I’m only about the thousandth person in the blogosphere to weigh in on the New York Times article about the new French trend for wearing little or no makeup, or rather, for appearing as such. (I’m not linking to the article because after a week they move articles out of general circulation and you have to pay to read them.)
I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot, not just because of the article, but because of my own environment. Several of my co-workers would sooner shoot off a limb than put on a little mascara and lip gloss. Around here, to wear makeup is frivolous and anti-intellectual. And if you wear something other than jeans and a free company shirt that’s been laundered three hundred times, along with shoes that make you look like you’re planning to literally walk across Europe, well then, you probably are not a person to take seriously. (No joke, I stood in my boss’s office one day listening to a diatribe on how all good looking people are stupid, shallow, manipulative liars. Of course, I was really only half listening because I was trying to figure out whether she was telling me this because she thinks I’m good looking and secretly hates me, or whether she thinks I’m not good looking and will side with her against good looking people everywhere. When I first came to this job, she liked to remark to everyone how much I look like Kelly Preston. Kelly Preston is pretty, even if she is a wack Scientologist. Does being wack make her less pretty? I can only hope. But seriously I’m pretty sure my boss hates me.)
The article claims that “Le No Makeup” is all about French modesty. But really I don’t think the French have anything on us. We have serious competition in this country over who’s holier-than-thou, and makeup is one of the front lines for American women. I know many women who don’t wear any makeup at all. They eschew it in the name of modesty. If you are modest, you will be taken seriously either as a god-fearing Christian who is not a makeup-mongering whore, or as an intellectual, high-minded liberal who doesn’t have time for such nonsense. (Never mind that one of the most strident, tree-hugging feminists I knew in college now manages a Sephora. Feh.)
I always thought makeup was supposed to be about fun, not about moral superiority. I love it that these French women are wearing makeup—it’s just so well-applied you can’t see it. The article included a list of products French women (or you) might use to achieve such an “artful but there’s no art there” sort of look. It included no less than ten products.
Or what about Laura Mercier? Here’s what she had to say in the article: '' ‘It really astonishes me the way American women wear so much makeup,’ said Laura Mercier, the French creator of a line of cosmetics and skin care who lives in New York. ‘In America, even teenage girls are overly made-up. And when you are overly made-up, you send out the message that you are overly sexual, that you want to be visible to attract men.’” Um, has anyone happened upon the 9,427 steps it takes to get the Laura Mercier “Flawless Face?” And that’s just the “canvas.” The artist hasn’t started painting.
Really, what astonishes her is not how much makeup Americans wear, but how badly we wear it (when we actually do…again, for various reasons, it seems like most women don’t bother at all). Here’s another direct quote from the article: “Michèle Fitoussi, one of France's leading social commentators and a columnist at French Elle magazine, described the painted-doll look preferred by many American women with one word: ‘vulgaire.’” They go on to single out Britney Spears and Nicole Ritchie. I personally don’t think either of these girls are attractive, makeup or no, but how about this woman?
This is Robin Meade from CNN Headline News. You can’t completely see it here, but trust me: a few less blending applicator strokes on the eye shadow and she’d look just like Joan Cusack in Working Girl. (Remember the peacock-like array of shadows she sported on those eyelids? I tried and tried to find a picture. Alas, technology failed me.) Seriously, this woman is on screens all over the nation’s international airports, she’s in our homes, bringing us important news of the day, and she generally tends to look like she just got off her shift at Hooters. Um, I think maybe the French have a point. Robin Meade doesn’t need all that makeup—she’d be just as pretty without it—but there she is, all tarted up and talking about Iraq. CNN tries to do this to all their anchors (only Christy Paul comes out looking pretty good). How are we supposed to take it seriously, right?
But then again, why not? Why can't a woman wear all her MAC and cover Iraq? (um, sorry about the rhyming thing) Still, I wonder if it doesn't play up the Madonna/Whore thing a little too much. There must be a happy medium between lip gloss and powder and full-out hooker.
The article also discussed in depth the fact that French women are obsessed with their skin but then didn’t bother to reveal the most important information, how they cleanse and moisturize. I wanted to know more about the actual skin care! Because they must use something magical, given that they all smoke like chimneys, and smoking is second only to frying in the sun for ruining your skin. But French women learn to moisturize and pamper, and American women, again in the name of modesty, learn to use soap and water. I’m amazed at the number of women I know who don’t have any sort of skincare regimen, who don’t even use eye cream. Why? Because it’s uppity. Because that would mean “putting on airs.” Because they don’t wear makeup and somehow believe this equates with not having to care for their skin.
But then who’s buying all those beauty products? Why are we so torn about taking care of ourselves? And why, as Americans, do we tend to have such stubborn pride about being plain or out of shape? I can’t get over how many women I know who say they don’t diet (yet need to), don’t get their hair done regularly or won’t pay more than $10 for a haircut (and it shows, especially when your cute haircut grows out into a mullet), don’t use sunscreen (and have the wrinkles to prove it), and on and on.
Both sides lose, in my opinion. Moral superiority is never modest, no matter how much (or how little) makeup you’re sporting. But if I had to choose, I’d go with the French. Why? I like that they don’t apologize for the fact that they might spend a lot of time (and money) on their skin, that they may spend hours applying makeup so that it looks like they aren’t wearing any. Because they seem less conflicted about taking care of themselves, when it’s all said and done. A little luxury never hurt anyone.
*yes, I realize I contradict myself
**all photos from Yahoo!