Friday mornings at Café Charlot have become an informal ritual for Nathalie and me. When the weather turns agréable in Paris, un café sur la terrasse is almost magic. As two stylists, and moms whose sons have been good friends since l’école maternelle, it’s comforting to know that we can truly see and hear one another, despite my lazy French conjugation and her timidity with the English language.
This past Friday, we mused about what makes a woman truly beautiful. And as always, when Nathalie gets started on a subject that she is passionate about, she almost sings:
“Ma Chère Michelle, for me true beauty is a woman who is not trying to be like anyone else. She does not follow fashion at all costs. She assumes her curves with an easy smile that showcases her wrinkles, her fragility, her moods–all wonderful signs to her, that she is human.”
Nathalie pauses for a slow drag of her slim cigarette, then continues. “It’s in the details of how she wears her clothes: the slightly opened blouse, a skirt or a dress that parts when she walks… her heels clicking rhythmically on the streets of Paris…” She exhales. “It’s in the simple manner of her gestures… the manicured hand that slides into her hair; it’s her lipstick that reveals her beautiful teeth when she laughs…”
Nathalie smiles and stubs out her cigarette in the ashtray, gesturing elegantly with her hands. “She takes the time to watch her children grow up, and feel beloved by the one who shares her life. She takes the time to have drinks with her friends, and be passionate about her profession; knowing all the while that nothing in life is certain.”
Nathalie pauses and looks at me squarely. “C’est ça, ma belle Michelle. For me, all women, no matter what their age, are lovely, admirable, and courageous. But, it’s only when they take off their superwoman cloak that their inner light shines from their eyes.”
Nathalie pauses to pull out another Vogue cigarette. “Of course there are always a few tips that we can share to look more beautiful, which is what we do… but tell me, what is true beauty to you”
I laugh out loud, imagining the faces that my husband would make if he had been here. He’s heard my philosophy many times before, and is honestly confused by the amount of airtime the subject gets.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; beauty is as beauty does.”
For me true beauty is love, kindness and compassion, expressed, toward ourselves and toward each other. It is the highest form of gratitude, humility, praise, vulnerability and strength. It is our presence communicated, subtle and beyond words, and it moves you.
“Wow, okay, d’accord,” Nathalie exhales a slim line of smoke from her cigarette.
The most beautiful people I know don’t worry much about wrinkles or weight, or the clothes that they wear. Of course, they give thought to what they wear and how they care for their bodies, but they decide what is happy and healthy to them, and this brings forth their beauty.
These expressions may change with time. But their beauty moves with them, as an underlying continuity of spirit, for lack of another word. To me, both beauty and sadness are linked to how someone’s presence makes me feel. As human beings, I believe we express more than we know, even to those we may never actually meet.
The most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen was on the streets of New York City, 20 years ago. Short, salt and pepper hair, a white t-shirt, straight, dark jeans, rolled up a bit, to show her ankles, and black penny loafers. She was wearing an eggshell-colored trench coat, Jackie O sunglasses and a matte red lipstick. She didn’t carry a purse. She stopped at a corner, took off her shades, and turned her face up to the morning sun. And, with her eyes closed, she smiled. Perhaps it was just a second or two, then she walked on, with grace in her step. She moved me. We never met, and I will never forget her.
Honestly Nathalie, I forget what people wear, except for those moments in which we shared a bond. I laugh and recount: I remember every outfit I’ve worn at each of my birthday parties since I was 5. I suppose I was imprinting the joy or sadness I felt at each of those moments – pivotal reminders that, somehow, those days were to be markers for my life, and how I wanted to be and move forth into the coming years.
I sigh, and Nathalie joins me.
“Ma belle,” she says, “what a beautiful morning this is”.
Mais oui, I agree.