I could not have looked more casual. A pair of cut-off denim shorts, a spaghetti strap vest, old sandals — and not a scrap of make-up.
I was with my mum, too, browsing the village market near my home in rural France.
Yet I heard it distinctly — the word ‘belle’, uttered by a group of market traders huddled together around a table tucking into their petit-déj of red wine, baguette and cheese.
All, in unison, looked approvingly in my direction, nodded and smiled with more than a hint of flirtation.
I’m the writer who went viral when, at the age of 41 in 2012, I wrote about how women were jealous of my good looks.
Barefaced: At 52, Samantha Brick is more attractive to men than even — and often without any help from cosmetics
But what I’ve discovered since then might be rather more encouraging to the midlife sisterhood. For I believe it is in her 50s that a woman is in her absolute prime.
Or that certainly seems to be the case for me. Now 52, I’ve discovered I’m more attractive to men than ever — and often without any artificial help at all.
Indeed, I now reckon that my skin, bone structure and, yes, overall physical allure has held up so well, I barely need input from any part of the beauty industry.
Wise people say you never stop learning. Last year, I realised that the world still falls at my feet, even when I face it sans maquillage.
And let’s face it, why would you wear make‑up when you look like this?
I take comfort in the words of Coco Chanel, who once said: ‘Nature gives you the face you have at 20. Life shapes the face you have at 30. But at 50 you get the face you deserve.’
Well, it turns out that little old me has led a pretty virtuous life, then, doesn’t it? And plenty of other women feel the same way (though not always with such obvious justification).
Last week, Gwyneth Paltrow was photographed leaving a fancy Hollywood restaurant make-up free. Did she look a sight or, actually, really rather beautiful? Of course, it was the latter.
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow was photographed leaving a fancy Hollywood restaurant make-up free
At 50, her complexion is just as peachy as it was when she collected an Oscar for Shakespeare In Love aged just 26.
Clearly, Gwyneth feels comfortable enough in her psyche as well as her skin to be able to eschew cosmetics. Just like me.
And, yes, I know she is no stranger to tweakments and mind-blowingly expensive creams and serums, but while I don’t use Botox or fillers, or any of the other fancy treatments on the market, I’d say the same to Gwyneth as to any other woman: ‘You do you.’
At least Gwynnie is practising what she preaches. In July she told British Vogue: ‘As women, we want to be healthy, we want to be ageing. This idea that we’re supposed to be frozen in time is so weird . . . I think we want to be setting examples of how you can age.
‘Some women want to address every single thing aesthetically, and some women want to be a fabulous French grandmother who doesn’t ever do anything [beauty-wise].’
Much as I love her, I do wonder whether Gwyneth has ever met a French grandmother. I can assure you they’re pretty damn hot.
The idea that we’re supposed to be frozen in time is so weird
Technically, I am one — a French (step) grandmother with an eight-year-old granddaughter. And, yes, I have been mistaken for her mother.
Even when I’m called ‘mamie’ (grandma), I really don’t take it as an insult or an exhortation to give up and fade into the background.
Going au naturelle is, for me, about standing loud and proud in the spotlight, saying: ‘This is me and, quite frankly, j’adore who I am.’
Yes, you need confidence to pull off going out without make-up, but that’s only because it’s so rare. Which is why I’m on a mission to normalise it.
Each morning, when I’m getting ready for the new day ahead and the numerous Zoom meetings I usually have lined up, I lather my face over my bathroom sink with whatever soap comes to hand.
Right now it’s a block of lavender-scented Savon de Marseille, the olive oil staple in most French homes.
The routine is the same 60-second one I’ve followed for the last 12 months: I massage my temples, then stroke my neck with gentle upward movements before vigorously rinsing the soap off with water at an icy temperature.
I pat it dry with a clean hand towel before applying some sunscreen.
Samantha Brick pictured in 2012 when she published the feature ‘Why do women hate me for being beautiful?’
A glance in the mirror confirms just how fabulously healthy and fresh I look — glowing is often a word that springs to mind —– and with that I head off to get on with my day.
Whisper it, because the beauty industry would recoil in horror, but that is the absolute extent of my ‘regime’.
I take pride in the fact that I’m doubtless quicker than most chaps at getting ready these days.
Because I’ve also given up on pricey serums and complicated-sounding corrective creams. I no longer root around in my make-up bag for brushes or eyelash wands, I don’t dither over lipstick shades and I simply don’t need a blemish or beauty balm.
I’m not the only woman saying no to the hours (and hours) wasted in front of the mirror getting ready.
Oscar-winner Frances McDormand, 66, is a radical make-up refusenik, and a personal heroine of mine, but women in their 50s are getting more comfortable with the no cosmetics look, too.
Step forward Halle Berry, 57, and Jennifer Lopez, 54, who often post photos on their social media accounts without make-up.
