderma, Nuxe, Caudalie, Clarins and Embryolisse. Not only does this contribute to beautiful skin but it contributes hugely to the healthy aging of the skin.
The French are unlikely to use full coverage makeup. Instead, they opt for a hydrating cream, a bb cream or tinted moisturizer. More likely than not, however, women add a thin coat of mascara and some lipgloss and call it a day.
One of the greatest compliments you can give someone in France is to tell them they have a “bonne mine”. This doesn’t translate easily, but in essence it means a “healthy glow” or “to look well”. It’s not at all about beauty. It’s about the inner glow that comes from taking care of yourself. A good skincare regimen is a major contributor.
Do like the French:
Great skincare products are available everywhere in the world. The French gravitate much less to luxury brands and opt instead for pharmacy brands they consider the real deal. A French woman will choose a $40 pharmacy brand over a luxury face cream with a $200+ price tag. All the brands listed above have a hefty offering of sunscreen creams and moisturizers as well. Focus your beauty routine on healthy skin care instead of make-up, and you might get that healthy glow you’re after (without the bronzer and highlighter)! My favourite French pharmacy product by far is the Avene Rich Revitalising Nourishing Cream.
A more natural aesthetic in France is at the root of many self-care practices, and in my opinion it’s also a contributor to healthy aging. French women are not in the pursuit of looking like everyone else, they see the value in looking like themselves. They value their uniqueness, and seek to enhance what they were born with rather than to change or completely hide it (for example, a slightly crooked nose, gap in their smile, curly hair, wide hips, imperfect eyebrows, etc.).
Now let me be very frank for a moment. French women, like women all over the world, hold onto their youthful looks for as long as they can. Some may get help with injectables or even cosmetic surgery as they age, but even those women keep things natural. You are unlikely to see many inflated lips and frozen faces in France – the French aesthetic is much more natural than, for instance, the American one.
They don’t look like they try too hard
In addition, a typical French woman does not want to look like she tried too hard. This is the reason for natural hair and natural makeup and that laid-back French style vibe with perhaps one flashy or bright accessory. French women strive to look their best without looking like it took them hours to look their best.
“Bien dans sa peau” which translates into “feeling good in her skin” is at the heart of this aesthetic. Women want to come across as confident in who they are, not masked or hiding behind a facade of makeup and complicated morning routines.
By accepting what is, instead of a lifetime chasing what was not meant to be, women create time and mental space for other more productive pursuits in their lives (such as self-care rituals, spending time with loved ones, pursuing a passion or hobby). A level of acceptance for a more natural approach to beauty is of benefit in the long-term. French women age naturally and well, in part because they spend less time, mental space and energy trying to be someone they aren’t!
Do like the French:
Tired of trying to look like someone else? Regardless of your age, give yourself a mental break and embrace those physical aspects that make you different. Find what you love about how you look, not what you don’t. Instead of trying to look like someone else or trying to look much younger, have the confidence to be who you are, flaws and all. Bonus tip: Opt out of Instagram immediately if you need some help with this!
They don’t understand the concept of “letting oneself go.”
Alongside a more natural aesthetic, seniors in France don’t neglect themselves. They aren’t gaining weight, dismissing fashion, or forgoing cosmetic maintenance. And they are certainly not giving up pleasure or fun!
It is very common to see older French women dressed on trend (age appropriate of course) and keeping up her self-care rituals, pampering and grooming just like the younger generations. France is less youth-obsessed than other countries and women have amazing role models in their 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond.
In addition, they don’t settle on crossword puzzles and bingo in their retirement years (unless that’s what they choose!). It’s typical for the French to embark on a new sport or activity after retirement: Cycling, swimming, art school, yoga, cross-country skiing, Zumba, dancing, a new language, travel. It’s almost a given that the newly retired will pick up hobbies or activities.
Water and Wine
What the French drink has a huge impact on aging well. As I’ve described in articles on French eating habits and how children eat at the school cafeteria, water is the drink of choice across all age groups. You will be hard pressed to find a family lunch or dinner where anything other than water (or wine for the adults) is served. Fizzy drinks and fruit juices are left for a special occasion, they are not a standard drink.
Although the French are hugely passionate about wine, moderation is still important. Adults will enjoy a glass of wine with their meal, maybe every day, but often just a few glasses a week.
Furthermore, a lifetime of staying hydrated with water and herbal teas (tisanes) is healthy for the body (especially the skin) and contributes to managing a healthy weight by keeping appetites in check and snacks at bay.
Do like the French:
Substitute any non-water drinks at meal times with water (fizzy or flat) for the entire family. In addition, instead of reaching for a sugary snack, try a cup of herbal tea first. And lastly, instead of reaching for cocktails or a beer, try a glass of red wine, once or twice a week.
Movement is a way of life
From birth to old age, the French are active. People of all ages regularly hike, swim, ski, walk, cycle, just move. There is nothing uncommon about octogenarians on the ski slopes or a senior citizens cycling club. Movement permeates every area of life. If they aren’t playing sports, the French are running errands by foot, gardening, or cycling to the office. Movement isn’t just a scheduled activity. And it’s not just a once weekly fitness class. It’s every day, for all ages. French women age naturally and well because they don’t stop moving as they get older.
Do like the French:
No matter your age, sign up for that class you’ve been meaning to take! Or start walking to do your errands. If you live in suburbia, park your car far, far away from the store entrance and walk as much as you can. Commit to at least one physical activity per weekend. Make sure weekends away or vacations include lots of movement – build that into your planning phase. If you have young children, get them used to family activities on the weekend that include movement of some sort.
Food is just food.
It’s no secret the French are simultaneously obsessed and unobsessed with food. They expect delicious, fresh food to be part of their day-to-day lives, and they would never deprive themselves of things they love. It’s about unprocessed, real food in moderation. The French have perfected the balance of moderation and pleasure and it helps them age well, without serious weight gain and its associated issues.
In addition to their love of real food, the French de-stress daily by sitting down at a table to eat. There is no rushing around with a protein bar while doing errands. The French sit down and enjoy their food, usually in the company of others, even in the midst of a busy day. French women age naturally and well because of this amazing combination of eating great food and indulging in simple gastronomic pleasures, in moderation.
If you are inspired by the French to make some positive changes or additions to your wellbeing and self-care routines, please sign up for my newsletter and I will send you some helpful tips, trends and links to keep you informed and motivated!
Photo credit Francois Goize
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