Why French Women Don’t do Makeovers

For work I usually feature a makeover post on Mondays on social media. Today however, it’s got me   thinking. It’s a distinctly American point of view — the idea of a makeover — the idea of a complete transformation. The notion that we can delete or demolish that which exists and start anew. Wipe the slate clean.

On the one hand it gives us hope, the idea of a fresh start untethered from the past and anything that came before. It promises that just around the corner everything might be both different and better, if only we can be inventive enough to create it.

But at its worst, it’s destructive and oddly monotonous. We’re more likely to repeat the past when we haven’t reckoned with it, than invent a bright new future. And it seems to favor a culture of consumerism, rather then the individuality it promises. It’s also exhausting, the cycle of forever starting over and beginning again from scratch.

What if there’s a different way?

Once I happened upon a talk given by Olivier Magny about the difference between the American approach to wine versus the approach in France, and it seemed to perfectly illustrate the difference in what I was seeing in France versus the States. He said there are two ways to make wine.

The first way is to make wine to the taste of the market. If the market favors big oaky wine that’s what we make. If it starts to favor un-oaked and fruit forward wines, we stop making the first wine and start making the second kind. We forever run, chasing the market. It’s a very American way of looking at life that asks, “How can we remake ourselves to suit the market?”

This makes good wine — wine that is eminently likable, but it never makes great wine. It never transcends our expectations. It never surprises, and because of that it never delights. Instead, it ends up tasting like all the other wines on the market. It’s consistent and knowable. It’s safe.

To make this kind of wine you must first obliterate everything that makes it unique. You irrigate the vines so it doesn’t pick up the qualities of the land from deep roots. You use chemicals and yeasts that aren’t native to create the flavor. You build the flavor back in through mechanical processes so that you can control the taste and tailor it for mass appeal.  You give the wine a makeover.  The French would never do this.

The second way to make wine, the French way, is to look at what we have, what already exists and ask how can we build on that? What climate and terrain exists here? What is the soil like? What grape would grow good in that soil and climate? What kind of wine could be made with all of these factors?  

This is inherent with the French notion of “terroir.” Terroir is how a product shows and highlights the character and qualities of where it came from. It’s about developing and shaping the quality of what we already have, regardless of what the market says it wants. It asks, “How can I not make myself over to suit the market, but instead develop and refine what’s already there that’s good?”

This makes a unique wine that may not be to everyone’s palate, but it will surprise, and to some at least, it will inspire and delight. It makes a wine and a life that forces us to ask questions, to ponder and wonder at what it tastes it like, and to ask, do we like it or not? This is a wine that has the potential to be, not just good, but truly great. This way isn’t safe. This way is playing with fire. Really great fire.

To make this kind of wine you simply enhance and refine the beauty that’s already there. You build on the natural qualities you like in the grape, vine and land, and try to edit for qualities that might dilute or spoil the beauty that already exists. You don’t reinvent the flavor, you enhance it.  The French apply this not just to their wines, but to their style, their homes, their cities, and to their own unique beauty.  

Can’t we apply this same principle to our lives? Do we want to be the flavor of the moment? And emulate everyone else? Blend in, play it safe? Or do we want to deepen our flavor? Do we want to show up in a way that inspires, delights, and even surprises people, by being exactly who we are?

Too often I’ve looked at my face, or body, or persona, and I’ve only seen what’s not there instead of what is. I see that I don’t have Angelina Jolie’s lips, or Kate Upton’s body… And from this place of lack the make-over begins. I try to demolish what’s already there without ever even seeing it clearly.  From what I can see the French don’t do this. 

I can’t help but wonder, what if I, like the French, stopped? What if I stopped trying to be the flavor of the moment? What if I just breathed through the “not enoughness” our culture seems to be selling and saw what already exists there? What if I developed my flavor? Something new and surprising and not entirely knowable? Something different.

What if instead of scrapping everything that’s come before, or obliterating what already exists I take a long look to find the one thing I already love right now, and expanded upon that? What if I simply enhance on what’s already working? And what if I did that in every area of my life, from the way I look at my face, to my relationships, to the kitchen remodel?

What if you did the same?

And for inspiration, I’ve scattered some photos of some very iconic and unique French Women through out.


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