Lipstick For The Girls

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Morning Lipstick Ritual

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.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I absolutely agree with your distinctions between the attitudes. I find the French attitude of acceptance to be rather refreshing, (although I don’t think that applies to being overweight). I do have a problem with the lack of concern about hair. I loved my hair in the US but here the water does horrible things to it and I haven’t had a good hairstyle since living here. I guess it is all what you are used to, right?

    I think French teenagers use too much make-up but I find that adults use less make-up than their American counterparts. I do the basics, conservative eyeliner, mascara, lip gloss and some blusher and I always feel like I am wearing more than all of my contemporaries.

    When I first moved here my skin was terrible. I finally went to a derm and he told me I was allergic to the water! I had to wash my face with bottled water for the first year and after was able to use the stuff from the tap so I completely sympathize with your Freddy experience.
    .-= angela´s last blog ..En Grève =-.

  2. I can’t use make-up (my skin’s too sensitive) and I’m currently looking for a perfume/scent free moisturizer – the one I’ve been using I can no longer find.
    And recommendations? Yes, you are Canadian (hurray!) but you’re from France & the French have an excellent reputation for knowing their beauty products!
    (If you can help, my email address is on my blog…)
    .-= Beth´s last blog ..Temporarily (?) Stalled =-.

  3. One of the things I heard before moving to France was that women wear less make-up than in the States. I think that’s true, but I’ve always been a make-up minimalist (eye-shadow, moisturizer and powder is all I put on most days) so I think I pay less attention to it. But for the weight-loss tips, I’m not sure (although Canada could be different on this front but I imagine it’s not toooo different from the States). It sure seems like there are lots of ads here (in France) for places to go to lose weight, homeopathic things to do to lose weight, etc. etc. Which always surprised me since people are so thin! As for the dry air, when I moved to Minnesota from Texas (near the Gulf coast), my skin dried out and peeled in the winter, and it was definitely gross. I started slathering heavy moisturizer on my face.

    In the States haircuts cost more in a big city and depending where you go. At a nice salon in San Antonio, $50 is definitely normal, plus some amount of tip depending how well you know your stylist. But if you go to Super Cuts or some chain, I would think it’s about the same as France, if not less, especially if you don’t get a blow-dry. Growing up we paid $20 for a haircut from a stylist we went to for years and years.

    Ah! sorry to ramble. But I thought this was really interesting!

  4. Very interesting topic! I agree with Eileen about the weight loss products. Every pharmacy seems to spend half its floor space on diet supplements.

    One major “beauty product” difference I noticed in France is the lack of sunscreen and awareness of sun protection. You can find sunscreen but it’s tiny and expensive, and a lot of people, or at least many of the women I knew, didn’t really get how to use it and how the sun affects your skin. Basic things like not sitting in the sun all day long, reapplying sunscreen after swimming, etc. That was kind of strange to me since in the US skin protection has become second nature to us. Maybe that goes along with our perpetual fear of aging? And now that I think of it, the women who didn’t do much to protect their skin from the sun were less sophisticated than the average bear.

    To me the biggest difference in personal grooming/appearance habits between French and American women is clothes. Most American women dress like bums compared to French women! They are stylish, accessorize beautifully, always wear the right shoes… I’m sure they all thought I was hopeless. Ironically now that I’m back in the US I dress much more “french” than I did when I lived there!
    .-= Soleil´s last blog ..Connection =-.

  5. @angela – Come to think of it, you are quite right, the water does weird stuffs to my hair when I come back to France. Not to mention the lack of water pressure, which can be a real problems in big cities like Paris. I mean, good luck trying to rinse your hair sometimes!

    I didn’t even know you could be allergic to water. Now I understand why some French use the little bottles of Évian to wash their face! There must be a market for it…

    @Beth – I sent you an email, hope that helps!

    @Eileen – I never really notice the weight-loss trend, maybe I was too young when I left France, or maybe I just didn’t care. As you say, it’s pretty funny because people are thin in France, much thinner in average than in canada or in the US.

    I only know the price of haircuts in Ottawa and in Toronto and I do find it expensive here. Sure, Walmart is cheaper but I don’t dare to try it, even though I don’t care so much about my hair, I’m not suicidal 😆 What surprised me the most I guess is that even what I considered “cheaper” salons (read in-the-middle-of-nowhere salons that are not spa or anything like that) also charge quite a lot.