TV presenter Julia Bradbury, 53, happily shares her cosmetics- free face on Instagram, alongside stories of everyday life as a working mum. She looks fantastic.
Counter-intuitive as it sounds, it’s actually better for a woman’s self-confidence to go without make-up.
A 2016 study presented at the American Psychological Association asked women to look at themselves in the mirror daily for two weeks barefaced.
Over time, they became more self-confident and ‘self-compassionate’, while their overall levels of ‘discomfort’ and ‘stress’ also dropped.
Another study found that women who reported wearing make-up less frequently tended to have higher social confidence, emotional stability and self-esteem.
Sophia Parvizi-Wayne, founder and CEO of Kanjo, a family health app, believes a woman’s brain actually changes when she isn’t obsessing over make-up or other beauty products:
‘When you choose to free yourself from the expectation that you need to conform and wear make-up, it’s very liberating and it frees up your mind to focus on other things besides our appearance.
Going viral: Samantha’s original feature in 2012
‘Yet it isn’t easy to do this because in popular media, on social media and in advertising, women are rarely not wearing make-up.’
I cringe when I recall my late teens and 20s — an era best described as ‘more is more’ when it came to make-up.
When I was a student, Rimmel ruled my bathroom. As I got older and started to earn a decent salary, I spent hours poring over beauty counters in Harvey Nichols and Selfridges.
You could never ever leave such establishments with only one item — I always came away with an armful of cleansers, toners and moisturisers, to be used in a complicated combination as advised by the all-powerful make‑up assistants.
As the years went on, this three-step routine got even more complex (and costly), with serums and skin peels and odd-sounding products with acid in their title.
As a vegetarian, when it came to make-up, I’d veer towards the cruelty-free (but pricey) MAC counter. Even today, I still have make-up bags full of their stuff.
Like most of my girlfriends, for a while I was completely dazzled by what was pushed at us.
Anti-ageing was the buzzword of the day, and if our generation (Generation X) were the first not to let things drop south or wrinkle, then that could only be a good thing — right?
Fortunately for my sanity, vanity and bank balance, I left the UK in 2008 before the influence of the Kardashians hit British shores.
My move to rural France meant that tattooed caterpillar eyebrows, ridiculous nail gel and Love Island lips were just not on my radar.
It was pointless even giving contouring a go — who was there to appreciate it? The cows in the field opposite?
Many of my ex-pat friends here are a bit older than me. Some do ‘do’ make-up, but the majority don’t. I’ve been able to look to this moneyed sisterhood (many of whom are baby-boomers) for advice on how to age correctly.
Yes, like Gwyneth, everyone attends to things such as upper lip hairs and monobrows. But, no, they are not slaves to the ‘no make-up make-up’ look, as you might be forgiven for thinking.
Temperatures in south-west France where I live are far too hot for it: foundation just slides down your face.
But for me, the final nail in the beauty industry’s coffin came last October while on holiday in Spain.
As I was unpacking, I realised I’d forgotten my make-up bag — already a reflection of how far it had slipped down my list of priorities.
In the past I’d have dashed out to replace some of the essentials. Instead, I didn’t bother — and it was a complete revelation.
Time off was time out from painting it all on, then taking it all off. When it was time for dinner, I got changed and . . . went to dinner. Just like my husband. It was joyous not to have to bother.
This is me and, quite frankly, j’adore who I am
Girls, in 2023, do we really need to spend hours waiting for each layer to dry or do its thing? Even if you fit in a few squats and lunges while you’re at it, what’s the point and who are you trying to please?
While therapist Sally Baker applauds my outlook, she suspects that women such as myself are still outliers.
‘Yes, it’s liberating, especially when you’re one of those with a genetic advantage,’ she says.
‘Sadly, it’s rare for a woman to feel this way, because in cities there is so much more pressure on women to conform. Right now, conforming means make-up; it means Botox; it means fancy nails.’
When I returned home from my holiday, I took stock of my complexion and my physique. I looked good. In fact, I looked better than I did with make-up.
What’s my secret? I suspect it’s simply a healthy lifestyle and good genes.
I embraced the mantra ‘berries before Botox’ a long time ago — my diet is mostly a plant-based, Mediterranean one — and I’m in bed by 10pm for an eight-hour sleep.
While I do take some minerals and vitamins, I’ve sailed through the menopause without needing HRT.
I practise yoga daily and I meditate. I live in the countryside, so walks in nature have been my go-to for a long time.
Nowadays, with six dogs and a smallholding to run, I’m on my feet and active all day long.
But as those roguish Frenchmen at the market instinctively realised, though I’m now make-up-free, I have no intention at all of fading into the background.
Indeed, when I look in the mirror, I find my reflection quite captivating.
I’m fascinated by how that twinkling woman staring back is going to age. Very well, I suspect.