Thursday, January 04, 2007

Je ne sais quoi

After twenty years of living in France, you'd think some of the Frenchwoman's chic and timeless beauty would have rubbed off on me. Not a bit of it. Even before I open my mouth, people exclaim: "Oh là là, you must be English!" I think it is something to do with my straight, mousy hair, which I have worn in the same thin bob since I was seven, or perhaps it is the way a simple silk scarf I have attempted to knot casually around my neck can make me look like a whiplash injury sufferer - or it may be the cellulite on my flabby knees. Whatever the reason, I don't seem to possess that 'je ne sais quoi' quite simply because I really don't know what it is.

French women have always been coquette. Even Joan of Arc treated her rough hands by rubbing them with honey - you'd think, what with hearing voices and leading an army and all that, she'd have other things to worry about than hand cream. Marie-Antoinette shampooed her blonde hair with a mixture of eggs, white wine vinegar and rum and the 18th century French courtesan, Madame Tallien, bathed in strawberry water to keep her skin soft.





Much as I would love to, I have never dared visit a salon de beauté. With names like Aphrodite, Venus and Hot Sauna Unisex Massage Parlour, I'm a little worried about what's on offer. The treatment they claim to provide involves acid, laser weapons and dastardly machines designed to pummel the cellulite out of you and it all sounds much too frightening to contemplate. Not surprisingly, many of the treatments were invented by the French: liposuction, endermology (where some sadistic person squeezes your spare tyre in a mangle-like apparatus) and mesotherapy (vitamin and drug injections destined to 'melt' your fat away) amongst others.

Even more drastic remedies are available, however. I live in the centre of town and when I first arrived, I was alarmed by the number of women I saw staggering around with bruised faces and black eyes. Had I unwittingly moved to a hotbed of vice and violence? Were the streets safe to walk at night? The answer was around the corner: no less than four cosmetic surgery clinics were squeezed between a supermarket and an estate agent's. Facelifts are also a French invention and there are some two thousand surgeons practising cosmetic surgery in France - although only about five hundred of these are actually qualified to do so. You can even get it on the Sécu if your nose/breasts/tummy are causing you enough psychological trauma. However, despite the ready availability of cosmetic surgery, France does not top the European League table in this area - the UK does and France comes a close second.

Does this mean we need plastic surgery more than the French? Of course not (I don't include myself in this statement: I actually need a complete face and body transplant but they haven't invented that yet…). I do think we spend less time on looking after our bodies. For example, four times as many French women use anti-ageing creams than women in the UK and the French are still the world's top users of beauty products and fragrances. A French woman will think nothing of spending thirty pounds on a tube of 'slimming' gel, which will give her thinner thighs and a flatter stomach within a fortnight. At least, that is the claim. There are clinical tests that purport to prove it and the leaflet that comes in the box has a lot of technical-looking diagrams showing you how it works. This gel makes your skin go either chilli-pepper hot or freezing cold and you use up a fair amount of calories just rubbing the stuff in. Oddly enough, the part of the leaflet that is written in English just says 'Skin smoothing cream' and doesn't even mention the fact that you can lose seven inches off your bottom by osmosis or whatever the phenomenon is called. Maybe it doesn't work on English skin. It definitely didn't work on mine…




If all else fails, or you're just too poor or cowardly to try, then tisanes or infusions are a safe bet. The French love these and no wonder: they can cure anything from insomnia to haemorrhoids. You just pour some boiling water on a few dead leaves, flowers and stalks etc. and let it stew for ten minutes - then you drink it. If you don't vomit it all up immediately afterwards, you should soon be feeling much better. You can buy these concoctions in chemists, health food shops or supermarkets and there is something for everybody. Try thistle and evening primrose infusion for beautiful skin; vine leaves and ginkgo biloba for slender legs; nettle and alfalfa for luxurious hair…and for weight loss, I can personally recommend senna pod and rhubarb. It certainly had me up and running beautifully…

6 comments:

Open Grove Claudia said...

I'm not French and I love all that, uh, stuff. I get it at Bliss Spa in NYC. I think it comes from being a Californian.

And I must say that my mother is literally unrecognizable from all the remodeling she has had done.

My sisters have pledged in turn not to have "optional" surgery. We'll see how long that lasts....

Gigi said...

Yes - I was looking at it from a British point of view. I realise that Americans are far more 'advanced' in that field.

The idea of having an operation terrifies me anyway, so I'll just have to grow old disgracefully!

angela said...

A friend tried that stretch mark cream on her wrinkles and I must say it did make a visible difference but I'm waiting to see if it lasts.
Although I'd like to transform myself I'd really rather spend the money on something more entertaining so i'll wait till I win the lottery.
Angela

Gigi said...

On her wrinkles angela? On her face? Or do you mean on her cellulite? If it works on wrinkles, I'm up for it...I've been know to put haemorrhoid cream on mine before now - that's how desperate I am...

Sarah said...

I think wrinkle cream contains small traces of polyfiller that expand on contact with your face's moisture so giving the illusion that your wrinkles have disappeared. They do, until the cream wears off.

Lauren_tn said...

Interesting read. I tried using the email link on your blog to send an email, but the email was returned. I am curious as to how you came to live in France. I also noticed in your profile that you are a teacher. My background is in education also.