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Hepl project

About the Aesthetics of Age in Europe and Russia

Zhanna Agalakova, 55 y.o.
A well-known journalist gave us an exclusive interview
Text version
- We tend to think of the European retiree as someone who travels all the time. Is that true?

- Not all, of course. Everyone has a different income. But in general, yes. The thing is, there's a bit of a different family philosophy here. Here, the children, when they turn 18, usually leave home and start living on their own. While they are students, of course, their parents support them financially, but they have fewer duties and more free time. And if they have managed to save something by that time, they start to spend more on themselves.

- What is the difference between American and European seniors and Russian seniors in general?

Well, I'll say it again: they make family ties differently. And the second thing is that in the West they are not in a hurry to discard old-age people. Many things are meant for people of this age. There are clubs on interests: to mould pots, for example, or to dance a waltz on Fridays. It was realised long time ago that people of 60+ are very perspective audience for the economy: they have savings, they are not yet cooled down and have free time, because the children have grown up and it's not accepted to take on grandchildren. And every business seeks to cater to this audience: "We've got cream for you or elegant and very comfortable shoes, we've got wonderful cruises around the world or, if you like, only as far as Australia..."
And on top of that, society has cultivated the image of a man without age, or more accurately, young at any age. I myself regularly see reviews of various beauty products in glossy magazines. And what is interesting? Here's a page: "Recommended for girls 20+" - depicts a young girl. "30+" - beautiful young woman. "40+" - woman even more beautiful and not a bit older. "50+" - also very good. There's even a page for ladies "60+" - and there's an unusually elegant and attractive woman.
Sometimes it seems to me that in France, women in their 40s and 50s are even more appreciated, they get more attention from men. They know how to present themselves. They have a more subtle sensibility. They have experience in intimate relationships, they know what they want, you can talk to them after sex. And they still look young!

I feel like time has slowed down a bit for us women. We started getting married later, giving birth later. My mother gave birth to me at 24 and I gave birth to my daughter at 36. And grandmothers are becoming grandmothers later now. And they live longer, because we know more about our physiology and how to stay healthy and beautiful.

I remember my mother saying: "Retirement is coming soon, it's so good, I'm so tired". I'm retiring soon too, but the very idea of it makes me laugh. My daughter became a student. She left for another city. I miss her madly, I'm terribly glad when she arrives, but I feel more free and even seem younger. Certainly younger than my mother was at the time.
Photo from personal Instagram account
Photo from personal Instagram account
Photo from personal Instagram account

- In world culture, whether in Asia or Europe, the concept of love is always associated with a young girl, with blush and long hair. And death is always a crooked old woman with a hooked nose. How does world culture respond to the fact that the attitude towards old age is changing? Perhaps the time is not far off when they'll invent a pill for longevity and women will not be 65+, but 125+. You attend various couture shows, how do they respond to that?

- It seems to me that these two characters, the old woman and the young maiden, can switch places. The mature woman in love, Fanny Ardant's character, is love, and death is a young maiden dressed in black clothes with pink bows, drugged up...

And fashion... Here's a life story for you. I was recently in Milan for a fashion show. I went into one of the shops and immediately noticed one lady. She was in her 70s, maybe even in her 80s. She was very stylishly dressed. These Milanese women know how to wear clothes. I love looking at them. So this lady walks in - manicure, heels - everything's perfect. Wearing a mask, of course. And she says, "I'm as pale as a moth now - I can't see my lipstick from behind the mask, nor my blush. Give me something brighter. I've got to save the situation somehow". And she takes something fancy to try on.

Jane Fonda has always been an example of mature beauty to me. She has an incredible life and looks amazing in her 80s. She has a girlish waist and all the wrinkles are still there. Her face is lively and natural. I've seen her a few times and even had a chance to chat. I said, "How do you do it?! How do you do it!?" She replies: "Nothing complicated. You need three things: genetics, the right way of life and... a lot of money!"
Жанна Агалакова - Париж -Франция
Жанна Агалакова - Париж -Франция -правильное питание
- That's great! But I want to point out that you were just doing a report on Konchalovsky's premiere: the film "Sin". There, as we know, the lady with the ermine was originally 17 years old, and here Konchalovsky's wife Yulia Vysotskaya is starring in the role of the lady with the ermine. She is, so to speak, no longer 17 years old. What do you think of that?

- Well, it's not a live copy of the painting, but such a paraphrase. Why not? Why can't a beautiful but not 17-year-old actress just grace the stage? You can't reduce a woman's essence to a function - either beautiful and young or a nursing and tired mother or an old grandmother. I think feminism has long since expanded roles. It has brought some wonderful new colours to it.

- How is it with famous French beauties and actresses: Catherine Deneuve and so on. How are they coping with the transformation?

- Better, of course, to ask them. But I have heard the saying: "Catherine Deneuve's face is always at work, like the streets of Paris". She works on herself a lot, and she's doing quite well, by the way. Unlike, say, Nicole Kidman, who, it seems to me, has already crossed the line.