    @Soleil – That’s funny, maybe I just didn’t notice in France. But I think there are more ‘weight loss clubs’ in Canada (i.e. Weight Watchers etc.). French just drink their “lose weight herbal tea” drink and I think it’s more psychological than anything else 😆

    You are absolutely right about sunscreen, it’s still pretty foreign to many people in France. I actually “discovered” sunscreen when I went to Australia in 2003, because they are really strict about it (and the sun is actually very strong). I spent my summers at the beach when I was a kid and never wore sunscreen. I’m not specially proud of it, I just didn’t really exist or there was no emphasis on it when I was a kid.

    And for clothes… you are right. I feel under dress when I go to France now!

    @Sidney – You just don’t know how lucky you are! 😆

    @Cynthia – Wow, prices must have gone up since I left. I mean, it wasn’t cheap but it wasn’t that bad.

    @RennyBA’s Terella – Lucky you… it takes more work for us, trust me! 😆

    @London Caller – I think so too. I mean, I try to look good but ultimately… it doesn’t matter that much.

  6. Bonjour Zhu
    Tes billets sont tellement vrai sur nos différences. Perso, le maquillage et rouge à lèvre sont venus très tard.

    Peu importe non c’est l’intérieur qui compte !
    .-= Crikette´s last blog ..Quel CON ! … =-.

  7. Hmm, I learned a lot from this post about women’s grooming! I grew up fixing my hair all the time as well, I always knew how to use gels, hairsprays, putty, wax, and so on. Even now, my hair is the number one thing that I spend time fixing in the morning. My lips with the application of lip balm is a far second.
    .-= Linguist-in-Waiting´s last blog ..Data Management =-.

  8. Hi Zhu,

    In Ireland, women wear too much make-up when I say too much, I mean a thick layer of make-up on their faces. You can find all kinds of products almost everywhere, the hairdresses are very expensive (a straigh cut cost about 50-75 euros) and you can find manu places for manicure and pedicure.

    I agree with you maybe we’re not perfect so what? For me, health is most important than a perfect body. Moreover, we can’t stop the time and we’re getting older every day.

    Take care,
    .-= Cornflakegirl´s last blog ..April and Poetry =-.

  9. C’est vrai que les canadiennes se maquillent moins mais en semaine j’ai du mal à sortir sans mon make up. Sans en mettre beaucoup, je me sens tout de même plus réveillée avec!
    .-= Delph´s last blog ..Petites annnones =-.

  10. Max Coutinho on

    Hello Zhu Zhu,

    Ahhh, I used to wear mascara and eye-pencil and lipstick when I was a teen as well. But then I lost the patience for it lol.
    Nowadays, I only wear make-up when I go out at night (or when I attend parties).

    “Eventually, I had to switch to alcohol-free creams to avoid looking like Freddy from A Nightmare on Elm Street.” – LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL that was a good one!

    “In France, the out-of-the-bed messy hairstyle is not designed by fancy hairstylists but courtesy of being too lazy to style.” – LOL LOL LOL loved it!
    I always thought that Portuguese women spent too much time in hair salons, but I see that Canadians are worst, eh? Me, I am like the French LOL…

    “So why not grow natural nails in the first place?” – exactly!!
    I like my manicure and pedicure sessions as well, but the nails are all mine….

    Gorgeous, gorgeous and gorgeous: I prefer the European style myself.

    You forgot one thing: on this side of the Atlantic we have real teeth as well. On North America they love their veneers…

    I adored this post, girl!

    Have a great weekend!

  11. @Crikette – Vraiment? Le rouge à lèvre, moi aussi, mais j’aimais bien me maquiller ado. Puis je l,ai perdu !

    @Linguist-in-Waiting – I notice a lot of guys care about their hair, almost more than women do. Lip balm is a must during our cold winter, but it’s definitely not makeup.

    @Cornflakegirl – I noticed a lot of British young women tend to wear a lot of makeup too, much more than any other Europeans of the same age that I know. Funny.

    @Delph – Moi je sais que je ne suis pas réveillée, avec ou sans 😆

    @Max Coutinho – Don’t get me started with North American and their obsession for perfect white teeth — drives me nut! I’m all for hygiene, but this is just obsessive and… fake.

    Like you, I tend to wear makeup for special occasion, but something juts to brighten my day.

  12. Manicures and pedicures are definitely a North American thing. I don’t remember ever seeing nail salons in Paris, or maybe I just wasn’t looking hard enough. But I’m not convinced French women aren’t as concerned about their bodies and fixing them as North American women. I always saw signs in pharmacies for “minceur” products, things to help with cellulite, and all kinds of pills, teas, and creams for a “ventre plat.” French women care, maybe they just don’t talk about it as openly as North American women?
    .-= Tanya´s last blog ..Visiting France, sans Paris =-.

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