Women in Denial


Having written already about the chic French woman it is time to do a volte face and write about the flip side of the Riviera; the Woman in Denial.

I have come to recognise a few of the local women here, all are rich as Croesus (or at least their husbands are), their riches are nouveau and they look incredibly scary – almost walking morality tales.  One is a superannuated Barbie, she has the same nose that all those ‘done’ women have, a ridiculous little pert, ski jump thing which would look fine on a seven year old but looks absurd on a grown women. She is also, as are all of her ilk very thin, unnaturally so. It is lovely to be slim, but a skinny old woman in tight jeans does not look young, she looks rather creepy. No amount of gym or dieting will produce the same look as that of youth. On top of the skinny body the puffed out collagen filled cheeks give the face a weird blow fish appearance which the misshapen augmented lips only enhance. She wears her hair bright blonde and her skin is tanned, her expression is vacant and rather poignant. There is nothing more pathetic than the ageing party girl still trying desperately to hang on to her looks by the skin of her veneered and whitened teeth. Barbie and her chums all look the same really, the pulled and messed about faces all have a generic appearance – character has been wiped out and replaced by the visage of an automaton.

We women have just got to start accepting aging – it just part of life. We have had our turn and now it is time to move on. Obviously we can continue to try to look our best, but we really do have throw in the towel when it comes to chasing youthful looks and maybe start working more on our personalities and hobbies. When I compare superannuated Barbie to other older women (it is impossible to calculate Barbie’s age, she could be anywhere between 55 and 75), there is no contest. A happy, wrinkled lived in face of a woman who looks happy with herself is a million times more attractive than the taut, frankly freakish face of fear on the Woman in Denial.

I have to confess that it is not just the rich who are Women in Denial, it happens closer to home too: It was a lovely warm sunny day and I was strolling around happily in my summer shorts when I caught sight of a dreadful old bit of mutton in the window of Chanel – ‘good God’ I exclaimed to myself, what a deluded old fright, and then realised of course that it was none other than moi. What I had imagined looked fresh, youthful, casual and insouciant actually looked plain mental.  I looked silly and scruffy and far too old to be wearing shorts, especially in town. I may have been on my holidays but the rest of Monte Carlo wasn’t.

I think it is ultimately a fool’s errand – the trying to look younger. Yes at this age girls doing a bit of this and a bit of that will probably look better (not younger), more rested and fresh BUT – carry on and by sixty they will be in Cher territory – which is probably why she sang ‘if I could hold back time’ – sorry Cher, you can’t.  

So when is it time to hang up the leather leggings, over the knee boots, leopard prints and denim minis? I suppose if you are slim – but not scrawny, and have legs like a giraffe you can get away with the leather pants so long as you accessorize appropriately – i.e. no tarty shoes, platform boots or low cut tops. It’s hard to know which is worse, skinny mutton or plump mutton – one looks desperate and haggard while the other is just blowsy.  I think that after 45 and certainly by there are some definite dos and don’ts – of course all rules are made to be broken and am sure I will be first to do so!

  • No denim minis.
  • No shorts unless on the beach or longer culottes type city shorts worn with tights.
  • Animal print only to be worn to accessorize and otherwise conservative outfit – i.e. certainly NOT with denim mini or leather.
  • No over the knee boots with high heels worn with short skirts.
  • No tattoos and definitely not on view
  • If knees have gone baggy and saggy cover with opaque tights if wearing over the knee skirts.
  • Don’t expose cleavage – nobody wants to look at crepey décolletage.
  • Keep bunions under cover.
  • Look after feet.
  • Step away from the fillers.
  • Beware of saggy upper arms – if not blessed with great firm arms try to cover unless on the beach or at the seaside.



