La Parisienne, by Barbara Redmond

Barbara Redmond

By Bénédicte Mahé

(French) The relationship Americans have with beauty is very different from that of the French. It is difficult to explain why, so let’s try to figure it out (in keeping with my other pieces, this article will be highly subjective and does not apply to the opinion of every single French person).

First of all, I feel that these days, French teenagers put on makeup at an earlier age than when I was a teenager (is it because I turned 25 that I feel this way, or am I influenced by Paris?). The root of the issue may be found in TV shows or the internet where you can find tons of makeup tutorials. When I was a teenager, I did not wear makeup until I was in high school (again, subjectivity: my mum did not want me to wear makeup to school). I also remember that everyone in middle school and high school had a client card from Yves Rocher (a beauty firm from Brittany that makes affordable products). As an American TV show junkie, I was amazed at how perfect girls looked: the hair, the makeup… Then, with my friends we would always say “well, it’s a TV show so of course they look perfect. They have a team working on them right before a scene.”

But when I arrived in America to attend high school for a year, I found that girls all used a lot of makeup and had perfect hair and white teeth. Yet, some of them were wearing pajama pants or sport pants or ugly sneakers with a pair of jeans. You cannot even begin to understand how confused and shocked I was! In France, I believe we prefer to be well dressed and care less about having perfect white teeth or straight hair. I returned to France full of American beauty knowledge and a complete makeup box I had received for Christmas, and bought hair straightening product right away. Paradox? However, I soon dropped the idea of getting my teeth whitened because I love drinking tea too much.

Beauty in America is much more open to everything than it is in France. We seriously believe that in America you are in the land of Botox and that Beauty Is Everything. Yesterday, I was watching a television episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Yes, I know. It is garbage. But at least it is not Jersey Shore (#poorexcuse), in which one of the women said she is not surprised by any matter of beauty and health in Beverly Hills: “if you can inject it in your body, they’ll do it.” Plastic surgery in France remains very taboo. If a French girlfriend of mine whitens her teeth, I would seriously consider her very superficial. I have my own clichés regarding American people, but I was equally confronted by a lot of clichés towards French people. For example, the general belief is that French women do not shave. I guess it is partially true, but only because we prefer waxing or depilating. And we wash our hair every two or three days because we know it damages your hair to wash it every day.

So the beauty routine of a French person is quicker than that of an American. (Again, these are broad assumptions that do not apply to everybody.) I lived it. I guess the reason would be: less makeup, less hair time. Right now, in France, products you buy in pharmaceutical and para-pharmaceutical stores are the go-to for your face and body. They are healthier, more gentle and better fitted to your skin. However, for makeup, luxury brands remain a must. Every woman has her favorite products and I think French women are very keen on lipstick (not lip gloss!) and mascara. Only one rule predominates (and I guess it is the same in whichever country you live): always remove your makeup before you go to bed to allow your skin to breathe.

I have not yet found my perfect face-cleaning ritual, so I tend to try different products. I used to think I should have two different routines; one in the morning and one in the evening, but my dermatologist told me if my morning routine cleans and fits my skin, then there is no need for something different in the evening. So right now I put some micelle water on cotton and wash my face with it, then rinse with some mineral water in a spray bottle (the water in Paris is horrible for your skin). Then I put on my day cream. I do not use foundation, except as a concealer.

For my makeup (if I go to work or meet some friends), I put some mineral powder (bronzing powder during the summer), then a mineral eye-shadow, a line of kohl on the upper lid, mascara and blush. Before leaving my house I apply some Chapstick, but lately I have been really into the Chubby sticks by Clinique. For dinners I generally keep my day makeup and only add some red lipstick (Rouge pur couture n°1, Yves Saint-Laurent). If I have a party, I will work more on my foundation and on the eye-shadow (smoky eyes etc.) and wear my red lipstick. Wow. Now that that is written, I feel like I do wear a lot of makeup! I feel the need to add that I generally do not wear makeup during the weekend or if I wear my glasses.

I was asked if there was a French woman who embodies beauty right now. After doing some research, I could not decide on only one. To be a French beauty, a woman should not have had any plastic surgery, which, as I wrote above, is difficult to know. But when I am thinking of French beauties, I cannot separate them from their personalities or careers: they need to have this “je-ne-quoi.”Inès de la Fressange (the incarnation of a Parisian), Karin Viard, Sophie Marceau (I should have added La Boum, in (my piece on must-see French films!), Valérie Lemercier, Carole Bouquet, Daphné Roulier, Laetitia Casta, Virginie Ledoyen, Karine Le Marchand, Anna Mouglalis, Marie Drucker, Louise Bourgoin, Lou Doillon, Jenifer… There are plenty!

