Jane Birkin: "My beauty...it's gone"

A friend recently asked me to explain this thing I have about Jane Birkin; this is not about her early, willowy, gamine beauty. It is Jane from mid-life on.

A list includes: survival, artistic expression, humanitarian contribution, forthrightness, a realistic level of modesty. She refused the Légion d'honneur, saying the honour should not be given to mere entertainers, but to "real heros", such as her father, David, who received it in 1985 for his wartime work with the French Resistance.

A friend who met her in Paris calls her "sane, very warm, and grateful to others."

She refuses to be, in terms of her appearance, hyper-supported, a term my friend Dorothy uses to describe the strenuously-preserved facade of not only celebrities, but those determined to cling to their past, or a facsimile. When Birkin turned 70, just over a year ago, The Daily Mail ran a comparison between her and Cher, who inhabits some surreal planet beyond hyper-supported.

You can see her age in Birkin's face and body. She wears a uniform—jeans or trousers and cashmere jerseys or tees—except for evening and the occasional photo shoot. No one says "Jane Birkin is wearing that again", though not all women would want to borrow it.

Photo: Smythson "Traveling with..." series

She keeps her chestnut hair colour, loves fragrance (made for her, by Miller Harris), takes calcium supplements. I see any number of women who have chosen that simple, grounded approach, regardless of the exact pieces; they have found what provides ease and pleasure.

Jane Birkin, 2017

Reader Susan D. kindly contacted me to say that while at the hairdressers, she had read a piece about Jane in the February Harper's Bazaar. Within a half-hour, I beetled to the newsstand to buy a copy, but instead stood on the spot and read it. It was not worth buying the issue; it cost nearly $15, with the first thirty-some pages filled by ads and less editorial content than on a cereal box. (Shouldn't they be paying us?)

I found the interview online (a two-minute read) so am pleased to share the link.

I shop with WWJD? as my mantra: What Would Jane Do? Speaking of mourning the loss of her beauty, she notes, "I've adjusted my thinking a bit since then...the essential thing I think, now, is a sense of humour."

And yet, she must carry her history's burden, as well as its joys (in her Birkin?) In a New York Times article, published shortly before her performance tonight at Carnegie Hall, the paper ran but one current photo, and five of the young Jane with Serge Gainsbourg. Disappointing display of ageism from the paper known as "The Gray Lady".


Thank you for sharing the link for the article. I enjoyed reading it and Jane makes some really astute observations on aging...sounds like she is comfortable in her own skin. Isn’t that how we should all be by now?
There are some things that I would like to improve about my physical appearance but don’t really want to invest the time, money and effort...I much prefer looking at other things in life than going off on a self improvement tangent. I must be either accepting my looks as they are or completely letting myself go!!!
It’s liberating
I want that confidence to be myself - what a delightful role model. And you're right about the magazine - if you paid a lot of money for an interview that can be read in less than a minute, you'd kick yourself!

And OH the idea of a uniform... I wish to embrace that too. So much to think about from so few words. Thanks for sharing with us all.

Pondside said…
Thank you for the link to the interview. It is rare to read an interview, with a woman of my age, that doesn't at some point fall on the old cliches about beauty. Jane is who she is at this age. Period. Love it!
materfamilias said…
I so enjoyed reading both these interviews/articles -- Thanks for the link. I loved the photo Alyson Walsh posted of her the other day on IG. Such an inspiring, casual yet distinctive look -- as you say, not everyone can pull this off, but we can aspire to find our own look and be confident in it -- perhaps more importantly, we can aspire to put our looks in perspective, to allow the rest of our life to assume its balance, as Birkin seems to have done.
Susan B said…
Fabulous interview, thanks for sharing it. I love her ease, and acceptance of who she is today. And I love her style too, so relaxed and un-fussy. She wears it well.
While I agree that "ageing is ok, as long as you remain beautiful" is terribly prescriptive - and ageist - she is displaying some lovely British self-deprecation. A quick glance at photos of both her parents indicates that she has some rather outstanding genes. I love uniform, and her style, but it doesn't work for everyone.

