American Beauty

Yet another story by an expat who insist on slagging off the women in the country he calls home. Seriously, what is with these people? Clearly the author is seeking attention for himself, but this takes things a bit too far.

From The Times, December 11, 2007
American beauty? By Tad Safran
Having observed females on both sides of the Atlantic, our correspondent claims British women are unkempt and lazy about grooming
In the iconic chick-flick Bridget Jones’s Diary, the title character is a sad, lonely, overweight, posh-sounding chain-smoker in her thirties with a drinking problem and no dating prospects. She then, one day, goes to the gym for an hour or two, spends £200 at Topshop, reads a self-help book and, lo and behold, she finds herself in the delightful position of having to decide between Hugh Grant and Colin Firth.
Women of Britain: Bridget Jones’s Diary is not a documentary. It’s a work of fiction, a fairytale. The fact is that control-top granny pants are simply not a substitute for regular exercise, thoughtful grooming and a healthy diet. Certainly not if you’re single and interested in men.
Although I am American, England has been my home since I was three years old. I now split my time between Los Angeles and London and regularly visit New York. There are many, many differences between the British and the Americans, but none more glaring than UK women’s approach to their own upkeep.
I am a massive fan of British women. UK girls, in my opinion, are the greatest natural beauties in the world . . . when they’re 17 or 18 years old. The girls I was surrounded by when I was a teenager were sublime roses with lustrous hair, flawless skin, bright eyes and lithe, athletic bodies. They dressed as if there would be a prize at the end of the night for the girl wearing the least. I then went away to Philadelphia for university. Four years later, I came back and wondered: “What the hell happened to all the beautiful girls I knew?” My first assumption was that one half of them had eaten the other half and washed them down with a crate of lager. These girls looked phenomenal when looking good took no effort. But when British women get to the age where they have to make an effort, they appear unable, or uninterested, in rising to the challenge.

