The Illusion of Beauty


Detractors would call it contrived and yet Francophiles would call it designed. The Anglo-Saxon and Russian would say the Frenchwoman is not “naturally beautiful” with that dark-haired, chisel-jawed slight masculinity which they try to overcome by heavy emphasis on deportment, the tricks of the trade, grooming, dress and cosmetics.

Some of those tricks can be seen in the photo on this post, where the girl is actually wearing a dress and a modest one at that [I know this from the other photos] and yet, photoshot in that way … well, you see what I mean. The bare lower legs and the cheeky smile do it for her.

That’s why most women admire the French and the Italians, the way they do it, with that panache, that style. Interesting that in the current retrospective on Bardot, le Figaro mentioned:

C’est vrais – la France créa Bardot. Celle qui fut vingt ans durant une star internationale et un symbole de la France des années 50-60 fêtera ses 75 ans lundi prochain.

N’oublions pas, par exemple, Edwige Feuillère dans Lucrèce Borgia – elle est aussi une rétive, une insolente, une fille qui a beaucoup d’esprit, le sens de la repartie.

Audrey Tautou – too twee for French tastes?

For those who don’t read this language, it roughly means that she was both a creation and a symbol of France, of what she stood for but we shouldn’t forget that there were others and Bardot wasn’t the first.

Interesting, to me, was “une rétive, une insolente, une fille qui a beaucoup d’esprit”, much admired in France, just as the Italians admire “furbo” and “bella figura” or looking and playing the part with panache.


The cosmetic and fashion industries would maintain that beauty can be manufactured or at the very least, greatly enhanced but I would argue that lack of cosmetics and well cut clothes, along with deportment and that indefinable character can carry all before her.

A woman I saw the other day would have been described by the English as “without artifice” and by the French as “without style”. She was quite gauche but at the same time, seemed a fun loving person. As I live in the land of my ethnic group, then its take on what constitute good and bad qualities must rule. Solid values and sensible shoes also tug at my heart strings, along with the tweed and the Barbours and so on.




Zeroing in on the French concept of beauty

The French fixation with Bardot seems strange to me. For a start, she looks more nordic, more Britt Eklundish than French but it was the sensuousness really, with her – Carla Bruni also practices the studied look into the eyes, the deep, sensual voice and so on.

Far more seductive, IMHO and far more Gallic, was Françoise Hardy, [don’t forget to sound the s, drop the h and sound the last syllable] who perfectly embodied the sultry, melancholy and reserved femme fatale. An example of one who was almost completely Frenchified was the English Jane Birkin. No beauty in a classical sense, she adopted the whole culture as far as she was able and so produced this with Serge Gainsborough:

While real Frenchwomen like Sophie Marceau, Eva Green and Clémence Poésy could never be taken for Anglo-Saxons, they’ve diluted their Frenchness to appeal to a wider public and in In Bruges, Poésy, in the restaurant scene, sounds “American youth”.


Less so in France and more in Russia in my experience, there’ve been women who’ve filled the space the eyes take in and later, I’ve always wondered what it was that that particular woman had which overpowered the senses. I could only conclude that it was the little gesture here, the disconcerting but flattering way she studied you and the attention to detail – everything had to be perfect in order to make demands herself.

So now I’m back here with an eye out for the English Rose but I suspect the English Rose has finer fish to fry than your humble correspondent.

Beauty – what is it?