The Chic French Madame

18.-CarineRoitfeld-yellow-skirtHere on the Riviera everyone, bar cleaning ladies, is slim or downright thin. The cliché about French women not getting fat is true, they do actually eat, but not that much, in fact they eat miniscule amounts, which of course is the key to slenderness. Yes eat butter, cheese and chocolate, but just in minimal amounts. It is very annoying, but true, generally French women do look miles better than their Irish counterparts. Of course this leads to a certain sameiness and a lack of variety and eccentricity; sometimes scruffiness and slightly outré clothes add to the spice of life and can look great.
One thing the French – at least the Riviera French don’t do – is takeaways. There is one MacDonald’s in Monaco, in the new reclaimed area Fontevielle. Its opening was a cause of uproar and many oooh la la’s and what is le monde coming tos. The place has been a success with children but you NEVER see anyone eating any of the food outside the premises, and certainly not walking along the street – the French do not graze. You also don’t see filthy wrapping paper strewn everywhere.
One very smart French woman I met was puzzled when, on a first trip to the USA she saw signs in shop windows stating ‘no food allowed’ –she wondered why on earth was the sign necessary, in the name of Dieu, who on earth would eat while shopping, especially for clothes. She was aghast when she discovered the American (and now Irish) habit for grazing all day while wandering around shopping malls. In Ireland it is practically impossible to go into any newsagents or grocery shop without being bombarded with row upon row of chocolates, sweeties and crisps. Again, this just does not happen in France. If you are disgusting enough to have need of a tabac, tabac is what you will find, along with some chewing gum to try and mask your stinky breath. Newsagents sell newspapers and magazines – not confectionary.
Another noticeable thing here is that food is just not as sweet as it is at home. Biscuits are plainer and sugar does not appear to be randomly added to all foodstuffs (compare and contrast with America where even the bread tastes sweet – I had an egg salad at a very upmarket chichi restaurant and it was vile, when I inquired about the ingredients I found that sugar had been added – to egg salad? Revolting).
French women tend to dress their age. They do not (blush) try to wear groovy on trend clothes. That is not to say that they look frumpy, but they are more conservative. Clothes are well pressed, neat and accessorised with smart, good bags and shoes. If you look at Carine Roitfeld, the uber glam fashionista, even she – outrageously cool and trendy by French standards, tends to dress appropriately. Neat little pencil skirts, no clunking wedges, immaculate blow dry and super grooming.
Which brings us to hair – Frenchwomen’s hair is always well groomed. No grizzled split ends, no grey roots. A well-coiffed head always adds both youth and smartness to a look.
I would like to think that I have learned some valuable lessons here and that I will turn over a new leaf and become chic, but have at least a modicum of self-knowledge and know that I have neither the patience nor the discipline to keep up the maintenance involved, never mind the expense. For example, nobody over 20 wears leggings (unless they are leather and the wearer is super slim and long limbed), but I know that if I am going for a walk with dog up the hill and have just fallen out of bed, leggings, wellies and a big jersey will often be my outfit of choice. However, I will try to avoid wearing them properly out. I vow to keep my hair well maintained, but having naturally frizzy hair with the consistency of wire wool means that this is difficult. I shall also NEVER EVER wear shorts again unless I am on a beach.

Living in a Dream

Virginia Woolf famously said that what a woman needed for creativity and peace of mind was ‘a room of one’s own’. As I write this, I am sitting at a nineteenth century French desk, in a room filled with first editions and a lovely Jack Yeats painting of a woman looks down at me. Through the window beyond I see the blue shutters and balconies of tall buildings opposite and I hear the sounds of scooters and pedestrians below chattering away in the mellifluous hum that is the French language. I am firmly convinced that at any moment I shall wake up.

This dream-like existence is a result of my being appointed writer in residence, for a calendar month, at the Princess Grace Irish Library in Monaco. For this blessing I have to thank the French Ireland fund. I have my own personal fairy godmother in the shape of the beautiful Judith who looks after my every need – guiding me around, showing me the best (and they are superb) designer second hand shops, handing me wads of cash, taking me to lunch and best of all, offering to read and edit my work. I have never in my life led such a stress free existence. I have a little serviced apartment, nobody but myself to look after – no bills to pay, no housework, no dog to walk or family to feed. I have already established a routine which includes slipping off to a secluded cove at lunchtime for a swim in the sea and working on my bronzage. It is extraordinary in October to walk along streets filled with orange trees in fruit wearing sandals and a light cotton skirt. Monaco old town is exceedingly pretty and has its own legislative building, post office and palace with a real prince and princess living in it and a toy town like changing of the guard takes place each day at noon.

Perhaps after a while the novelty will wear off, perhaps I shall become homesick and bored. I miss my family and my dog. But for the moment I am as content as it is possible to be and counting my blessings and dreading waking up.