Why 'French Girl Beauty' Is A Big Fat Lie

66 million people live in France. They are not all thin white women.
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November 18, 2014
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race, anna karina, magazines, brigittte bardot, french beauty, glossies, jane birkin

As a beauty writer and consumer, I spend a lot of time reading magazines and blogs. I love keeping up with everything, but there is one trend that’s become increasingly unavoidable over the past few years: French girl beauty.

I’m pretty sick of it.

I don’t have a vendetta against the French as a country. I enjoy French films, French food, and French music. I’m well aware of the appeal of a Chanel purse or Anna Karina’s sly smile.

I haven’t traveled to France yet in this life, but a quick Google search lets me know some important facts about the country of baguettes and Bardot.

France is a big country chock-full of women from all walks of life. Paris is especially diverse, as it's one of the world’s cultural epicenters. But you wouldn’t know that from the way beauty outlets describe the quintessential French girl.

In reality, a French girl is a girl who is from France. In the beauty world, a French girl is a thin, wealthy, conventionally attractive white woman. She has naturally good skin and hair. Her style is casual and her makeup is minimal.

A cursory poll of my friends and those around me tells me all I need to know. When I ask, “Who do you think of when you think of a French girl?” the results are predictable: Jane Birkin, Anna Karina, Brigitte Bardot, Charlotte Gainsbourg, etc.

It’s worth noting Jane and Anna weren’t even French, but we won’t get into that. It’s more important to note that while these women are gorgeous and gifted (and sometimes wildly racist, ahem, BB), they by no means represent all 66 million people of France between the four of them.

The beauty industry still maintains a singular and limited ideal of female beauty. It’s frustrating to continuously see beauty outlets and brands totally neglect huge populations of women, specifically women of color. Fashion and lifestyle media in America has come a long way, but don’t think for a second that we’ve moved entirely beyond our singular and steady ideal of the beautiful white woman as iconic.

The fixation with French women seems like another way for the media to focus on one type of woman as being “beautiful.” I’m sick of seeing that woman put on a pedestal. I’m sick of being told I should look like her.

Maybe I would be more of a fan if I’d ever actually received any good advice from a French girl story, but being told again and again not to wear foundation and not to wear too much makeup and to wear my hair long and straight just makes me feel like shit.

Sometimes my skin sucks. Sometimes I want to wear a ton of makeup. My hair is a frizzy mess of curls. I’m tired of articles lauding the secret to why French women age better, just to see advice from a model or actress with wildly disposable income who hit the genetic lottery.

Pushers of the French girl agenda defend themselves by claiming it’s just a more natural, laid-back approach to beauty. And that’s great. I’m pretty laid-back. I like looking natural sometimes.

But let’s not overlook the implications and consequences of whitewashing an entire nation and minimizing the identities of millions of unique women just so that we can, as an industry, idolize the same skinny white girl we’ve been idolizing for centuries.

I originally planned to end this article (err, rant?) by suggesting we find a new culture to fawn over, but I’ve got a better idea. Rather than attempting to become someone else or squeeze yourself into some mold that’s not your own, let’s all just try to be our best versions of ourselves. Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to look a certain way to be beautiful.

And let’s shut up about French girls for just, like, one week. OK?

Au revoir!

  • Are you as tired of the near-constant onslaught of “French Girl Beauty” as I am?
  • Let’s share the focus with some other beauty icons who better represent our diverse and beautiful world. I’ll start: Maya Rudolph, Lucy Liu, Ilana Glazer.