My brush with lash-less mayhem was the impetus for my newfound interest in French beauty. It just so happened that my 9th rewatching of Gossip Girl (I'm nothing if not consistent) and Chuck's fleeting romance with the French ex-prostitute Eva coincided with my beauty identity crisis.
The premise of French beauty is the polar stinkin' opposite of everything you see coming from American beauty gurus. The amount of different products used, the amount of product applied, and the method of doing so is all very light, sheer, and minimal. In short, it's a lazy woman's dream.
While the famous American women on YouTube layer powder on top of cream contours on top of full-coverage foundations on top of primers (and then set it all with some variation of a rose-scented do-nothing spray), French beauty standards dictate that your "natural skin" peeks through.
While American women love to blind people with their highlight and cut a b*tch with their winged liner, French women (*gasp*) sometimes opt to omit eye makeup entirely, in favor of a smudged, feathered red lip that looks like it's three croissants deep. Not even a swipe of mascara, people.
Check out this still from a cool YouTube video I found in which an American guru humorously creates a dual face with one side "American" (left) and one side "French" (right). It's a shocking difference (shown below).
The French look exudes a very laid back, carefree, and effortless vibe; a sense of approachable natural beauty and quiet confidence.
So I think you get the picture. But in case you don't, here are some visual aids for the American side of the beauty trends house as compared to the French.
The above is Jaclyn Hill, a famous, self-made YouTube beauty guru (like, went from food stamps to a G-Wagon). She's about as entrenched in classically "American" beauty as you can get these days, and likely because she had a hand in shaping current YouTube-fueled trends.
All the lines are harsh. Precise. It's obvious she has a lot of product on her face. Here's another:
Her makeup looks incredible. But notice the subtle implication of the word choice there: her makeup looks incredible. The makeup itself is so much of a production that it almost detracts from the person wearing it, in my opinion.
Compare that cultural trend with this one:
To be fair, it looks like this woman isn't wearing any makeup. (Also, she just so happens to be stunning, so that's probably a helpful prerequisite for wearing basically nothing on your face.)
One Laura Mercier interview I watched with French women discussing French beauty standards explained that French women are more "consistent" in their beauty and fashion. They wear a similar amount of makeup during the day and at night, as well as the same type of clothing. They called their beauty and fashion a little more 'balanced.'
Whereas American women, the implication was, may look extremely dressed down and undone during the day and then transform in the night into an excessively gussied up, unrecognizable version of their daytime selves.
I mean, just how exquisitely FRENCH. You almost forget that French people also espouse infrequent bathing and grown-out underarm hair. We all have our flaws, right?
Jokes aside, I've been feeling super inspired by the light, minimalist, natural aesthetic of French beauty. It truly embodies the "me, but better" idea.
And after forcibly removing plastic fibers from my eyelids one by one, the idea of natural makeup feels attractively wholesome and authentic.
One overall thing I noticed about French beauty application is that they use their hands for almost everything. The finger application creates a very messy, 'blown-out' effect, as opposed to that of a fine brush or tool.
Here's how I've switched up my routine to accommodate my newfound interest in French beauty:
Foundation/base/whatever it is you put on your face.
This one is the toughest for me because I've always been extremely insecure about my skin. I have acne scarring and an uneven, red skin tone, so liquid foundation has always been my saving grace.
Moreover, I've never found a really good B.B. Cream that didn't (a) break me out or (b) make me look like a greasy mess.
So instead of changing the product, I changed the way I apply it. I have two foundations: the Estée Lauder Double Wear Light ($42), which I'm fazing out due to price, and the Clinique Even Better Makeup ($28), its more fiscally practical replacement.
Before, I used a brush to apply foundation, which leaves a very "finished," full-coverage look.
I recently started using makeup sponge wedges ($1.99 for 24 at Target!) instead. I wet the sponge so it expands and is moist to touch, and then use it to blend out the foundation.
Because the sponge soaks up some of the product, it blends it more lightly than a brush application and allows your natural skin to show through a little more obviously.
In essence, I want people to look at me and wonder whether or not I have foundation on. I don't want it to be obvious or—worse—indirectly imply I'm attempting to cover something up.
Blush, bronzer, highlight, etc.
Typically, you wouldn't see these three product areas married into one category.
In fact, most makeup videos I watch include a cream contour, THEN a bronzer, then a blush, and then a series of liquid and powder highlights. It's just excessive, if you aren't a makeup lover who honestly enjoys the process (and I feel obligated to call out here that some women do, I'm just not one of them).
Again, application technique is key when achieving a French feel. I use an old Chanel powder blush and the Estée Edit bronzer, and have, mournfully, forgone my Becca Cosmetics Champagne Pop highlighter in favor of a less artificial glimmer (i.e., the oils from my own greasy face).
Rather than dense brushes with precise application shapes, I've been using a fluffy dome blush brush to apply a sheer wash of color in the hollows of my cheeks and forehead (bronzer) and on my cheek fat (blush). Mmmm, cheek fat. That's an industry term, I believe.
One of the French gurus I watched explained how French women like to look bronze, but not contoured. I could feel a collective sharp intake of breath from American women everywhere at that suggestion.
And to break up these blocks of text, here are a few more visuals:
One interesting thing I want to note about the new lack of highlighter: when I used to wear highlighter all day long, I noticed it was harder for me to touch up my makeup after work.
**HACK ALERT** Yesterday I did the poor girl's touch-up, using those sheer toilet seat covers as an oil blotting sheet, to mattify myself before my evening plans. I noticed that my skin reacted much better to that without the day's remaining highlighter slipping around and looking greasy.
Because, all in all, the more product you start the day with, the more dramatically different you're going to look by the end of the day when things slip and slide in oily areas and cling to dry spots in others.
Eyes and lips
If you've made it this far, I'm sure you're wondering what the eyelash-obsessor herself will say about French eye makeup.
Here's the thing that I've noticed. The eyes always look super bare. Some French tutorials I've watched just include curling the lashes (no mascara). I can't do that, on account of my bald eyelids, so I apply my mascara with a wand the size of a small feather duster.
Right now, I'm enjoying the Better Than Sex Waterproof Mascara from Too Faced. A gay man at Sephora with eyelashes to the gods swore to me it would fix my jacked up face, and he was right, God bless his beauty acumen.
But that's about it. No eyeliner, no real eye makeup (although I've seen some French beauty gurus use their fingers to apply frosty white eye shadow or highlight in their inner corners and on the center of the lid).
And lips? Again, they resort to their fingers to apply lipsticks, messily and imprecisely.
There's something so chic and sultry about French beauty trends. The women look down-to-earth, yet impossibly cool and mysterious. It's counterintuitive how a 'less is more' approach can create that effect—especially in the states, where we're so accustomed to equating confidence to the ability and willingness to rock outlandish makeup trends.
If nothing else, it definitely tests my confidence to be so relatively bare-faced, but so far I've been really enjoying it. And for those of you following my new mini-series "Stuff Men Notice," no, Rob has not noticed.
Thanks for reading. Cheers!
All things beauty.