I actually can't remember a time when French women weren't aspirational to me in just about every way. It started with Madeline and her jaunty straw hat, blue coat, and fearless personality and over time morphed into Jane Birkin, Francoise Hardy and most recently, Jeanne Damas. I've been trying to find that special je ne sais quoi for years, and the search for that famous French effortlessness has been at the hands of much effort, indeed.
I'd like to say this fascination with all things French is a result of how the beauty and fashion industries have long-worshipped the French girl aesthetic and turned it into a bonafide industry, but I have to admit that this is something I fomented in myself when I was quite young, and without much outside influence. But when I take a long, hard look at myself and the never-ending quest to understand the depths of my own identity, it makes sense.
I was the only person of color in my grade up until about fifth grade. And while I am aware of my white-passing privilege, I still felt strongly like an "other" — probably because the other kids in my class would never let me forget it. Outside of my own family, I had absolutely zero Latinx role models — no teachers, friends' parents, neighbors, etc. And while I did have plenty of family and friends in Mexico, I saw them rarely, and it did little to help me understand my own identity since they lived in a completely different world with different social norms, I couldn't relate. (And let's not even get into the serious issues of colorism and classism that Mexicans need to contend with.) All this to say, I spent every night praying that I'd wake up with blue eyes and blonde hair, only to be disappointed every morning and count the days until I was old enough to dye my hair.
So, I went searching — something that was very easy to do at a young age given what a voracious reader I was — and very quickly fell in love. The romantic French aesthetic appealed strongly to my sensibilities, and for once it actually felt attainable. Much easier than praying to a god I didn't believe in to give me blonde ringlets! It helped that since I was very little my Grandmother, who is half-French, would tell me stories about her shopping trips to Paris, spending summers in the countryside, and all about how one day she would take me there. My imagination ran wild: I could see my future plant- and light-filled studio in the Marais, the vanity topped with expensive perfumes, my long, shaggy brown hair and bangs, a closet full of oh-so-chic clothing that fit just right.
I have indulged my French girl fantasies at every possible turn — and nowhere more than when it comes to beauty. The hair tousled just so, the "simple" — yet refined — skincare routine that combines high-low products in the hopes of achieving flawless skin, perfecting the barely-there makeup for the everyday and the statement makeup for going out that's glamorous, not gaudy. And I love every bit of it.
And still, I can't help but often reflect on the more problematic aspects of the French girl style obsession. It's a historically narrow view of what French women look like, to the exclusion of pretty much anyone who isn't white, tall, and thin. I don't like that. Feeling excluded from the wider physical aesthetic that I saw in my own childhood is what led me to seek out the French look in the first place, and here it is doing the same for so many other women. It's no surprise that there's been a backlash of sort in recent years, and to be honest I think it's perfectly warranted. This incredibly thorough piece in Racked does a great job of parsing through not just why French girl beauty is a myth, but how it can be damaging.
But even with people turning against all that French girl beauty entails, it's not going anywhere anytime soon. Look at your favorite magazines, whether they be online or print, they're all still dishing it out on a near weekly basis. And we're still eating it up! Just a few weeks ago Harpers Bazaar published an article on yet another way that we can strive to be like French women — by doing the tech industry like them. And funnily enough it highlighted the work of one of my very own French muses, Fanny Péchiodat, the creator of My Little Paris — my go-to reference guide for years. So despite all it's problems, it's here to stay.
What do you think about all of this? I think this is an interesting conversation for people within the beauty industry to continue having with each other and exploring in the hopes of widening the definition of what we refer to as "French Girl beauty" while still being able to enjoy aspects of the aesthetic. I appreciate that there are dissenting voices out there pushing this dialogue forward and helping to redefine what beauty is in the hopes of making it more inclusive for all people. Because really, whether it's French girl, California girl, New York girl, Harajuku girl, London girl beauty, or WHATEVER, all of these are narrow and potentially damaging beauty standards that do not include those who are poor, dark skinned, fat, LGBTQ, disabled, or otherwise disenfranchised into the very small box of established beauty norms.
Like all of us, I will just keep doing me and indulging in it while pushing myself to reflect on the ways that I can make beauty more inclusive. And in case you're interested in what my favorite, go-to products are for achieving that French look, well here they are!
Bioderma Sensibio H2O for makeup removal and skin cleansing.
Ouai Finishing Creme for the perfect rumpled waves.
Chanel Rouge Coco Lipstick in Gabrielle for the perfect red lip.
Rodin Olio Lusso Face Oil for soft, glowing, ageless skin.
Hi Wildflower Dusty Rose Perfume for the deeply nostalgic and sexy scent of dusty roses, cedar closets, Moroccan oud and spice.
Stowaway Radiant Complexion Beauty Balm for flawless, glowing, natural looking skin.
Tata Harper Volumizing Lip and Cheek Tint for a natural, rosy flush.
Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment in Rose for an everyday soft lip.
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