In my previous French life, there was one thing I would never forget before going to school in the morning, no matter how sleepy I was: to put make-up on. I’ve never been too high-maintenance, so most mornings, the routine was eyeliner, eye shadow and mascara. I fought hard with my parents for the right to put make-up on when I was in my very early teens and I intended to use that right fully. Pretty much all of my friends wore make-up (including some guys, but that’s another matter). I felt naked without it, I felt grown-up and mature with it.
Fast forward a few years. When I came to Canada for good in 2004, I brought my French products. Creams, nail polishes, lipsticks, gloss, mascara, eye-shadow, pencils… It’s not that I didn’t trust Canadian products – I was comfortable with mine.
However, I soon faced a few problems. First, if there was ever a place where make-up is not practical, that place is Canada. In summer, it’s extremely hot and humid – runny mascara on sweaty skin, anyone? And in winter, I was slightly concerned that it would literally freeze on my skin. Don’t laugh unless you have already experienced going outside with slightly wet hair, aka frozen hair.
My skin changed too. The Ottawa Valley is extremely wet according to Canadians. However, to me, because I grew up by the seaside in a very rainy city, the air was unbearably dry. My skin didn’t like it. While it had always been normal or even slightly oily, it started to peel in the winter. Glamorous, isn’t it? I would apply some of my precious French cream and my thirsty skin would absorb it in no time. I began to understand why my local drugstore stocked so much Vaseline cream. Eventually, I had to switch to alcohol-free creams to avoid looking like Freddy from A Nightmare on Elm Street.
All that didn’t bother me so much because Canadian women seemed to have different beauty obsessions than French. I noticed that women here don’t wear as much makeup. A little bit of lipstick or gloss maybe, or some eye shadow and mascara, but it’s very subtle (unless they are teens – but again, French teens tend to overdo it too). They may even skip it altogether.
However, North American women seem to focus much more on their hair for instance. This is something I had never ever cared about, as long as it’s healthy. I had long hair, short hair, red hair and I even had my friends cut my hair. Haircuts were for when I felt a bit down, mostly because I absolutely love having my hair washed. In France, straightforward haircuts averaged 20 €. But in Ottawa, haircuts generally start at $50, plus tax, plus tips… And North American women style their hair a lot: brushings, hair straightening, complicated buns… In France, the out-of-the-bed messy hairstyle is not designed by fancy hairstylists but courtesy of being too lazy to style.
Manicures and pedicures are also much more popular on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. There are salons everywhere and it is pretty affordable. Now, that’s a North America beauty obsession I embrace: relaxing for an hour on a comfortable massage chair while someone do my nails is bliss. Although I don’t understand what is so “French” in a French manicure… oh, wait, it is because they are designed to resemble natural nails? So why not grow natural nails in the first place?
And this is one major difference between North American women and French. North Americans tend to think that everything can be fixed and improved. Having small lips call for lip plumper or even cosmetic lips augmentation for fuller lips. Big breasts equal breast reduction surgery and small breasts, breasts augmentation surgery. Unwanted hair cannot just be shaved (God forbids!) or waxed, it calls for laser hair removal. Thin limbs? Work out at the gym and grow some muscles. Unhappy with your weight? Tons of crash diets to go on, plus pills, slimming products and various cosmetic procedures.
Meanwhile, French have nonchalant attitudes towards their body and laissez-faire is a way of life: embrace your imperfections for that are part of your personality. I think that ultimately, this is still my philosophy. I’m not perfect, I know it, but I love it.