I could write an article about how to be beautiful – French style. About that elusive je ne sais quoi that we – as distinctly non-French women – clamour to achieve.
I could write about how to be Parisienne: how to style your hair, find the perfect shade of red lipstick for your skin tone, tell you how (not what; there’s a difference) to eat and how to master that untouchable je m’en fous attitude. All in the name of becoming ridiculously, unbearably desirable.
But instead, I’m going to write about something else. Because, guess what? That’s been done a million times before.
I’m going to write about why women are so obsessed with French beauty – and what this tells us about ourselves.
What is French beauty?
It’s so much more than a look. After all; we have celebrity style icons and YouTube tutorials and books written on the topic. But they have no meaning beyond the surface. How do we get a cult following from a fresh face, statement lip and tousled hair?
As the saying goes:
“Beauty without depth is just decoration”.
And mere decoration never stirred anything deep within our hearts.
The ‘cult’ in cultivate;
In a world telling women just what we should be, how we should act, what’s sexy, what’s not; a world where your bare face has your male colleague telling you, oh so sympathetically, “you look tired today” (Actually, you woke up bright eyed at 6 am, went to yoga and then bounced into the day), and two minutes online inevitably leads to a shit-storm of opinions on women’s bodies, French beauty says YOU are amazing just as you are. You just need to learn how to make the most of your unique features.
And it doesn’t require 16 different products and two hours of prep in the morning to get achieve the French look.
Contemporary French chic is sexy – but with almost no effort. It’s cultivated without being overdone; enhancing without hiding. The French girl make-up motto: leave the contouring to Kim K and her disciples (And don’t you want to be able to look at your bare face in the mirror at the end of the day and like what you see?).
Perfection is an illusion not worth the effort of trying and – let face it – failing to achieve. Perfection is boring anyway, and boring isn’t sexy – boring is bland. Bland doesn’t strike deep emotions in our hearts; it doesn’t shake us to our core.
So why should we even try to be perfect, aka. ‘bland’? Highlighter, two inches of concealer, and all of our insecurities about your appearance can go to hell.
Yes, appearances do matter – and the French girl knows this. But not like you think.
Looking in the mirror and loving the shape of your nose, wearing lipstick to emphasise your unique smile, using expensive creams for silky soft, glowing skin to pay tribute to the oh-so-you shape of your face is the very thing that will leave someone (and not everyone – but why would you want to please everyone?) star struck in the street at the sight of you.
For someone raised outside of this personal beauty acceptance, it’s mind-blowing.
You mean, I’m not ugly? I can look like myself and still be attractive?
This revelation is a godly and out-of-this-world, out-of-this-body experience. But for women raised on self-loathing for not looking like a Victoria’s Secret model, it can still be hard to believe. Self-criticism and the need to wear full-coverage foundation is deeply woven into the fabric of our being.
But we should be asking ourselves – why don’t we want to look like ourselves? Why do we want to appeal to the gross beauty standards of a mindless, cotton candy pop-culture Hollywood executive who you’re never going to meet? What’s the point? Where’s the authentic beauty? Who has the most to gain out of us wanting to look like something and someone we’re not? (Hint: it’s not you, it’s industry $$$$)
We know how the French girl dresses. You’ll be drawn to this mysterious girl who seems to shine above the rest; that casual elegance while everyone else is simply trying too hard. Everything she owns is timeless, fits her perfectly, and spoke to something deep in her soul to be expressed in the externals. Impulse purchases are not in her vocabulary.
But we know this already, right? Let’s call it mysterious minimalism – simplicity, with all of the intrigue unadorned beige and white plains are missing; sultry in a way a reality TV star could never (and let’s face it, wouldn’t want to; they never did do a Parisian ‘Jersey Shore’, after all) master. It’s quality over quantity, and quite frankly, in this terrifying world of excessive consumerism and environmental carelessness tearing the very ground we live on apart – the fact that less (possessions, not skimpy clothes – but you do you) can be sexy is a relief.
And, we all know that the quintessential French girl we’re trying to dig up deep within ourselves is sensual. It’s one of these reasons she’s so irresistible. She drinks freshly ground coffee in the morning whether or not the latest study says she should drink it, and takes an evening walk in the sunshine as August falls softly into a golden September and the last of the summer sunshine touches her bare shoulders. Mindful sensuality is a life philosophy: you learn to fall in love, continually, with life’s pleasures while understanding that overindulgence is not a pleasure – it’s your undoing.
So, you see? French beauty is soulful. It’s accepting your unique charm instead of trying to fix it; it’s seeking quality over consumerism and recognising that life itself is an experience. No other aesthetic touches on the void left by the impossible type-A standards we’re held to in our own cultures: that we need to be more, more, more.
Didn’t get up to go to the gym at 5? You failed. Not thicc-thin? Forget about calling yourself sexy. Big nose? Curly hair? Straighten it. Fix it. Don’t you dare call yourself beautiful – that’s for someone else to decide.
You can appropriate this.
Yes, French women are not ethereal beings free from cultural standards of beauty and prejudices for not conforming, etc, etc. And no, not every French women embodies this ideal and is free of insecurities.
French beauty, however, exists as a cultural force of it’s own, reaching beyond the city confines of Paris and into the hearts of women everywhere.
So, instead of damning the fact that we weren’t born in Paris and raised to embody that je ne sais quoi, we can appropriate French chic without being held to any of the standards French women are held to. And in the process, we can cast aside our own culture’s standards and redefining our self-worth, beauty and empowerment.
(The West fucked everyone over anyway, so take what you can and make it your own).
In a world of perpetual want and achievement, French beauty be a return to the abyss; it’s a release; a freedom. We find an acceptance of who we are, how we really look, and that our power is in making the most of the very thing our own cultural beauty standards tell us are unlovable.
So find you’re perfect shade of lipstick, don’t even think about touching your hair, and forget that contouring even exists. You. Are. Beautiful. So learn how to make the most of it.
And let that be a Fuck You to the beauty standards shoved down your throat. Because guess what? Tu t’en fous.
French beauty is powerful. It’s no wonder we’re all so obsessed.
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