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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Vanity, thy name is....

"Personne n’est jeune après quarante ans mais on peut être irrésistible à tout âge. "

“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.


Anonymous said...

What a lovely post. I have always appreciated the French woman's no nonsense approach to the important details of appearance. You act like you look.
I try to imagine the new Victoria. A treat for yourself, but wow, what a gift for all those who care about and love you.

Anonymous said...

Victoria, totally agree with adding some color and new clothes. I know it makes you feel better but I think you would look good in a flour sack and flip-flops because I have met your spirit and that's what is real. On the other hand, maybe you will find that hat after all. M (Dax)

Blaze said...

"I believe in manicures. I believe in overdressing. I believe in primping at leisure and wearing lipstick. I believe in pink. I believe happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day, and... I believe in miracles." (Audrey Hepburn)

Rejoice in your primping and your beauty!

French Girl in Seattle said...

Bonjour Victoria. A heartwarming story... and if I may say so myself: Good for you! Love that Audrey Hepburn quote left by your reader Blaze, also. It perfectly applies to this situation! Keep feeling and looking great! You deserve it. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

Shirl said...

Hi, Victoria. Love your new post on "vanity" and the new organization so we can see all posts related to your Big Adventure. I love the fact that you have gotten your hair done and a bunch of new clothes. Would love to see a picture of you on you blog! With the red lipstick and new hairdo. I know on our trip around the world, I was always looking for a good hair salon, and I found a bunch of them. And I starting having my eyebrows done on the trip, which I now love. And great to hear about the soft skin and thick hair. Benefits of treatment - what a concept. Great post.

Tim said...

I am not sure how I should comment on this one but I have been studying different politicians in Europe to see who may be of assistance to our "cause" which I know you what that means. I do have to say as I try to put names to faces it is interesting the degree to which European and especially French women politicians dress quite stylishly by North American standards.

One pictured below dresses far more stylish than many North American politicans but also far more formal.

You don't see a lot of women members of US Congress dressed like the above with the handbag in all all of the time.

Nor do you see a lot of women members of Congress dressed like below either:

I don't think they are into the "jeans" look on Capital Hill no matter how stylish.

Being male I try not to judge people too much on the appearance but again as I have tried to put names to faces on "our" issues appearance did stand out to me. Is this how most people in business and politics really dress in Europe right now. My memory seems to have faded of my previous visits.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Read all your comments this morning over coffee and a muffin. Thank you.

Damn fine quotation from Blaze. 100 in agreement about the lipstick. Not so sure about pink which really isn't my color. (And I know this because my French girlfriends have said so) :-)

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Tim, I'm going through your links right now. Wow, Madame Sylvie is quite elegant.

Yes, I think that this is pretty standard here (at least in France it is). Women in business and government dress well. So do the men - lovely shirts in nice colors with cufflinks and cool shoes.

This is doable even if you aren't high-income. I and my women friends here tend to have fewer clothes in our wardrobes compared to some North Americans but what we have is nice. Also there are all kinds of shops here that specialize in second-hand designer clothing. I could never have afforded my Gucci purse if I'd bought it new. It was a find at a shop in Paris. It was used but in good shape and relatively inexpensive.

Blaze said...

@Victoria: I have since learned there was even more in the middle of that Audrey Hepburn quote. I love this part even more.

"I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong."

Do it. I hope your husband appreciates the laughter and kissing tips!

Will you share a new photo of your new ravishing self? (Laughing, I hope. You can keep the kissing private (or share if you prefer!)

Blaze said...

While we are on the topic of Audrey Hepburn, she also loved chocolate.

At least, that's what a new digital ad seems to imply (and which her sons confirmed).

Some think the ad is cool. Some think it is creepy and tacky.

Whatever it is, I'm sure she burned off those chocolate calories by laughing and kissing!

Rosy the Riveter said...

A great post, Victoria. Glad to read this all made you feel better. Maybe I should copy you. I'm beginning to think I'm wearing the same old stuff to work all the time. Is it hte season ? Better get to the store (cheap, though. FATCA's a-hauntin.... if this keeps up, none of us will be wearing anything but a barrel!)

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Blaze, Love the Hepburn quotations. Especially the part about kissing and chocolate. :-) Can I let my hair grow a little bit more before I share pictures?

@Rosy, Monoprix is good. Their lingerie is reasonably priced and you can get brightly colored t-shirts for not much. I hear you about us wearing barrels. :-)