French WOC Discuss the Issues With America's Idea of French Beauty


Back in 2015, a runway trend crept into the limelight coining the phrase "rich girl hair"—a new way of describing a look that's meant to evoke an "effortless," "undone" feeling. Only those words imply a laissez-faire approach to hair for only a select few. This was also around the time when the internet (ourselves included) began idolizing the idea of "French-girl beauty," a term that's since taken on a less-than-accurate life of its own. Images of Jane Birkin were plastered on social media, websites, and mood boards, her hair straight with a slight bend and fringe ("the elegance of restraint,” hairstylist Jimmy Paul called it in an interview with T Magazine).

And then French-girl fatigue set in—a malaise that stems from the idea that French-girl beauty secrets solely promote that same exclusionary hair, using micellar water and expensive oils to treat any and every skin ailment, and the idea that everyone in Paris "had the luxury of being not only rich and rail thin, but also of looking intoxicatingly good without either makeup or bras." Clearly those tentpoles eliminate naturally textured hair, sensitive, breakout-prone, or aging skin, and women who aren't a size two. It's impossible to define a person or a culture by Americanized stereotypes.

And while some of these themes do exist, we can't go on discussing them without recognizing the blaring exclusivity they promote—Black women are blatantly left out of the equation. There's an overtly singular perception of "French-girl beauty," notes Maya Allen, Marie Claire's digital beauty editor. "This is the sole reason I've always rolled my eyes at the overhyped obsession Americans have with French beauty—because women of color faded into the background of that narrative, and still are treated like forgotten gems," she says. This exclusion speaks to a larger cyclical and universal issue when it comes to representation. French women of color are not an afterthought, and thanks to Instagram, I've found beauty muses who tell a different story. Below, find a more true-to-life story of the eponymous French girl.

Aude-Julie Alingue

french beauty secrets

"First of all, when you think of French beauty, you usually don't think of a WOC. It's a fact. Even when you look at French makeup brands, they took years and years to diversify their products. Not everyone has silky brown hair or wants red lipstick. There is so much diversity in France—there isn't just one kind of beauty. Women in France do like to take of their skin and don't wear much makeup during the day. Some of it does apply. But not everything.

"See, the trick in looking effortless is you actually put in a lot of effort. Even doing a no-makeup makeup look is kind of hard. For my hair, I usually straighten it (which takes 30 minutes), and then I brush it out to give it a more 'woke up like this' look. For skin, there are loads of steps—cleanser, day cream, and eye cream—and it's the same for makeup: primer, BB cream (French girls love BB cream instead of foundation), eyeliner, and lipstick. We use a lot of products; we just want it to look natural.

"Everyone has this image of the French girl being like Inès de la Fressange in jeans, a white shirt or marinière, a blazer, and flats. An effortless and chic look. Light makeup, red lips, not too heavy on the eyes, and wavy natural hair or in a messy bun. We combat it by showing the diversity of Paris and France. And the 'French-girl' image is usually the Parisian-girl image. There are French girls who have different origins, live in different cities, the country, the suburbs. Though thanks to social media, people can more readily see the diversity of a French girl than in years prior.

"I have a weave, taking care of my natural hair is so much work. I use lots of oils and hair lotions every day. I usually like my hair straight, but not too straight. I love coconut oil—it's natural and helps your hair grow."

Claire Most

Claire Most

"People see the 'French girl' as super natural—with subtle or no makeup, and straight hair. She's also skinny and white. Obviously not all French women are white. This reduces us to only one type of woman. I think it began with all the clichés you see on TV and in the media in general.

"It's really too bad, because the French population is diverse, and this stereotype is so exclusionary. It's like there was no room for the other type of French beauty. People kept the image they saw of France from from the '30s, I guess. Sorry, but I can't fit my curls under a beret.

"A beauty routine really depends on the person. For example, I will spend an hour doing my hair and 30 minutes doing a skincare routine, but only ten minutes on my makeup. Whereas, my sister will spend an hour in her bathroom and come out with the most perfect make up—eyebrows, foundation, and eyes on point.

"I start by combing out my hair, then use a clarifying shampoo and my Aveda conditioner. Then I mask for 30 minutes. Right now I'm using Shea Moisture. I rinse and apply the Curls Blueberry Bliss Twist N Shout Glaze Cream ($12) to define my curls, and it smells amazing.

"I wash my face every morning and every night. If I see my skin is tired, I use the Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate ($49) and, lately I've been using a mask with aloe vera—I buy the actual leaf, cut it open, and apply the gel to my face. It's crazy; it's really helped my skin."

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