How to be Parisienne: Au naturel

Anna Hollingsworth 28 May 2016

The Parisienne cultivates natural beauty. She meticulously tends to herself, exacting every minute detail, in order to appear as if she hasn’t done a thing. I turn to my manual for guidance: ‘how to take care of yourself while giving the impression that you don’t take care of yourself.’ Time to become a parisienne beauty.

First, hair. It should be gorgeously untidy. Untidy I can handle, but gorgeous? I am to wash my hair in the evening and leave it to dry naturally, avoiding the superficial hairdryer. Two days in advance, for volume.

Thus, the morning of my painstakingly crafted natural beauty, my hair is voluminous and lush. Or rather, brittle and lacklustre. I brush it upside down, searching for that untidy edge and gentle bounce. The result is ideal, for an eighties party. No accessories, no nonsense. Instead I casually throw it up into a messy bun. On the eighth attempt.

My skin is next. I am informed that it must be ‘shown, revealed, exposed’, as if it was some dirty secret. Nevertheless, this makes me nervous, having battled impertinent skin for years. Foundation is sinful. Today I’m going bare. My face must have known this day was coming as it has flared up. Blotches and blemishes cannot be caked under a thick plastering of foundation but I have been granted permission to discipline them. First moisturiser, then concealer for imperfections. Lacking the latter I improvise with a droplet of foundation on each little red traitor, but reckon this random collection of orange circles may be less than subtle. Mascara is encouraged but I overcompensate for the lack of artifice elsewhere, making me look permanently shocked. A little light red lipstick and voilà. With a drop of perfume behind the ears for luck I brave the world.

Deciding that today is all about pulling off ‘naturally parisienne’ I determine to incorporate some parisienne habits into my act. The metro is my stage.

Stepping into a busy carriage, I am paranoid at first. The absence of foundation is unnerving, like entering battle unarmed. I try to focus on my persona. Apparently, as a Parisienne, I should appear to be gazing at the sunset at all times. So, taking the most elegant, strong-willed pose I can on the cramped metro, I gaze. Out the window, into the darkness, I focus on looking mysteriously enamoured. There must be depth in my eyes. However, my Oscar-worthy performance goes unnoticed by my fellow commuters. The profound expression of my soul flows into a sea of human indifference. I try to intensify it, playing the opening tune of The Lion King in my mind in the hope that this will add gravity to my gaze, but looking dreamlike is challenging when part of your brain is preoccupied squeezing your bags to your chest out of fear they’ll be stolen. Explaining to a French police officer that you didn’t notice a hand rummaging through your possessions because you were busy staring at an imaginary sunset feels like an experience I can do without.

My concentration is further challenged by self-awareness. I am simultaneously relieved and offended that no one is staring at my face.

On line two I switch strategies, this time determining to master the natural parisienne pout. I practise on the platform, puckering my lips with various levels of intensity. This train is quiet. We are all seated. I pout, look mysterious and glance around. Out of the six of us five are staring at their phones. Even the man who walks past trying to sell the cemetery version of maps of the stars’ homes doesn’t look at me. The only person looking at me is me. I pout at my reflection. I look like a fish.

A man takes the opposite seat. He catches my eye as he sits and, caught off-guard by this unexpected eye contact, panics, smiles, half greets me then looks down in horror. Human interaction on the metro is an unsettling thing for Parisians. Eye contact is their Achilles heel.

The tables are unexpectedly turned as I leave though. Standing to go I take one final glance at my accomplice. He in turn looks up and I too, unprepared for this moment of acknowledgment, lapse into an impulse of friendliness: I half smile, remember I am to be Parisienne, cancel it, and end up spinning around and dashing off. My semi-smile and sudden disappearance feel aloof and insouciant. I beam, internally. I feel a little Eliza. By George, she’s got it.

For the rest of the day my tousled look slips from my mind. I work, I chat, I live. In the bathroom mirror I notice my cheeks are rosy pink and I have a sprinkling of light freckles under my eyes. My skin is littered with so-called imperfections but it has a natural light and colouring that gives it life.

The secret of parisienne natural beauty is clear: owning your flaws is empowering and the glow of confidence and self-love it produces is the most powerful elixir of all.