The French Beauty Secret Magazines Won’t Write About

February 19, 2013


We’re all familiar with the articles and books about French women’s beauty secrets. The secret moisturizers, the insouciance, the je ne sais quas we in America are held in thrall waiting for the next magical secrets of French Beauty. But there’s another secret you won’t read about in the books or magazines, one that great French Beauties will take to their graves.


French women lie. They lie about their diets, their visits to the dermatologist and what goes on there, their surgeries, and even their undergarments.


The gorgeous ex-model who swears she never wears foundation? The famous movie star d’un certain age who tells reporters she wouldn’t dream of having a face lift? Once in a while they’re telling the truth, but those of us behind the scenes know they’re usually lying – they’ve done all those things and more.


Why lie? Well, certainly it’s better for actresses to talk about their craft and directors than their upkeep. After all, if we had to listen to movie stars talk about their surgeries, what a big crushing bore that would be. There’s also a French (maybe European?) desire to keep one’s mystery. Our American forthrightness can be very useful, but our tabloid blabbing about who’s had what surgeries is not very elegant.


That French insouciance isn’t entirely natural – that perfectly imperfect bun may have been practiced for years. Certainly the classic Parisian Frenchwoman cultivates her look over time, so that today it may be thrown together in an instant. But the assumption that French women (especially the super-beauties we read about) do so little upkeep creates an expectation that beauty is somehow effortless – at least for those lucky enough to be French, that it is.


There is another side to this, however: aside from being a big bore, talk about the work involved in looking good can feel accusatory to those who don’t want to do it. Certainly we all have our friends with whom we share our latest efforts – those friends are usually on a similar beauty/fitness path as us. But when my non-exercising relatives ask me about my yoga or sometimes-organic diet, we end up in an odd metaconversation that ends with their justification of their current practices.


That could just be my family, but I’m beginning to think there’s more to this. There’s a bi-polar aspect to beauty work – on one hand, advertising tells us we could all be effortlessly gorgeous if we just try this one diet or that cream. On the other, it most often takes real work to look good. There’s a certain amount of defensiveness people feel when confronted with a woman who admits to the work involved in keeping beautiful – maybe they’re not trying hard enough?


Great beauty is unfair: it starts with genes and luck – and for models and actresses, grows startlingly from work and knowledge – both from the beauties themselves and the teams around them. But when those secrets are too numerous to relate, too complex to parse, sometimes it’s just easier to say, “the Fates have been kind.” With an accent, of course.


Photo: Isabelle Adjani on the cover of Elle, 1976. From a collection at ACiDPoP!

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  • Kristie February 20, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    I think that you are right…many of these women definitely preen themselves, but in a quieter fashion. Still, they seem to value a more understated beauty, maybe less obvious? Also, I think that perhaps imperfect beauty is celebrated in their culture, hence “jolie laide”.

    I do, however, find it relieving when I hear that a beauty has to put effort into it…or strangely satisfied when there is news that some celebrity underwent cosmetic surgery–“see, they can’t be naturally that perfect.” I sort of wish we would just come out and say that we have to run our butts off to stay thin. That would make me feel better.

  • Fel February 22, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    so interesting! i love that you wrote about this. the one french lady secret i’ve read about before is there affection for moisturizer and ‘not caring’ about what they look like. but it might have something to do with their diet as well, just not eating as much, doing their french lady things. 😉 xx Fel

  • Fel February 22, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    and by there, i meant their* 🙂

  • Jennifer February 24, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    I used to envy the whole french beauty thing, but then I read a few books about French culture. I realized most of them are so competitive with and untrusting of other women that it would be no fun to live there unless you met a friend or two confident enough to rise above that atmosphere. No human being looks good without grooming: finger nails, toe nails, skin, lips, hair, eye make-up, face make-up, clothes and accessories. Any and everyone must also must eat right and perhaps exercise to be thin throughout life. French women are human and are no exception to any beauty rule or botox product.

    Here is the secret to French beauty. Work your butt off to look good by any means necessary, discipline yourself to never be seen un-groomed, and lie often and confidently that you just naturally look this way when people ask you what you do to look good.

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