Modesty, en Francais

Flipping through the glossy La Redoute, a clothing and home goods magazine with a page count that could rival Webster’s Dictionary, I noticed something that Americans would probably consider inappropriate:  body parts.

US advertising is constantly criticized for being a bit too liberal with photoshop and other editing software that can alter a model’s image. Does she look too old? Erase those crow’s feet! It can be as simple as a swipe of a mouse. But the French style of photo editing – or lack thereof – reveals parts of the female anatomy that Americans very rarely see in such high definition.

The lingerie and swimsuit ads seem to display my point the best. The models are beautiful, of course. But the images are not quite as “perfect” as the ads one would see in a Macy’s catalog or on Quite frankly, French advertising makes Victoria’s Secret look tame.

French bras and undergarments are infamously sheer. For those well-endowed individuals, this is a dream come true. And for others used to a more modest look (or at least some structure), there is a noticeable difference in feel and appearance. There is a stylistic emphasis on the natural, rather than the enhanced. In fact, I’ve noticed many women of all ages who choose to not wear bras at all. Other than the ’60s and early ’70s, Americans never really jumped on that trend.

Again, I’m not saying that I want to strut around in these pretty little numbers. But I do think there is something to be said, or at least noticed, about the fact that French media consumers are not as petrified of a little cellulite or incomplete breast symmetry. It is my opinion that Americans have become dangerously addicted to an unrealistic human image.  These advertisements not only erase all physical flaws, but also eliminate all signs of character. France, for whatever reason, seems to display the unenhanced female image with apparent pride.

There are many cultural differences between France and the states that Americans anticipate when they visit, such as how food could be anything from frog legs to snails, or how to greet one another with the cheek kisses. But here’s one warning I didn’t get: There will be boobs.