- Here's another one of our locals, but she's been living in London for a long time now. Anna Radchenko, a contemporary artist, made a photo project called "GRANDmothers". According to the idea, the project shows an alternative future where, thanks to medical progress, it is possible to get pregnant at an advanced age. "What if my girlfriends and I decided to have children only after 60?" That's the question the photographer asked herself. It should be noted that she received a lot of negative feedback. She was completely misunderstood. I don't know how it is in Italy. In Russia she was completely misunderstood. What do you think of this project?

- It's a provocative one, of course... Would I want to be a mother at 65? I doubt it. Still, you have to breastfeed the child and, even when released from the nest, make sure the chick flies in the right direction and lands correctly. Will you have the strength to do it in 85? I'm not sure. I think maybe it's the desire to become a grandmother? I, for instance, already want to be a grandmother. I want to cradle my little baby in my arms, hold a tiny hand in my hand, rub it, sing songs. I realise that I want to be a grandmother, but not a mother.

- There is one additional insight. We recently posted a couple of stories at Age Aesthetics. One woman gave birth to a child in her 60s to her gay son and his partner. She acted as a surrogate mother. And a second point, also such a grandmother, a mother heroine. She gave her daughter a daughter. That is, perhaps, Radchenko (I do not undertake to interpret it) has such another meaning. That the new generation - not everyone has the opportunity to give birth to a child. The old generation, already mature, helps their children.

- I think it's a noble idea. I would support this mom.
Жанна Агалакова - Париж -Франция - кошка
Жанна Агалакова - Париж -Франция -правильное питание - возраст
- One tiny detail. Our audience was divided into two parts. One part said: "Oh, great!" But it was a smaller part, 20%. "What great women!" The other part said: "What is this?! This grandmother is crazy." That was the majority of people, 80 per cent were against it. Apparently Russian society is not yet fully ready. But we are moving rapidly.

- I once wrote a story about a mother (in America) who gave birth at the age of 60. When I interviewed her, her son was already 7 years old. And she showed me the mountains of pills she had to take every day to feel just normal. Pregnancy had ruined her physical strength. She didn't look well. Would she be healthy enough to attend her son's graduation in ten years' time? Would he be able to study normally if his mother required special care? The story of a mother carrying a child to her own son or daughter is different, though. I see her as sacrificing herself for her child. And it's a beautiful act of self-sacrifice.

- You post pictures of yourself to Instagram without retouching...

- I only have one photo without any make-up at all. And it was taken on holiday, when I had already had a good night's sleep and a bit of a tan. It's my little protest. You see so many unhappy faces. Somewhere too pumped up, something ridiculously drawn. And some are retouched with a photofilter on top. It's as if the man is afraid of himself. If my example has helped someone to look at themselves differently, to accept, I would be very happy. It was made out of these considerations. By the way, I received a lot of positive feedback. People reacted very well to it. Some, of course, wrote: "My God, what a horror". It made me laugh. When you live to be my age, we'll see.

- What about our television? Our television seems to support ageism. Especially as far as women are concerned. Why do you think our Russian television is like this? Why does it have such a hard, incredibly squeaky, rumbling way of allowing women who are substandard looking: chubby, not as pretty as they wanted. Why is it so difficult? Why do you have to be incredibly beautiful and have a perfect body?

- You know, I think it's not a problem of television, it's a problem of the society that has experienced trauma in its time. A very big one. The Soviet Union came to an end, the dashing 90s, the period of wild capitalism, began. Rich people appeared overnight. Usually men, who suddenly had the opportunity to choose anything they wanted from the female community, despite their own appearance and intellectual background. And women with screaming sexuality entered the market: naked legs, pumped-up lips and breasts. In hungry times this became a commodity. And in a sense, a social lift. I think it was a huge trauma to society. Because a whole cross-section of the female, the human was cut off. This trauma, this notch, remains to this day; we are still experiencing it. In our society the woman is a commodity. Look at the show "Let's get married". They even pumped one of the participants' lips during the show. I can't imagine such a programme here in France. TV hosts here don't get Botox. Practically no one.

I'm by no means against Botox, but I think it should discreetly correct imperfections, not make a doll out of a woman. Television is oriented towards the demands of society. There has been a trauma in society: only the young and the beautiful survive. So only they have the right to exist. This is wrong.
Жанна Агалакова - естественная красоты - красота возраста
Жанна Агалакова - естественная красоты - красота возраста
- Which women or men are you really interested in following? How do they live, how do they grow old? How do they have grandchildren? Except for Jane Fonda.

- I have long had a great liking for Inès de la Fressange. She is a former model and consultant for the Roger Vivier shoe house. She has her own clothing line and occasionally designs a collection for a very popular brand. She is in her 60s. (63 years old, born in 1957 - editor's note), and she's not afraid of getting old at all. She just does it with glamour. Cultivating beautiful wrinkles. I mean, they're very different, wrinkles. There are happy wrinkles, there are sad wrinkles - it's right here (points to forehead). It is better to do without them. And the wrinkles of happiness are the wrinkles of smiling. These caterpillar feet at the eyes. You have to take care of them. And these women, Jane and Inez, they're not afraid of those wrinkles. That's an example to me. I love my wrinkles. I have them. Right here, right here. They're wrinkles of happiness.

