Vive la difference? US beauty routines versus French ones

Having read a bunch of beauty books recently, I was thinking about the differences between European women and Americans.

When Segolene Royal, the French presidential candidate, was campaigning last year, she had a tooth straightened. There was a furore in the French press. What a very low-rent thing to do, they said. How awfully un-French.

And so it is. Segolene Royal may be drop-dead gorgeous but the French prefer their noses left alone, and their teeth left alone. They prefer a face more individual. They have a sense that what makes a woman sexy is precisely that individuality, and that if nature presents you with a fault, the best thing to do is embrace it. It’s how come you get stars that look as different as Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Doillon, Sandrine Bonnaire and Arletty. A fine figure (ie: thin as a whippet), good posture and a sense of herself is what a French woman requires – it simply isn’t DONE to muck yourself about too much. They consider it naff.

But not so the Americans. Because you CAN, the sense seems to be, you SHOULD. Fuelled by a vastly wealthy plastic surgery industry, the pressure is on for face lifts, brow lifts, boob jobs, blepheroplasty, teeth whitening… The cheek implants on CNN presenters are starting to get positively distracting these days – all the women are turning simian. And re teeth, I don’t know which freaks me out more – the picture-perfect Osmond-like smile (which to me betokens complete insincerity) or the Pamela Anderson type of proudly fake boobs.

Americans make jokes about British teeth but in the UK, the Queen Mother was always celebrated to have kept her own knashers rather than switch to false ones. A bit grey and raggedy so they were, but at least they were real. Meanwhile a French woman who’s born flat-chested stays that way and feels all the more feminine for it – no need to stick a pair of silicon hooters on the front just to prove she’s female. Nor would she opt for a full Brazilian wax (a pederast’s delight, IMHO – I would run ten miles from any man who asked for one). When it comes to the muff, the French just do a bit of a trim and leave it at that.

Perhaps I am getting a skewed impression, but I notice this US/Euro difference constantly when reviewing books. The American tips for a daily makeup are SO much heavier than a European would wear: only a drag queen would wear this much slap over here, even for a special occasion. Nude panty hose are apparently SO last year and since you simply must go bare-legged you owe it to yourself to have sclerotherapy on your varicose veins (or what, exactly? Do your legs drop off? What the hell’s wrong with tights?). It’s suggested you spend 45 minutes styling your hair every morning. I mean, get a life for Christ’s sake – I doubt I spend that much time a month: I just tip my head upside down and waggle a hairdryer about for a bit.

Maybe I am just lazy (actually, there’s no maybe about that). Or maybe I am just too old and cynical. But so much of it strikes me as cobblers.

"There’s nothing I won’t put on my face in the name of beauty," said one American writer proudly in a book I just read. Well that ain’t me. First I want to know it’s not harmful. And then I want to know it’s not tested on animals. And then I want to know how the company treats its workers, and is it guilty of polluting the environment. And then I want to know I’m getting value for money. And then – doh – I want to know how exactly it’s going to make a difference. Frankly there’s a host of things I won’t put on my face in the name of beauty. No wonder my makeup drawer is so pathetic…

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