French Beauty and Where to Find It

Iris Mittenaere was crowned Miss Universe 2016 yesterday, becoming only the second Miss France (and the first since 1953) to win the world’s largest beauty pageant. And she’s from Lille!

I know that the Miss Universe competition is about more than beauty; as its tagline reads, it’s about empowering women to be “Confidently Beautiful” and to inspire the world. However, this year’s winner is exceptional in that she holds the world in captivity not only because she is Miss Universe but also because she is French and so possesses a sort of quintessential beauty.

Every culture has its own vision of beauty, but few are so coveted as that of the French. French beauty may be described as timeless, classic, fresh, au naturel, and effortlessly chic, and it is all of these things. Think to the richly smoky eyes of the woman of the Roaring Twenties; to the soft and flirty complexion of the woman of the 1990s; to the messy hair, half-up or undone, and red satin lipstick that the French woman of today wears. The French woman aspires to beauty incarnate.

Yet the number-one rule of French beauty is to work with what you have, as opposed to trying to change it. That cerain je ne sais quoi? It’s achieved by actually not trying too hard, and it often results in a more natural look. The French woman embraces what she was given and in this way exudes what the Miss Universe competition considers the most important quality of any contestant: confidence, très sexy.

One of the reasons for which the world envies French women is their reputedly flawless skin, and many of them do have this because they care for it! From the time they are girls and their mothers taught them how, French women follow a meticulous skincare routine, and to meet the demands imposed by this endeavor, the French have an extraordinary number of skincare products. I’ve bought two micellar waters (they remove makeup and clean all at once), a deep pore-cleasing “lotion” (not the same thing as in America; lotions are liquids), a moisturizing cream, and a thermal spring water mist (it’s supposed to be soothing), and those are only the basics! For example, many women also start using anti-aging products when they’re young, in their mid-twenties, which makes quite a lot of sense, actually, as that way you can keep your skin looking young, instead of only keeping it from looking older. I’m considering investing in one of those soon, too.

Of course, because they put so much work into making their skin look perfect, French women don’t need to add much to it. They apply little makeup, using it merely to accentuate what they want to show rather than to cover up what they want to hide. They would much rather smudge some creamy eyeliner on their eyelids than wear glittery eyeshadow, or paint their nails a sheer ballerina-pink than a color of the season. In effect, many women appear slightly disheveled and surreptitiously pretty. Those who neither have good skin nor wear makeup, well, they appear a bit of a mess, and they’re not too uncommon, but this is different in Paris, where a history of haute couture has elevated beauty to a seat almost as highly valued as that which fashion occupies (that’s the impression I’ve gotten, anyway).

Most, however, appear put-together, and it’s the practice of arriving at this look that I admire. I’m too American to ever be French, and I’m fine with that. I like being American. The dedication shown one’s skin, though, and the poise that follows and allows the French woman to sparkle silently in a crowd, a goddess of subtle seduction… I think I’ll at least take this little piece of French culture home with me.

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