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French Women to American Beauties: You Are Too Painted

Simmering diplomatic war between France and the United States has taken an ugly turn after French women accused their American counterparts of being "painted dolls".

French women don't wear make-up, or at least pretend not to. Their new goal is to glow, with invisible pores and highly polished skin. Too much make-up, they claim, makes a woman seem older, or worse still, appear as if she makes a living providing sexual services and "vulgaire".

And they have singled out American women as the worst examples, while putting forward their own versions of perfection such as actresses Juliette Binoche and Audrey Tautou.

Led by French fashion experts, the attack will stoke tensions based on cultural differences that neither country pretends to understand.

Laura Mercier, the French creator of a line of cosmetics, who lives in New York, said: "It really astonishes me the way American women wear so much make-up.

"In the US, even teenage girls are overly made up. And when you are overly made up, you send out the message that you are overly sexual, that you want to be visible to attract men."

By contrast, Mercier added: "French women are not flashy. They must be subtle. The message must not be: 'I'm spending hours on my face to look beautiful.'"
The French say Nicole Richie and Britney Spears have adopted the "overdone" look, while Madonna is forgiven since she is seen as a hard-nosed businesswoman and free spirit. This season, the unadorned look is more in vogue than ever in France. The weekly magazine L'Express calls it "Le no make-up" look.

To women in France, it represents something more profound than simply one's taste in skin care. Make-up is also the mark of the desperate housewife type who tries too hard.

They cite Yves Saint Laurent's famous quote: "The most beautiful make-up for a woman is passion. But cosmetics are easier to buy."

In a poll by the market research group Mintel, 64% of American women said they sometimes used foundation, compared with 47% of French women; 81% of Americans use lipstick, compared with 70% of French women, and 59% of Americans use blusher, compared with 43%.

The image "du jour" of "le no make-up" look is Audrey Tautou, with magazines featuring the 29-year-old Da Vinci Code star without jewellery or any visible make-up, except for a slight tint on her lips. Even her beauty marks have not been airbrushed away.

Instead of using makeup, French women invest more time aiming for perfect, blemish-free skin.

Even French women of modest means are much more likely than American women to get treatments in spas or clinics that scrub, polish, buff, massage and cream their skins.

In this, the French government is complicit. Any woman who can claim to have a medically diagnosed skin condition, from eczema to acne, can receive a regimented "thermal cure" at spas in France once a year.

The French taxpayer covers as much as 65% of the cost.