“Nobody remains young past 40, but one can be irresistible at any age.”
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (1883-1971)
(From Jean-Jacques Auffet's Citation du Jour)
I read that this morning and my first thought was Coco never had chemo. Or maybe she did at some point in her life. I'd love to know.
Because, boy, the last thing I felt after coming out of the last fun filled year was "attractive." Hard to put my finger on what bothered me the most: losing my hair and I mean ALL of it everywhere including my eyelashes, seeing my muscles waste away the time I had to spend in bed or on the couch, the scars on my torso or that damn "chambre implantable" model Celsite ST215 by B. Braun which I still have and is so obvious when I wear a débardeur because I'm skinny (on a good day I'm 170-something centimeters and 57 kilos - that's about 5'7 and 126 pounds.)
Now before all this went down I was someone who spent a lot of time, energy and money on maintaining her appearance. Part of it was an integration issue. When I first arrived in France wearing my Seattle-style duds, people made comments and I didn't like that. It wasn't about not being proud of my roots but rather because people in Paris in that era could be rather mean when I showed up somewhere in jeans and tennis shoes. I decided to dress better because that way I could blend in better (camouflage for the stealth migrant I was) and it did put a stop to the ego-destroying comments. Another reasons was my job once I actually had a real one where I had to look like a grown-up. When I had to go into a big meeting or speak in front of hundreds of people, it was not only expected that I look good, it also helped my confidence to know that I was chic from my Jimmy Choo's and Gucci purse right down to my lingerie (and boy did I drop a bundle at Orcanta for that). I used to jokingly refer to it as my "armor."
During my treatment though that all seemed so incredibly stupid and small. Not a priority, I said. And so I kissed my shoes bye-bye, firmly closed the door to my wardrobe, and threw the makeup in a drawer. I didn't even avail myself of the services at the Maison des patients at the clinic that offer makeup help and advice choosing a wig or a scarf or a prosthesis. The last I didn't even bother to get even though it's 100% covered by the national healthcare system here. And I went with the head scarves and didn't bother getting fitted for a wig (also 100% covered).
(Funny story here. I was walking down the Avenue de Paris here in Versailles with my scarf on and as I walked by an older gentlemen, he looked at me and I heard him mutter to himself, "Nous sommes en France quand même." (This is France for heaven's sake). He took me for a conservative North African Moslem woman wearing a headscarf. The only thing he got right was that I am indeed an immigrant. I laughed all the way home. )
I was wrong to put my appearance aside during and after my treatment. I am not going to beat myself up over it but, as I come out the other side, it's useful to think about what I could have done differently. Might be helpful for someone else and if by chance I have to go through another round of treatment, makes sense to apply those lessons learned.
How did I figure this out? I went to the doctor a few weeks ago for another problem and as she (a very well turned-out Frenchwoman) did her thing she asked me when my chemo ended and when I replied "a few months ago," she decided to give me her opinion. And may I say that this is one thing I love, just love, about Frenchwomen? They will tell you what they truly think. Not in an unkind way but just the unvarnished opinion with very little mitigating language and zero BS. To the question, "Does this dress look good on me?" they are very likely to answer, "No, it looks terrible and it's not your color at all. Try something green instead." Never EVER ask their advice if you have thin skin and can't take a truthful direct answer.
Her take on it was that months after my treatment was over I still looked like I was going through chemo. Get down to the hair salon, she said. Just because it's short doesn't mean it can't look stylish. Then try some makeup - a little color on the eyebrows, some mascara and some red lipstick. And finally, dump the scarves and get some cute little hats that go well with jeans and a jean jacket.
I listened carefully to what she had to say and then I marched myself home and hauled out my makeup, my nice shoes and my fancy clothes. A few days later I went down to the center of Versailles and had my hair cut by Lydie and I even bought some new clothes in bright colors and new shoes (no, it's not possible to have too many shoes). Still looking for the hats but with my new cut, I find that I don't really need to hide my head anymore.
Do I feel better? You bet your sweet patootie I do. Having done all that I became aware of some of the nice things the chemo did for my looks. The silver lining post-chemo is that your skin is so soft, just like an infant's, and all those little lines I was getting around my eyes and mouth have mostly disappeared. It's like a facelift. And the hair? Wow, it's so soft, lush and thick.
I wouldn't go so far as to say I look "irresistible" but I don't look half bad either. My first outing with my new look was Sunday mass and it did my ego a world of good to have people tell me how nice I looked. THAT led to what is probably the most important element of attractiveness in a man or a woman: a big smile that radiates happiness and confidence.