- Aren't you going to deal with them?

- No, I love them. By the way, I remember now: I was 19 years old, I looked in the mirror and thought, "Will I ever get wrinkles?" Ten years have passed. I'm 29, I look in the mirror and I'm like, "Okay! Wait a minute! What is that? Is that me? Where did that come from?" It took me another 10 years to say, "Damn, there's something in that." I was living in France at the time. And I didn't get as much attention in my 20s as I did in those 39 in Paris. It's a very different attitude to a mature woman here. She's appreciated, she's loved. I wish it were like that in our country.

- Zhanna, how has your self-perception changed after 45 and 50 years? We already know about 39.

- At 39, there was still a lot of doubt. And after 45, it's the golden age: a lot of internal barriers are gone. You can still do so much and already know so much. I wouldn't want to go back to my 20s or 30s. I feel very good now. It would have been hard to understand in my 30s. "Someday at 50 I will feel good." I would say: "Hmm, well, that's such a sweet shell for a bitter pill." Hell no! It's true. It works.

- And how old are you now?

- I will be 55.

- By the way, is it okay to ask a woman her age in France?

- I have never heard such a question. It seems to me that the people I talk to here estimate age by the sparkle in the eyes. If it's there, you're young, whatever the numbers in your passport.
- Zhanna, now that we are getting to the question of retirement. Please tell me, do you plan to receive your pension in Russia or in France?

- I am not a French citizen. And, of course, I count on a Russian pension payouts, however small they may be. As a friend of mine used to say: "I can find money for caviar, I need money for bread".

- Zhanna, here's a question, if I may be too cheeky: "Still, when you're 90, what country would you like to live in and are you already planning to?"

- At 90 I would like to live in a place where the elderly are respected, where there is social justice, and where the urban environment (I am, after all, an urban dweller) matches my idea of a beautiful and clean city. I would like to live in a country where the roadsides are not littered with rubbish, where nature is respected, where people are polite and cooperative. And even the climate is not that important to me. Because we can all travel. I hope it will be Russia.

- What do you use in your grooming routine? You look beautiful. I think our women would be interested in your secrets.

- I think the first two points from Jane Fonda are working out great for me: I have good genetics, my mother also looked young for a very long time. And I live a healthy lifestyle. And I rarely go to the beauty therapist. Last time was a few months ago. And I have a fairly short list of treatments at home: cream in the morning and evening, and skin cleansing. And I also practice my inner tuning fork. It's hard to explain in words, you have to feel: "Do you feel better today with this cream or this cream?" Because I usually have two or four creams on my shelf. And I change them every day based on that feeling. More recently, I like to put a mixture of avocado oil and coconut oil in my face cream. I love different masks. I love the sauna. That's it. And I'm dying to try, but I can't seem to get my hands on the various professional treatments that make my skin glossy, glowing. I'll probably be super cool then.

- How do you cleanse your skin?

I have micellar water. It's a great product. I try not to wash my face with water.
Жанна Агалакова - Париж -Франция - красота возраста
- And another question about sports. Do you do any sports? And maybe do some face-fitness exercises?

- I recently started doing facial exercises. And I can see that the results are great. Although I don't spend half an hour a day on it, as recommended, but 3 minutes, sometimes 10. But I do it regularly. The oval of my face is something that gives away my age. There are a lot of exercises for that part. And you know, it works, girls, do it!

- Can you show me some, literally just a little, exercise?

- You take a teaspoon, clasp it in your lips and rock it up and down. It's a wonderful exercise. You lift your head up and pretend to kiss a cloud in the sky. Or you turn your head to the right and upwards 45 degrees and make the "Y" sound. Then do the same on the left side. It is very important that this line is marked (showing) during the exercise. When the facial oval sinks, this line disappears. And these "Ys", these cloud kisses, the spoon in your mouth - it's great. And you can also try to reach your nose with your tongue. That's also a great exercise. I do these three or four exercises. That's enough for me for now.
    - Now, the main thing is to move from your advice to action. This is the hardest part.

    - Look, time is a jar, it's empty, you fill it with different things. You can put one big stone in that jar, another, a third. You think there is no more room. Try pouring pebbles, and now sand, it fills in the voids. And then pour more water. Find something else to put in that jar.
    I'm watching the news, for instance, and I have a spoon in my mouth and I'm doing exercises. Or I do yoga - I stretch my arms and legs, or I stand in a bar or try to be in motion at a time when basically everyone is static. There is always free time. And yes, you have to smile. Firstly it tones you up and secondly it gives you a twinkle in your eye. Youth is energy, a sparkle in the eyes, not a flawlessly smooth forehead, pumped up breasts or ass. A twinkle in the eye.

    - Thank you so much!

    - You have a wonderful project. I enjoyed watching it. It's great that you started it. Good luck!
    Жанна Агалакова - Париж -Франция - красота возраста
    Жанна Агалакова - Париж -Франция - красота возраста - дочь Жанны Агалаковой

    Photos taken from personal Instagram account