Growing up in Canada, there was one advantage of long winters: it was easy to stay covered up. Whether a light dusting or a thirty-centimeter snow dump, nature blanketed over any ugliness and I used baggy clothes to the same end. But there’s nothing baggy about Paris. When I moved to France and started working in the lingerie industry I found myself surrounded by thin, beautiful, scantily-clothed women prancing around with more confidence than I ever had wearing a snowsuit.
The journey from self-loathing to self-love wasn’t easy. The rise and fall of my self-esteem were inversely proportional to my weight.
The City of Light begs to be uncovered
Beauty is everywhere in Paris — even when not in plain sight. Hidden beauty is visible to anyone with the curiosity and patience to look. Push open an obscure door and you’ll find a secret garden, wander down a cobblestone street and stumble on a pink house, or climb a few steps and find yourself strolling through a rooftop garden. The reward for taking your time is a sensory explosion.
“Some things are hidden so as to reveal them more.”
– Michel de Montaigne
How I feel in lingerie is more important than how I look
In my book Paris Undressed: The Secrets of French Lingerie, I recount an epiphany I had in a lingerie boutique soon after my arrival in Paris. Madame Annabelle, the owner, takes me under her wing and despite feeling awkward, I discover how beautiful lingerie feels. This sensation was new for me as underwear was simply the first layer in my cover-up. No longer a prop for date night or a reward for depriving myself, lingerie made my sensory world come alive — and myself as well. Discovering the tactile delight of lingerie fundamentally shifted my perspective and changed my motivation to wear it.
I began to understand the lingerie paradox: by focusing on how I feel in lingerie instead of how I look, my body image improved… without changing my body.
I went home and began the exacting task of sorting through my lingerie drawer. Only items that had both an aesthetic and tactile appeal could stay. Nothing less was going to take up space — or touch my skin. By the end of the process, despite my half-empty drawer, I began to feel a deep connection and growing harmony from within. As my lingerie awakening continued I learned that the luxury of lingerie is more important than luxury lingerie, that panties don’t get enough credit and, perhaps most important, I don’t need to know my bra size! Why? Because every brand sizes differently. So I learned how to fit myself (anyone can learn) and choose a bra style for my body type. Gradually, through the art of lingerie, I fell in love with me.
My love affair with lingerie in all its forms
Although I didn’t know it at the time, my encounter with Madame Annabelle marked the beginning of a thirty-year lingerie odyssey that involved starting a lingerie company, hosting lingerie tours, organizing unique retreats, founding a breast health charity and writing a book about French lingerie. These experiences offered an extraordinary opportunity to meet hundreds of women who shared their deepest desires and vulnerabilities. And while there is a universal language and understanding among women from various cultures and backgrounds, there was a pronounced difference when it came to lingerie.
French appreciation of lingerie
For many French women, their relationship with lingerie differed from their American counterparts in the following ways:
- Their introduction to lingerie is through the senses. Most French women remember their first bra and can describe the details.
- They understand that lingerie must delight and not simply fulfill a purpose or provide a solution for small breasts, big breasts, back fat or any other perceived shortcomings.
- They have access to a richer and more nuanced language, and hence more reasons to want to wear it. While writing Paris Undressed, I asked twelve lingerie designers why they love lingerie and they responded with a variety of rich descriptions: subtle, elegant, surprising, feminine, pleasurable, poetic, refined, romantic, natural, timeless, liberating, and sensual. For the English-speaking community, the lingerie lexicon consists of three tired words: sexy, hot, and sale.
I know this to be true: Only through our vulnerability can we find our beauty. Yours is accessible too if you give yourself the space — and the time. Madame Annabelle gave me both. Imagine the influence of our individual and collective strength if we all held space for one another to reconcile and re-define how we think about ourselves.