I’ve never been sexy. I’m clean, well-groomed, and moderately comfortable with my body, but not sexy. Living in the United States until I was 50, sexy just wasn’t a thing for women who drove minivans in the suburbs. We looked put together and attractive, but we left “sexy” to the 20-year-olds and actresses. Besides, I associated being sexy with showing some skin and looking for LUV, and suburban moms don’t typically show much skin and my LUV tank is overflowing, with a husband of 26 years and 3 kids.
Top: Sweet Ice Cream Photography. Above: Sacha Fernandez
Then I moved to Paris, and dang these people are beautiful. No matter their age, Parisians’ clothing fits like a dream, their hair and makeup look effortless, and their posture says they’re very proud of their torsos. Young women wear skinny jeans with tops that drape over their cleavage like Greek statues, middle-aged women wear breezy knee-length sundresses that show their collarbones, and senior citizens look elegant with their silver hair, red lipstick, and heels. They aren’t 20-year-olds or actresses, but they are sexy.
Then I thought, wait a minute. Could I be sexy, too? New to the city and with no minivan dragging me down, I figured anything is possible.
I observed them, and most of the things Parisians were doing seemed pretty easy to accomplish when I broke it down. I began by focusing on the simple things. I started cuffing my sleeves and pants. I got better underwear and red lipstick. I learned how to locate and accentuate my waist. I let a Parisian hairdresser do “something French” with my hair and I got a better skincare routine. My neck became a body part I was proud of. I was feeling good.
But now it’s swimsuit season and I’ve begun to ask myself if I should take sexy to the next step and get a bikini.
In America, the only women that wear bikinis are the super-fit or the super-confident (I am neither), but in Europe bikinis are everywhere!
Wait a minute–if I get a bikini, at age 51, does that make me a cougar?
Not the speedy feline, but the leathery middle-aged woman with a leopard print mini skirt, big sunglasses, poofy bleached hair, and a gleam in her eye?
Let’s be honest-my only leopard print is a pair of flats. My sunglasses are regular sized. I’m pasty white. My hair is still peppery but salt is encroaching, and my eyes only gleam for eclairs. But in Paris all that seems ok, so let’s do this.
My first step towards being bikini ready was to get my legs in shape, starting with the feet, so I got a French medical pedicure.The podiatrist put me in a hybrid dentist-OBGYN chair, and elevated my feet (don’t wear a skirt to your appointment), then got to work with tiny cheese graters and mini scalpels. She scraped and chipped and carved away everything white or crusty or hard, then she clipped my toenails and got rid of the cuticles that I couldn’t see or reach. Healthy feet: check.
The next logical step was to get une pedicure.
Back in California, I went to Pinky’s Nail Salon in a suburban strip mall where a matter-of-fact Vietnamese lady worked my feet over while shrieking with laughter alongside the other manicurists. I always brought my own latte and slumped in a massage chair reading US Weekly and watching Telemundo while soaking my feet in a cauldron of bubbling hot water. She usually made me giggle abruptly while she scrubbed the bottoms of my feet, and her massage sometimes made me inhale sharply when she found a tender knot on the back of my upper calf and decided to obliterate it. Sometimes she held her cellphone between shoulder and ear and yelled at her kids while she painted my nails. It was cozy.
Artem Bali / Joanna Kosinska
In Paris, I couldn’t find any Vietnamese salons, so I chose a pretty spa for women only. It was bright and airy, with flowers and a little glass display case full of baked goods. A beautiful young French woman installed me in a chintz armchair and gave me a glass of cool water with cucumber slices floating in it. She brought a little tub of warm water for my feet, because apparently plumbing is too ugly for this spa, and she sat on a poofy ottoman while she gently and slowly pedicured me. Her massage was quite mild, mostly stroking motions, and I missed the Vietnamese lady and her fingers of pain. Still, it was very civilized and I came out with sexy red toenails.
Next step: le waxing.
Maud Simon / Rune Enstad
Confession: I’ve never had anything south of my chin waxed. I always thought I did an admirable job of shaving my legs, but if I’m going to be trying on bikinis, I’d better give it my all. I scheduled a waxing appointment with a nearby clean and classy spa that had good Yelp reviews. I made an appointment, popped an Advil, and sashayed on down.
I had imagined a middle-aged woman in a smock named Marta doing this job, but my esthetician turned out to be a petite twenty-something named Amandine with swingy hair and heels. She installed me, face down and sans culottes , in a room with a window open to the pedestrian street outside. This meant the people at the sidewalk cafe could hear me if I so much as sniffled. I reminded her that this was my first time waxing Down There, and she smiled and promised to do everything doucement. First, she got what looked like a big bottle of Head and Shoulders with a roller top, and ran it up and down the backs of my legs. On a pain scale of 1 to 10, it was only a 6, so I was feeling pretty positive until she got out the white duct tape. Turns out, the Head and Shoulders bottle contained wax, but she removed the wax with the duct tape. Immediately, the pain level went up to 7. Yes, the strokes were fast, but there were just so many of them. The pain eventually topped out at 8 because my personal pain ranking is 9 for natural childbirth and 10 for cracked nipples.
It took forever. I cursed the misogynistic, greedy, sadistic advertising execs that decided they needed to sell women razors. I cursed my mother’s generation of women that believed them. I cursed the patriarchy. I cursed Amandine (silently, since she had hot wax and tweezers). I cursed myself.
After awhile she flipped me onto my back and repeated the whole process. We discussed swimsuits, while I surreptitiously wiped my eyes on the paper tablecloth. Amandine informed me that bikinis are out, one-pieces are in, and I immediately began to reconsider my options. She told me which stores to try (Galeries Lafayette, Printemps) and which ones to avoid (Dim, Etam, Princess Tam Tam), which was what I had suspected after bra shopping in Paris. I need a swimsuit shop that can contain my mature magnificence, and it’s going to take more than the three teeny triangles I saw in Princess Tam Tam’s window.
After an eternity, she was satisfied with my legs.
We will not speak of what happened next, except to say that I am now completely bikini-ready, and Amandine put me in a few yoga positions I hope to never repeat. She played good cop/bad cop, heartlessly ripping the wax off while shushing and tsking sympathetically.
When it was over, it was over. No more pain. I paid, tipped her, and left.
Philippe Moreau Chevrolet / How Soon Ngu
I walked the walk of shame back home, emotionally and physically exhausted. A few hours later, however, I realized I had legs as slippery as Moray eels and I had better go swimsuit shopping before any time passed.
Maybe I’ll wax again someday in the future, but only after my eyes have stopped watering.
- Read our tips for healthy Parisian living.
- Vogue covers the French bikini wax.
- Allure Magazine writes how getting a bikini wax in Paris can help improve your French.