'French Women Don't Get Facelifts' Author Reveals the Secrets to Aging Gracefully (Q&A)

Former Veuve Clicquot CEO Mireille Guiliano says French women don't go under the knife -- but they do eat, drink and have great sex.

After years of repping the world's most popular bubbly, Veuve Clicquot, for LVMH, the part-time Parisian, part-time New Yorker is enjoying her new role as the internationally best-selling author of French Women Don't Get Fat and three subsequent lifestyle how-to's. Guiliano's fifth book, French Women Don't Get Facelifts: The Secret of Aging with Style and Attitude, comes out on Christmas Eve and is chock-full of tips on staying healthy, happy and safely out of the surgeon's chair.

Guiliano chatted with Pret-a-Reporter from her home in New York to share some advance wisdom on how American women can retain that certain je ne sais quoi – while saying non to the scalpel.

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You have spent most of your working life in the corporate world. Have your books been a sort of natural reaction to the American corporate lifestyle?

Well, I was living in New York and running the French company here, and women would always comment on my style, and I discovered how American women really love French fashion and were intimated by French fashion. For me, it was very natural. I didn’t wear expensive couture clothes. I said, “You can do it too, you know?” And at first I was astonished when people said, “But how do you do your scarf? I can’t do my scarf.” Here I was, lecturing about food and wine and history and culture, and I was finding myself answering couture and fashion questions, and that’s why I started writing about it. When the first book [French Women Don’t Get Fat] came out, I got so many emails saying, “I loved your book -- you should write one about style.” And I said, “I’m not a stylist!”

Let’s dig into the title of your new book, French Women Don’t Get Facelifts, because this topic is particularly relevant here in Los Angeles, where cosmetic surgery is still rampant, and often with frightening results.

The title is tongue-in-cheek. It’s not actually about facelifts in the sense of facelifts; it’s about facelifts in the sense of aging with attitude. Of course with globalization, facelifts are spreading, but Hollywood has to be blamed a lot, especially with young people. It’s frightening. I’m not passing judgment. I’m saying this is a last resort.

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You offer many alternatives in your book for healthy, natural and affordable ways to either slow down or improve aging. Without drastically changing our lifestyles, what is something we can all stand to do better? 

What we eat is very important. Here it is a convenience society – a lot of people don’t cook and even restaurant food is not always the best for you, certainly not on a daily basis. We need to educate chefs about nutrition, but also salt and sugar hide a lot of things, and the food industry knows that – they make you hungry. I had a guest recently who left food in the fridge – she bought bread with 400 grams of sodium in it! Of course, the shelf life is nine months, that’s why there’s so much salt in it.

And now we have all these fad diets here, with juices and cleanses …

These yo-yo diets are all about deprivation, and they kill your metabolism. I’ve seen so many young women write to me and they are going through eating disorders, and when I question them, they’ve been on yo-yo diets. If all these things worked, everyone would be healthy and in good shape, but it’s clearly big business and women fall into the trap every time. If you deprive yourself, you’re going to binge. Your body is going to react and take revenge.

You advocate for certain foods that are particularly good for the face, and even include recipes for them. Can you walk us through those face-friendly food groups?

Things like lemons, honey, oysters, any green vegetables. French women eat a lot of soup, and soups are filling. It’s proven that if you eat soup you eat 20 percent less than what you would normally eat because they are very satisfying. You can have three vegetables and you cook them and you have a great soup. Things like avocado and nuts … people say, "Oh, I don’t eat breakfast."  You know, your brain is dead in the morning. Your brain needs protein, and walnuts and yogurt are two of the best things. Now there are so many no-no’s: no bread, no potatoes. Every meal should have carbs, protein and fat -- every meal -- to have a healthy metabolism.

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You recommend always making some effort to look nice, even if you’re just going around the corner (and you mention that neither you nor Miuccia Prada ever wear blue jeans.)

People always want to know what French style is, and it’s really about being bien dans sa peau, comfortable in your own skin. It has to be effortless and yet with an attitude. It’s very complicated. It sounds like “Oh, French women are very full of contradictions.” Well, actually we are, but we keep influencing fashion, not celebrities. Look at how Americans look to the red carpet, to the Oscars, to see what to wear. And we’re not like that. We look to the street to find our own definition of style. I think the French woman has a love for shock – not in a kind of bling-bling way, but more subtle, more about this is me. I can be romantic while practical. I can be chic while dressing simply. Because we don’t have that many clothes, we learn to be inventive with what we have. We go for quality, not quantity.

And how does that apply to makeup?

Makeup changes as you get older. You have to go for a paler color. If you put a woman of 65 in bright red lipstick it emphasizes all the wrinkles around her mouth. When I was young and went out at night, I used to love to put glittery makeup around my eyes, but now it’s the opposite because it shows all your creases. A lot of it is common sense. You have to be realistic, and not pretend that you’re still 30, because you’re not.

You’re not so fond of gym culture, either.

No, no, no. In France, that’s for hotel guests and expats. Yoga is big in France. Most of my friends on the East Coast are stressed and they all work and have a family, so yoga is a very rewarding activity that is not competitive -- you can do it at home. It’s like walking, you can do it when you want, as much or as little as you want. It’s a very, very easy way to learn how to de-stress and unwind.

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And you say sex is also great for that, but that it’s the one advice book you won’t write!

Well, you know, French women are very private about their lives, especially about their sexual lives. It’s not something that we discuss between girlfriends like the way I’ve heard it here, on the plane or in the train or on the bus or in the office. 

You cite Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren and Catherine Deneueve as inspirational women of a certain age. What are they doing right, exactly? Surely it’s more than just saying no to major plastic surgery?

I think if I had to sum it up, it’s the natural look. Whatever they do is trying to be natural. Now I’m sure some of them have had some minor work. That profession requires it, whether it was some laser work, etc., but they look good and they have good makeup artists. I’ve seen them at parties like when I used to go to the Oscars and they’re stunning, but they’re the real thing.

What’s your next book?

My very favorite food is oysters, and they are the best food for women. Now I talk a little about oysters in the Facelift book, but I just finished the manuscript for a book that’s going to be called Meet Paris Oysters, a small lifestyle book that is going to come out next year. The oyster is the perfect food. It’s a lean protein, no calories, with so many nutrients, from iron to magnesium to potassium. French women eat a lot of oysters, and I see that New York has more and more oyster bars, but still a lot of people are afraid to eat them, and they’re so good for you. 

Any advice for how we can sustain healthy living over the upcoming holidays without overindulging?

We should overindulge. It’s the French way. But use your common sense and pick your indulgences, especially as you get older, because you pay for it the next few days and it’s not worth it. Over-drinking is just not good ever, but after 50 it doesn’t look well on a woman, in the way she looks, the way she feels, for her system, her metabolism. So you make an adjustment. Take two or three things that you want, use a small plate, try to sit down and eat slowly. Everything Americans do is so fast. I was with some people celebrating after Thanksgiving, and we had just started our conversation and their plates were already empty. If you eat that fast you will eat more, because your brain needs 20 minutes, so give your brain a chance to tell you that you’ve had enough. Just use these little tricks to live healthier, to live longer, to live better.

French Women Don't Get Facelifts: The Secret of Aging With Style and Attitude by Mireille Guiliano (Grand Central Publishing, 258 pages, $24.98, Dec. 24)