Vogue US March2020

(Ben Green) #1
flick—was born, making perennial mood-board staples out of
New Wave icons such as Anna Karina and Jean Seberg a few years
later. Dressed up or down, Frenchwomen just make it all look
so easy. They even seem to know the secret to that most difficult
thing: how to age gracefully.
Or do they? Several months ago, I found myself Netflix-binging
the French TV series Call My Agent!, a serio-comedy about Paris
talent reps. In the pilot, actress Cécile de France, playing herself,
wrestles with a conundrum: Cresting 40, she’s been offered a plum
role in a big Hollywood movie—on the condition that she subject
her face to the Botox and fillers that keep Tinseltown stars
uncannily young. In the end, she can’t do it; she embraces her
crow’s-feet and smile lines because to do otherwise would be
inauthentique. “Nonsense,” an actress friend tells me after watching
the same episode. “I don’t know what they’re doing, but those
French actresses—they’re doing something.”
Like Cécile de France, I, too, have crested 40, and I’m not sure
what to do about my face. The pair of wrinkles carving arches over
my eyebrows never bothered me until one day, suddenly, they did.
All around me, women are seemingly getting
younger. The use of fillers such as Restylane and
neuromodulators such as Botox has achieved
such critical mass in the U.S. that erasing creases
has created a new “minimum standard” for
beauty, as philosopher Heather Widdows
suggests in her groundbreaking 2018 treatise
Perfect Me. My instinct is to resist this standard
on feminist grounds. But I’ve been torn
between not wanting to feel like a crone and not
wanting what New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino
recently identified as “Instagram Face”—that kind of perfectly
Facetuned visage that resembles an anthropomorphized cat.
Perhaps less-is-more French dermatology was the answer?
“The key phrase is ‘Docteur, please, not too much,’ ” says Nicolas
Bachot, M.D., a Paris-based dermatologist with a fashionable
clientele he pointedly refuses to name-drop. Speaking in broad
strokes—every patient is different, he explains—Bachot speculates
that he and his French peers may be using lower doses of fillers
and neuromodulators than their average American counterpart,
a hypothesis bolstered by New York City dermatologist Marnie
Nussbaum, M.D., who has countless anecdotes of women coming
in demanding that she “use the whole vial.” Bachot’s clients
also prioritize discretion: Frenchwomen appear to live in terror of
their acquaintances’ guessing they’ve smoothed a line or two.
“There are two reasons for that,” Bachot tells me. “The first is the
desire to look ‘natural.’ And the second reason,” he adds, “is
that these kinds of aesthetic procedures remain a taboo subject
here. You do not talk about what you do to your face.”
The natural part I get: It bums me out to see girls on social
media boasting about how they’ve turned themselves into
look-alikes of Bella Hadid. But that national code of omertà is
downright pathological. I spoke with numerous French editors,
designers, and influencers for this story, and I couldn’t get a
single one who’d had Botox and filler to confess as much on the
record. (If I could ape the French formula for barely there work,
I’d happily talk about it!) “There’s so much hypocrisy,” complains
Paris-based wellness expert and former beauty editor Lili
Barbery-Coulon. “Of course there are women here getting Botox.
But to speak of it? Non.”

The insistence on secrecy seems to be all about reinforcing
a myth: that Frenchwomen are totally bien dans votre âge—
comfortable with their age—which, according to fashion journalist
Alice Pfeiffer, is a form of social snobbery. “In America you’re
congratulated on making an effort. Whereas for a Frenchwoman,
making an effort is cheating,” says Pfeiffer, 34, whose acclaimed
book, I Am Not Parisian, came out in France last year and offers
a blistering takedown of what the author calls the “marketing
fabrication” of the carefree, artfully disheveled, effortlessly
sophisticated Frenchwoman (see Inès de la Fressange, Caroline
de Maigret, and—most recently—Jeanne Damas). Vogue
Paris beauty director Frédérique Verley agrees: “For French
girls, it’s a bit shameful not to accept yourself as you are.”
As pathologies go, it’s debatable whether this one is better or
worse than whatever is driving Nussbaum’s patients to come in
asking “to look like they’ve had a photo filter run over their face.”
But it does help explain why Frenchwomen, in contrast, tend
to ask their doctors to, say, “touch up the eyes and leave everything
else,” as one of my off-the-record interviewees put it—and why,
according to prominent Paris dermatologist
Anne Grand-Vincent, M.D., most of her
patients have waited until at least their early 40s
to begin aesthetic treatments. (By comparison:
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons
reports that since 2010, botulinum-toxin
procedures in the U.S. have increased a whopping
39 percent among 20-to-29-year-olds.) When
I visit Ellen Marmur, M.D., at her practice on
the Upper East Side, and tell her that I want
to “look French,” she laughs genially. “Who
doesn’t?” the New York dermatologist replies, revealing that many
of her patients, of late, are requesting what she calls “Babytox”;
i.e., low-dose, super-targeted botulinum-toxin treatments that
produce the hallowed “natural” French effect.
But Botox, “baby” or otherwise, doesn’t make your face radiant,
says newly named Chanel skin-care expert Melanie Grant, who
is quick to point out that Frenchwomen also grow up with a much
more rigorous skin-care regimen than we are accustomed to
in the U.S. Grant, the Australian complexion guru who opened a
West Hollywood flagship studio last February and who takes
her famous facials to Paris twice a year, adds that this approach is
ultimately more meaningful for maintaining skin tone and
texture as we age. “You can have lines and pigmentation and, if
you’re taking good care of your skin, still look vibrant and well
rested,” she explains. “For us,” Bachot tells me, “a lack of wrinkles
does not equal beauty. And vice versa.”
Leaving Marmur’s plush office, I feel good about my choice to
smooth the wrinkles that have been bothering me. There’s so
much about aging that women don’t get to choose—the slowing
metabolism, the declining egg count—that it’s empowering
to seize control of one part of the process. But a lingering doubt
remains: Is my goal to be bien dans mon âge or merely to appear
as though I am? What I really want, I suppose, is to gaze across
the ocean at France and see a place where a woman is truly
allowed to age gracefully, and thus has no need to blot out the
joys and sorrows of life written on her face. I want to believe
in this final piece of mythical Gallic click bait—frenchwomen
grow old, and that’s okay!—because if Parisiennes can be
authentique, then maybe we can, too. @

“There’s so much
hypocrisy. Of course
there are women here
getting Botox. But
to speak of it? Non”



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