When I arrived in the City of Lights as a starry-eyed student, I fell HARD for Monsieur X, which lead me to relocate to France permanently — pissing off my mom and signing off on Yankee guys forever.
I was the American girl and he, the slightly louche Frenchman with more than Godard on his mind.
We cuddled, danced, talked, traveled, and two years later, we moved into a little apartment near the Bastille.
But well before the arguable bliss of domesticity came the First Valentine’s Day. Remember the scene in Annie Hall when Annie opens a package from Alvy containing a black lace teddy?
After observing that it’s more of a present for him than for her, she tosses it aside. Imagine receiving the same present, only in red … and with garter elastics dangling ominously from it. Not only was I embarrassed by the contraption, I found the whole idea silly and cliché.
When I confided in my French friend Emilie—sputtering as though he had proffered a copy of Juggs, not some expensive Eres lingerie — she rolled her eyes and dragged me out to buy the proper stockings. It’s normal, Emilie said, for French women to wear these contrivances, even (gasp!) by the light of day.
It’s a way of being conscious of what you have on under your clothes, AND a way of pleasing your man, she told me … without the slightest hint of irony.
American girls, sisterhood of the Fruit of the Loom, are raised to think that such adornment is counter-feminist.
We dress for ourselves. We do not lace ourselves into uncomfortable undergarments for men. But hearing this Valley of the Dolls lecture from PhD-candidate Emilie made me rethink my utilitarian views.
What was wrong with occasionally wearing lingerie for a man?
Couldn’t it be a way of seeing yourself in a different light — through the eyes of your desiring boyfriend? And in time, I came to love my red porte-jartelles. Yet, as the underwear quotient in France increases, I’ve learned, the grooming quotient decreases.
Fact: French men do not expect bikini waxes.
And here, messy hair is held in higher esteem than a perfect blowout.
The more time I spend with French femmes, the more I realize they don’t spend the inordinate amount of time grooming that American women do.
Most let their hair air dry, wear little makeup, and skimp on hair removal.
And honestly, they look better for it: more natural, more nonchalantly gorgeous.
When I began cutting down on primp time, Monsieur X was appreciative.
He could finally smell “me” and not my deodorant and shampoo, he murmured, nuzzling my neck.
I’ll admit the comment made me want to sprint to the shower, but there was something so liberating about letting go of my Californian Ivory Girl sensibilities. I didn’t need to be depilated and exfoliated to a shine to be attractive.
Americans make much of the sophistication of French women, but the truth is, when it comes to beauty, these swans are fairly rock ‘n’ roll.
They eat sensibly (no snacking) and pay attention to their skin, but they also engage in a healthy abandon we sometimes lack.