How the French Perceive American Beauty

Photo: Boone Rodriguez/Corbis

The Cut has explored much of the allure of France — including the French people’s general beauty philosophy, pharmacy products, hair colorists, drinking, diets, and fashion. Some may say that we view the French through rosé-colored lenses. But the one thing we haven’t covered is the French perception of Americans, especially as it comes to beauty. For that, we turn to Julie Levoyer, beauty director of Stylist magazine France, for a discussion of the differences between American and French beauty. It turns out the grass may always be slighter greener on the other side. 

First of all, I have to say I don’t really understand this fascination with Frenchwomen. I’ve read a lot of articles about how to eat croissants without getting fat (well, guess what, don’t gobble like crazy), how to blah-blah-blah without getting old (well, don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t love, don’t go dance all night long, don’t live, and maybe aging is gonna be slower), and how to tie your scarf like Frenchwomen. I’m really sorry to announce that we tie our scarves the same way every woman on the planet does.

I can’t speak for all the French people, but I picture the American woman to be a perfect, absolutely flawless beauty, which is totally under control, very well-organized, with a lot of rigor. We have this strong cliché that the American woman (specifically the New Yorker) wakes up very early (like 5 a.m. … seriously, who does that?) and goes directly to a hard-core yoga class, SoulCycle session, or for a run. Then, a green juice later, she goes back home, takes a shower, gets dressed to impress, and somehow (I don’t know how it’s possible) she has the time to have a blow-dry. And be at the office at 8 a.m.!

Once I was staying at Tribeca and I was up for a run every morning because I was in New York. I saw all those fantastic women running so well and going for a juice. I realized these women were running because that was their lifestyle. Of course, at the end of my run, on my way back to the hotel I was smoking a cigarette (yes, I’m the worst, I know, but I’m French) while they were still perfect — perfect ponytail, no sweaty skin, etc. Like it’s not an effort. It’s just the way it is. Bravo.

Another memory, in September 2014, I was bleached and full platinum. In Paris, I was one of a kind. But there I was, backstage at Alexander Wang and then I saw the crowd. All the Asian girls were platinum! And it was a perfect, luminous, white pearlescent platinum while I was there with my destroyed, miserable, bleached, and dry-as-hell length with my roots undone. I was like, “New Yorker girls are so in the game! I’m such an amateur.” (But it’s also because I think that your piped water is so much better than ours. Each time I’m in NYC, especially when I was blonde, my hair was amazing. In Paris, our piped water is really full of limestone.)

That said, I think we’re a little different. We don’t get a manicure every week (except when we’re in NYC because it makes us feel soooo much like a New Yorker), but we do have a massage therapist and a good facialist and we are totally devoted to them. A good wax specialist is definitely a thing, too, for us. And trainers become a thing, too. Also I know a lot of girls who cut their hair themselves (get good light, some kitchen scissors, and no one will die) but a good colorist is among French girls’ beauty gurus. I do believe in massage! I know you have this doubt that we could get skinnier only with massage, but I swear it works and it’s very efficient. Almost every French beauty editor has a therapist, and we can measure the loss of centimeters!

Beauty things I consider to be quintessentially American are those which are powerful, efficient, and say, “We’re not here to waste time!” Things such as:

 Deep-cleaning stuff like the Clarisonic brush. And also every time you need something to (really) kill a pimple, you know that you’re gonna find it in NYC!

 Foundation for a complexion beyond perfection. It’s like you don’t have dark circles (but you know we find over here that they could give you a little romantic vibe) or pores or spots or any flaws. At all!

 Dermatologist, laser, Botox, peeling, and treatments like that: You seem to be more informed than us about that even if it is coming to Paris.

 Floral fragrances: I don’t know why but I pictured that Americans prefer floral and fresh fragrances while the French love very animal and carnal perfumes.

 An SPF: We are okay at using a serum and a cream but when we have to add an SPF, we’re like, “Oh boy!” I love interviewing American specialists, they are so good, they always say that a daily SPF is not negotiable. And each time I interview a French dermatologist, he’s like, If you’re outside and it’s sunny, wear an SPF. If it’s cloudy or you’re inside, please don’t overreact! But I have to admit that a few of them are changing their minds now.

 All the supplements: The vitamins, the green elixirs, the spirulina powders, and stuff. L.A. and NYC are heaven for all the supplements we crave because most of them are not available in Paris or SO expensive.

 But also a lot of coolness: There are a lot of cool brands in Paris but nothing screams “cool” like a “from NYC with love” brand. It sounds very exotic for us who are used to very statutory luxury brands or pharmacy products. I’m a beauty editor so I’m lucky enough to get everything available on the market but once or twice a year, I throw all my regular beauty products away (from the body wash to my toothpaste, except for my fragrance) and I replace everything with cool American products I get at Whole Foods or some other place from the U.S. (or super-strong skin care from SkinCeuticals, or something with a super-chic Fifth Avenue vibe like La Mer, or a super-cool cream like, “Oh, that? I’ve just found it in a tiny confidential shop on the LES”). It lasts only two weeks because at the end I come back to my regular daily routine, but I feel like I’m a New Yorker for two weeks (meaning I’m finally this girl who wakes up at 5 a.m. and goes to yoga even if it’s only in my imagination) and it’s amazing !

 Cold-pressed juices: I’m lucky enough to go to NYC very often and I remember the first time I saw all the green juices everywhere! I went to Crate and Barrel and bought a cold-press machine and was so happy to have it in my ridiculously tiny kitchen. For three months, I went crazy with homemade kale-based green juices. Since that time, the cold-press machine is still here (because it makes me feel like I’m a New Yorker) but it’s only used by my boyfriend when he wants apple juice.

Sometimes, when I think about that, I’m like, I am SO NOT that girl! I’m such a mess compared to New Yorkers! and then I remember, “Oh, but that’s because I’m not a superhero dude, I’m just a regular human being!” And it’s okay.

How the French Perceive American Beauty