Redefining French Beauty?

How is social media changing our perception of the French Beauty Muse?

In November 2017, Algerian-French YouTuber ‘Horia’ uploaded a video entitled ‘2 MILLIONS, OMG !!! – Horia’ that celebrated her two millionth follower on the online platform, and the subsequent cementation of her as the second most influential beauty guru online in France. Since 2017, Horia has been overtaken on the follower count by Moroccan-French beauty YouTuber ‘Sananas’, who, with over 2.5 million followers, leads this new group of girls who are reshaping what the elusive ‘French beauty’ really means. For most of us, ‘French Beauty’ has a prevailing and recurring image; a white, slim and ‘naturally’ beautiful girl who always looks effortlessly chic. This image is engrained globally because it has been repeatedly used by France’s gargantuan beauty industry in advertisements for perfume or skin-creams. Alongside wine and cheese, it is one of France’s most successful global exports.

Against this traditional image, the rise of the French beauty blogger – especially those from marginalized ethnic groups – is testament to how social media is providing spaces for unheard voices and is challenging this restrictive vision of beauty. These YouTube and Instagram stars are unbelievably popular, and so far many are breaking the rules. Whilst videos of ‘natural French beauty’ are still in abundance, these girls are reviewing rainbow eyeshadow palettes and are contouring their faces – both apparent faux-pas in traditional French beauty (Forbes). As time goes on, these ‘rules’ seem to hold less importance for a new generation who have so far not seen themselves represented in the society that instigated these restrictive beauty codes.

 

So how are these bloggers changing the face of French beauty?

Working as a teaching assistant in Strasbourg last year revealed the real life impact of these beauty gurus on one group of young girls in France. One morning four Muslim girls came into my classroom. I had been given the keyword ‘dreams’ to play with, and started the lesson by asking each of them ‘What is your dream job?’. Without hesitation, the girls all said ‘make-up artist’. They had been inspired by YouTubers such as Sabina Hannan, Sananas and Horia, who, unlike most representations of French beauty found across advertising and cinema, were from ethnically diverse backgrounds and, in the case of Hannan, wore a hijab. These women, who exist outside of the ‘classic’ image of French beauty, had created entire businesses out of sharing their passion for make-up online. Their success is testament to the importance of diversity in the beauty industry. My students proceeded to show me their favourite makeup tutorials and, as it turns out, this was their main exposure to the English language outside the classroom. From then on we watched beauty tutorials, learnt specific vocabulary and discussed their visions for the future. For them, make-up was magic and beauty was a ticket to further career opportunities and empowerment. On the surface, it seems as if social media is starting to challenge the pre-existing image of a French beauty muse.

Are audiences outside of France being influenced by this shift too? Is our notion of French beauty changing?

On a global scale, our visions of French beauty probably remain the same. Unfortunately, France’s runways are still behind in terms of diversity, and the countries’ cinema is only beginning to more realistically represent its ethnic population. New cinematic stars such as Karidja Touré and Oulaya Amamra, whose films (Girlhood and Divines respectively) found critical acclaim outside of France, are bringing a more inclusive French beauty to the forefront of discussion. Both stars can be found using social media in partnership with fashion houses such as Chanel, with frequent selfies beside the Eiffel Tower reiterating how their French identity is just as strong as anyone else’s. Touré notes how ‘she feels she is “as French as it gets: I love fashion […] I read Vanity Fair and Vogue.” (Guardian). Together, the stars have a joint following of over a hundred thousand on Instagram alone; it is through this influence that perhaps our global vision of French beauty will start to shift.

These new faces are crucial in a country where their cinema is intrinsically linked to its beauty industry. Since 2007, the Cannes film festival has been sponsored by L’Oréal, and in turn French actresses have long been scouted for advertisements where it is not only their specific beauty that sells but also the notions of French sophistication they portray. Think of Marion Cotillard or Lea Seydoux, both of whom are now internationally recognized. Looking forward, we can hope to see Touré and Amamra joining their ranks.

Whilst these online platforms are promoting new voices, this cannot be seen as a replacement for industries stepping up and diversifying. Of course, beauty should not be a requisite for inclusion, yet, watching young girls creating spaces for themselves outside of the ‘acceptable’ image of French beauty is redefining what French beauty means. In the world of beauty, that should be seen as an important step.

– Victoria Pownall

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