Elisa! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HmGa2AigJA
Susan said…
I am not nearly as well versed about Jane Birkin as you are Duchesse. In fact, I never knew about her at all--until I read about her on your blog. At first I wondered, "what is all the fuss about?" She looked to me to be a fairly average looking middle aged woman. But then I started reading about her and I began to understand. As a woman who also believes that her beauty is gone, it is good to read the words and thoughts of others and to understand that for women, it is not all about beauty--not matter what you read and see around you.
LauraH said…
I enjoyed hearing her own words rather than an 'about' article.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: You might enjoy the doc "Jane Birkin: The Mother of All Babes", in which both her parents are seen:

LauraH: Kind of, but there is a byline for an 'as told to' writer.

Susan: In your reading, you have no doubt seen that Birkin is appreciated in France, especially and it has been fun to see a number of Millennials discover and embrace her breezy, informal style.

If you have not read, I find the book "Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change" by Vivian Diller PhD.and Michele Willens worthwhile; you can get used copies on Amazon- and of course the classic and excellent "The Beauty Myth" by Naomi Wolf.
Madame Là-bas said…
It's wonderful that Jane Birkin has aged as herself.Confident but natural. A self-acceptance that we can aspire to. I enjoyed the links but found the idea of 30-year olds getting botox quite mystifying.
Barbara said…
I'm also a huge fan of Jane Birkin, so I frequently browse through the Internet for new pics.
I admire her for showing up at the Film Festival Cannes in 2017. Due to health issues she appeared a bit round, especially her face. How mean from the Media to name her as "almost unrecognizable".
Not sure, how many celebrities would have had Birkin's courage.

I dress myself in a very similar style, Cashmere and Jeans in winter, T-shirt an Jeans in summer. Except I don't shop at Hermès ;-)
Duchesse said…
Barbara Schieran: I read in more than one publication that she was treated for leukaemia. Jane's 'uniform' adapts well to various price points.

Oh, I do love Jane and am happy to see her looking more like herself - just older and a bit plumper. In the last photos you showed it looked like some kind of water-retaining medication, and I was worried about her.

I've been very busy working, so haven't found the time to view her entire documentary. One client said very lovely things about me - "a writer, not just a translator".

I love that style but it is not ideal on small plumpish women. I lost a fair bit of weight recently so I'm very happy in my jeans, but I also look good in skirts, worn in boho style with tights or leggings. (Welcome) weight loss or not, I still have a bum. Indeed, I found two very nice jeans from Reitmans (low to medium chain - I hate their synthetic-heavy tops but am very happy with their jeans, though they won't last as long as those with almost no lycra). They were described as "petite leggings", which brings to mind the horror of jeggings, and they are nothing like that. Just jeans narrow in the hem, and as I didn't buy them small,not clingy at all.

The way the female body is put far more on display than the male in that doc is upsetting now. But what I've viewed of the documentary does explain how Jane could be so taken by Serge, who got so toxic towards the end of his life.

Jane is also very serious about being a humanitarian - unlike many entertainers, it isn't a pose - and in showcasing musicians from the world over. Who knows, perhaps I'll meet her some day over coffee or tea. I have met Danielle Mitterand... at la Maison de l'Amérique latine.
in progress... said…
I smiled inwardly at seeing the mantra 'WWJD' because I hadn't seen it before and it is, from time to time, What I Do.

I came late to the Empty Nest Syndrome.

I had my first daughter 3 days after my 21st birthday & imagined that when she'd flown the coop that I'd still be a fit 40 with my whole life in front for me!

After divorcing & spending 8 happy single years, for some inexplicable reason I remarried, at 35. 3 more daughters somehow appeared when I was 38, 41 & 43.

My knack was enjoying raising my daughters, alone. What I didn't have was the knack of choosing good husbands.

My 'career' took second place & I thought I'd NEVER be one of those women who lost their identity, but I did.
That's why I look to Jane. Jane who has kept her identity, in spades! She is my go-to person when I need inspiration from a peer. Who else is there? Someone who faces life As It Is and moves onwards with grace & quiet confidence. Someone who truly appears comfortable in their own skin, as nature intended.

Is there a woman or man who does it better?

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