Natalie Portman on Hollywood Beauty Standards and the Quest for Perfection

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Natalie Portman. Photo: Courtesy of Dior Beauty

She starred in a film called Beautiful Girls in 1996, but Natalie Portman doesn’t think about beauty that much. “I don’t have a specific thing I am trying to achieve,” she explains to me during an interview in France. Still, as the face of Dior Beauty — and the brand’s new Miss Dior Eau de Parfum — she’s come to develop a philosophy of beauty. The Cut talked to Portman about the scent of Israeli orange orchards, the amount of time she has to spend in the makeup chair, and the sensual pleasures of red lipstick.

What was your first scent memory?
I remember fields of oranges in Israel when I was little. There was a kibbutz that had a lot of citrus fields. Orange blossom is still one of my favorite scents. It’s nice to have this scent memory because a lot of the ones you have as a child are bad. As a kid, you’re so sensitive to adults smelling like coffee or things like that. You’re like, I don’t like that. But I love orange blossom still. We are lucky enough to have orange trees at home in California and I love hovering near them.

How do you think about beauty?
I was lucky enough to have my mom never really talk to me about external beauty in any way. She was always focused on being a good person and kindness. It was really how you behaved and feel about yourself and not to try to look a certain way for other people.

It’s nice because it made me never care that much. Maybe I should have. I always have makeup artists being like, “You’re so easy.” I don’t say anything, I just let them do their thing. You’re a professional. Thanks. I look better than I did before. I don’t intervene as much because I don’t have a specific thing I am trying to achieve. I’m just happy to have great artist do their art.

Photo: Courtesy of Dior Beauty

Has working as an actress changed the way you’ve thought about aging and beauty over time?
Absolutely. I do get upset by the disparity between actresses and actors. When I go to a question-and-answer session, I have to go through two hours of makeup. The actor gets to roll out of bed. That really bums me out. I’ve spent a lot of time getting hair and makeup done in my life. I could have written five books in that time — not that I would have. But it does feel like a lot of that time could be spent doing other positive things.

It seems like you accept the beauty process, even if you don’t love what it demands. How does that affect how you think about celebrities deliberately not wearing makeup?
I love it. I think it’s great. It’s nice to see what people are like naturally. I have done no makeup for professional events, and it’s great. I do it often for life. But it’s fun and artistic to get to play with makeup, it’s another way of express yourself. It’s like the way I feel about feminism — women should be however they want to be. If you don’t want to wear makeup, no one should make you feel like you’re less than. If you want to wear a lot, they also shouldn’t make you feel less than.

I don’t feel like we should judge anyone for doing what they think feels good. A woman should follow her own desire. The whole idea of Miss Dior is that a woman is most beautiful when she is making herself happy and when she is pursuing her own passions and her own love — that’s what I think beauty is about. It’s about making yourself feel happy. If wearing no makeup makes you happy, that’s great. It’s about allowing yourself to feel joy and find beauty.

You value inner beauty, but how do you reconcile the tension of working in an industry where your appearance is a factor?
It’s unfortunately part of what we do. Appearance matters. That’s also the nice thing about acting — then people relate to the roles you do. Even if they look at you in a magazine and judge you in a 2-D way, they can see your work and hopefully relate to you as a human being. You can have an emotional impact.

For different roles, you look different ways. You’re not always just trying to look really glamorous. You’re trying to portray women in all their forms. It’s nice to have that as an actor. Sometimes you’re playing someone who’s not glamourous and not wearing makeup.

What is your nighttime beauty routine like?
I’m vegan and I found my skin is much, much better than when I was a vegetarian. I cut out dairy and eggs, and I never had a breakout after. That was definitely a discovery. It’s personal; everyone has different sensitivity. I also did it when I was 30, so it might have been an age thing.

I wash my face with the Joelle Ciocco face wash and toner. I’ll use a little bit of Bioderma makeup remover. Then I moisturize with Pai — it’s organic — and I use their eye cream. They have a rose oil. Sometimes, I’ll do the moisturizing mask if I’m flying. I like the way all these products smell. They feel nice, and the scents make a difference.

Photo: Courtesy of Dior Beauty

You’ve explored perfection and its dark side in Black Swan. Beauty can often be about attaining perfection. How did that affect the way you think about it now?
I’ve never been really been about perfection. That’s not my thing. But what I observed when I saw the ballet dancers is that they really have a desire for perfection, and the aesthetic of perfection can be beautiful.

It’s like when you go to Japan and you see how they wrap the paper. In France, also, there is this idea of a perfect, kind of discreet beauty that you see with the architecture and the city planning. French and Japanese culture have that sort of aestheticism of perfection. Ballet is very popular in both places, I think because of that — because it’s striving for this ideal.

As the face of a beauty brand and a mother, what do you hope to convey to young girls about beauty?
It’s about your own pleasure. It’s not about pleasing other people, or looking at certain way so someone likes it, or smelling a certain way so someone likes it. It’s about creating something that make you feel your best and gives you a piece of beauty in your day. That’s what we are seeking all day long, these moments of pleasure, beauty, and joy. If you can put on a red lipstick or a scent that gives you that sensual pleasure, then it’s for you.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Shop the Story

Joelle Ciocco Lotion Aromatique/Botanical Lotion
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Joelle Ciocco Lait Onctueux/Sensitive Cleansing Milk 120
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Pai Skincare Echium & Argan Gentle Eye Cream
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Miss Dior Eau de Parfum
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Natalie Portman on Hollywood Beauty Standards