A few years ago, fate was conspiring to bring author Jamie Cat Callan and I together. First, I wrote a blog post that mentioned her book, French Women Don't Sleep Alone. Then, she wrote to me! In the following weeks, two different people told me: "You should meet my friend, Jamie Cat Callan..." (Read how that happened here.)
Both passionate Francophiles, Jamie and I started hatching a plan to bring her to Wilmington, NC for a South 'n France-sponsored book signing. But alas, the cobblestones on a quaint French street had other ideas for Jamie. During a trip to France to research her next book, Jamie broke her ankle which required surgery, a metal plate, six screws, a 9-day hospital stay in France (where she says: "Yes, even the hospital food is delicious!"), and a lengthy convalescence back home in Cape Cod.
Aside from the occasional bon bon order, I didn't hear from Jamie again for quite some time. Then, a couple of weeks ago, her name appeared at the top of my inbox. She was writing to tell me that her newest oeuvre, Ooh La La! French Women's Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Everyday, had been published. Would I like to read and review a copy? Naturally, my answer was "Oui, bien sûr!"
The title of the book's first chapter is "You Had Me at Bonjour", but Jamie had me before I even turned to the first chapter. Before the prologue, facing the table of contents, is a Marcel Proust quote: "Let us leave pretty women to men with no imagination." I knew right then that I was going to love this book. And, I did.
You see, the French aesthetic for beauty is much broader than our American version, which glorifies youth and perfection. The French have a much stronger appreciation for both age and unconventional beauty. They actually look for age in architecture, wine, cheese, and also in women. The expression, "une femme d'une certaine age", not only refers to a middle-aged woman, it also implies her experience in the womanly arts of seduction, sensuality, and femininity. The French also have a term for unconventionally beautiful women: une jolie-laide, or, une belle laide. Literally translated as 'an ugly beautiful woman', the expression is used for a woman who may not be pretty by conventional physical standards, but who is magnificent, mesmerizing, compelling and attractive for other reasons like her style, charisma, commanding presence, or joie de vivre.
The French secrets that Jamie shares in her book are less the "spritz your face daily with Evian" variety (although there are plenty of those too), and more in keeping with the quotes by iconic French artists, designers, and authors that begin each chapter--like this one from Yves Saint Laurent: "The most beautiful makeup for a women is passion."
What did I love most about Ooh La La! French Women's Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day (which I consider Jamie's best book to date)? She got personal. Each chapter tells a story about Jamie's own search for her inner "Ooh la la!". She reveals her very personal womanly fears, insecurities, delights and desires, feelings that every American woman will relate to no matter her waist size, her cup size, her age, or her height. In doing so, Jamie reminds us that if we silence the guilt and remove the pressure of the unrealistic expectations our culture places on women's beauty; if we embrace our imperfections, define a personal signature style, and practice the pleasures of self-maintenance; we will do more to preserve our beauty than any face lift could ever promise.
Jamie ends each chapter with a "French Lesson" that distills her personal experiences and research into helpful suggestions and concrete action steps to find the "je ne sais quoi" that seems to exude from every pore of our French counterparts. One of my favorites is: "Begin at the ends--hands, feet and hair".
So, I'm on my way to a pedicure and manicure as soon as I post this blog. As for you, I strongly recommend that you start by getting this book and curling up in your favorite reading spot. Bring a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, some macaroons, or a few chocolate bon bons, and enjoy! If you're anything like me, you will devour Ooh La La! French Women's Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day even faster than the goodies that sit by your side. I finished it the same I weekend I started it, and I closed the book feeling as if I had just enjoyed a refreshing, uplifting visit with one of my most inspirational girlfriends. Jamie, now that you're ankle is better, let's make that feeling a reality!