I think our consumer society made beauty and perfection into concepts way too predominant in our everyday lives (think Photoshop!). Makeup or cosmetic surgeries are not the miracle solution if you do not feel good in your head.

To delve deeper into the subject:

Beauty Resources:

– Cheapest pharmacie/parapharmacie in Paris: Pharmacie Monge (74 rue Monge, 75005), Pharmacie des Archives (2 rue des Archives, 75004)

– Beauty supplies/makeup – generally cheaper in the USA even French brands (buy your O.P.I. or Essie nail polishes in America!): Sephora, Marionnaud, Beauty Success or Le Bon Marché if you want to treat yourself (and I love MAC too)

– Beauty parlor: Yves Rocher (cheaper but never forget to check the prices of your local beautician first!), Hapsatou Sy

– French beauty blog:

Enough about me. What is your approach to beauty? Do you have any suggestions? Send us your comments!

P.S. A little secret: French manicure is not French at all!

Vocabulary: French to English translations

Balayage: Highlight.
Brillant à lèvres: Lip gloss.
Correcteur: (anticernes) Concealer.
Coupe: Haircut.
Crayon à lèvres: Lip liner.
Crayon à sourcils: Eyebrow pencil.
Crayon khôl: Kohl pencil.
Eyeliner: Eyeliner pencil.
Fard à joues: Blush.
Grosgrain: Silk or silk like fabric with crosswise ribs.
Mascara: Mascara.
Mise en pli: Hair set.
Ombre à paupières: Eye shadow.
Parisienne: Female native or resident of Paris.
Pose de vernis: Nail polish application.
Poudre: Powder.
Rouge à lèvres: Lipstick.
Shampooing-brushing: Shampoo/blow dry.
Vernis à ongles: Nail polish.

Bénédicte Mahé photo - cropped DuplicateBénédicte Mahé has studied abroad many times, speaks four languages and earned a Master of Management of cultural goods and activities, as well as a Master’s degree in intercultural communications and cooperation. She works in communication and international projects management. Among her interests are drinking tea, cooking (with or without success), reading, traveling, and—of course—shopping. She started her blog Tribulations Bretonnes in 2010 and has been updating it (more or less regularly) since then.

You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, Ballet Flats in Paris: And God made Repetto, by Barbara Redmond who shares what she got from a pair of flats purchased in a ballet store in Paris; a feline, natural style from the toes up, a simple pair of shoes that transformed her whole look. Including the vimeos “Pas de Deux Coda,” by Opening Ceremony and “Repetto,” by Repetto, Paris. (French)

French Soap: Savon de Marseille, by writer Lauren Ernt who stumbled upon La Licorne, a storefront soap factory in the heart of Marseille and one of the last authentic manufacturers of the famous “savon de Marseille.” Lauren writes about her visit and love of this renowned soap for its purity and restorative properties.

Scarves à la Françoise: The lingua Franca for stylish women, by Barbara Redmond who shares her experience trying on scarves and tying them at the home of her French friend in Lyon. Arriving at the famous silk manufacture in Lyon, André Claude Canova, Barbara and her friend gently tapped on the window even though the shop was closed. The shop girl let them and they all enjoyed hours of playfully draping, twisting and knotting scarves and shawls. An experience spurred by the ubiquitous nature of women and scarves: our common language.

French Lingerie: Mysterious and flirty, by Barbara Redmond who shares her experience searching for the perfect lingerie in Paris boutiques and her “fitting” with the shop keeper, Madame, in a curtained room stripped to bare at Sabbia Rosa. Including a French to English vocabulary lesson for buying lingerie and a directory of Barbara’s favorite lingerie shops in Paris. (French)

How to find a (suitable) place in Paris, and other miscellaneous information, by French woman from Brittany, Bénédicte Mahé, who is in her mastère-spécialisé final trimester doing an internship in Paris. Bénédicte shares with students how to find a place in Paris. (French)

Text copyright ©2013 Bénédicte Mahé. All rights reserved.
Illustration copyright ©2013 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.