I’m recently back from a two-month sojourn in Los Angeles and New York. Maybe I have come back with fresh eyes. Maybe I have grown accustomed to the effort American women put into their upkeep. Either way, you don’t exactly need callipers to figure out in which country the women look after themselves more. An informal poll of my US female friends revealed that they spend roughly $700 (£350) a month on what they consider standard obligatory beauty maintenance. That covers haircut, highlights, manicure, pedicure, waxing, tanning, make-up, facials, teeth whitening etc. They will spend a further $1,000 (£500) a month on physical conditioning such as military fitness, spinning sessions, vikram yoga, Pilates, deep-tissue sports massage, personal training etc. On top of that, add the occasional spa day, a week-long “bikini boot camp” in Mexico at the start of every summer and seasonal splurges on personal shoppers and clothing. I’m not sure any of my British female friends spends £700 during an entire year on her appearance. American women see these costs as a simple and sensible investment in their future. A perfect example of this was presented to me last week. I was set up with Sophie (I have changed the name) by married friends. Sophie was a truly beautiful girl I used to be friends with, but hadn’t seen in 15 years. I was surprised to hear that she was still single and was excited to meet her again. At dinner, I found myself sitting opposite something that surely would have been happier hunting for truffles in the forests of France or grazing on the grassy marshlands of Canada. My friend’s wife had told me that Sophie still had the body of a 20-year-old. Maybe she did . . . dismembered in her freezer at home. She certainly didn’t have it on her skeleton. I’m not saying that I’m the greatest prize out there, but at least I’d put on a clean shirt, shaved and brushed my teeth. Sophie tumbled into the house looking like a refugee from Hurricane Katrina. She smelt like the R&D lab at Philip Morris. Her outfit was about as sexy as a half-pound of ground meat. And, surely, the only time she’d seen the inside of a gym was to ask directions to the nearest pub. I was hurt that my friends thought I’d be remotely interested in Sophie. Even more insulting was when my friend’s wife pointedly said: “Tad, I hear you just sold a screenplay to the producers of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” I could not believe it. She was selling ME to HER!? I sat there watching Sophie tuck into a second huge plate of shepherd’s pie and realised why no self-respecting American girl consumes carbohydrates after 2pm. I’m not surprised Sophie was having trouble finding a boyfriend. Regardless of whether she was interested in me or not, she was unwittingly sabotaging her own chances with any man. It’s not entirely Sophie’s fault, I suppose. My friend’s wife didn’t manage my expectations. Maybe it would have been better if she had said: “Tad, you enjoyed The Lord of the Rings. Would you like to meet an orc?” Why is it the case (and I’m generalising here) that British women spend so little time and effort on looking after them-selves? Take, for example, Helena Bonham Carter, a spectacular example of the English rose. And yet she is regularly photographed looking like a bag of spanners. Can you imagine a similar photo of the American equivalent, say Michelle Pfeiffer? Absolutely not. As with many societal ills, I blame the parents. British mothers do not instruct their daughters the way American mothers do. In the US, beauty treatments appear to be a large part of their growing-up experience. A trip to the beauty salon is a group event for girls, an opportunity for a gossip and a catchup. This continues into adulthood. As an experiment, I went for a manicure and pedicure in Chelsea. The place was packed (thankfully not with anyone I know), but was as quiet as a cathedral. The women sat silently ignoring each other with their noses buried in magazines. I tried to engage my neighbour in conversation. She totally blanked me. I even tried to engage my manicurist in conversation, but there too failed miserably . . . mainly, though, because my Cantonese is poor. When I went to pay for my “mani-pedi”, I discovered another reason why British women do not have as many treatments as American women: the cost. Beauty treatments are vastly more expensive here. But there are alternatives. Go to SpaceNK for a make-up tutorial. They’re free. Make an appointment with a personal shopper at Harvey Nichols. Also free. Go to a manicurist, NOT in Chelsea. Hire a personal trainer, even if it’s once a week. Regardless of cost, change your hairstyle from the one you wore to your debutante ball. It is not an admission of defeat. Another part of the problem is that women in Britain do not help each other. American women have no qualms about telling their friends, in no uncertain terms, when they look like crap, or have put on weight, or are dressed like a bag-lady. They talk of the top aestheticians with a reverence usually reserved for Nobel laureates and trade cosmetic surgeon business cards the way that boys in playgrounds trade football cards. In Britain, women are too polite to set their friends straight. I’ve been in a room with two English girls when one is preparing for a black-tie ball. She came out in her outfit and asked: “How do I look?” The other girl cocked her head sympathetically and said: “Adorable”. I thought, “Adorable . . . like a hooker.” I understand that she did not want to hurt the other girl’s feelings, but there’s such a thing as constructive criticism. Alternatively, the girl giving the advice actually did think her friend looked adorable and it was simply like one cannibal asking another if it’s wrong to eat human flesh. Ultimately, English women are like men doing DIY. No matter how lost they are, they refuse to call in professional help. It’s utterly irrational. A beautiful English ex-girl-friend of mine was, at the age of 29, as uncomfortable operating an eyelash curler as I’d be operating a crane. She approached beauty salons the way men approach buying porn – with darting glances and prayers of “Dear God, I hope no one sees me”. For some reason, being seen to make an effort with one’s appearance is regarded as shameful among British women. There is one aspect of their appearance about which British women do obsess: their shoes. Great, I’m glad you have beautiful shoes that pain you in all types of exquisite ways (that men would never put up with). I’m sure other women will be incredibly impressed by your new Jimmy Choos or Blahniks. But, ladies, the only time a man will notice your shoes is if your feet are wedged on top of his shoulders bouncing either side of his head. Conversely, getting most aspects right and one major one wrong is just as off-putting. I remember dancing with a really lovely English girl. She was gorgeous. Things were going well until I took her hand. I actually recoiled. Her palms were rough and leathery like a tree-climbing monkey’s. Years of working around horses had given her the hands of an 80-year-old Siberian coalminer. Surely some sort of moisturising routine would have been a simple and inexpensive remedy. (It was more shocking than the time I took a girl’s hand after chatting her up for an hour and discovered she was missing the two middle fingers on it.) I don’t want you to think, though, that I believe American women have nothing to learn from British women. The irony is that, as obsessed as American women are with their looks, they totally ignore their social skills. Within 10 minutes of meeting an American woman, I guarantee you will know her salary and most recent medical/ dental procedure. They all but turn up with their CV printed out. In return, they will immediately want to know “all” about you, ie, how much you earn, how much you have earned in the past, what your future earning potential is, whether you own property, whether you have an investment portfolio, where you shop, where you “vacation”, what you drive and how large your parents’ house is. I once got to the end of a date in New York, pulled out my credit card to pay and the girl solemnly remarked: “A green American Express card? I didn’t know they still made them in that colour.” American women also take themselves too seriously and are annoyingly confronta-tional. The good news for men, by the way, is they are convinced that the best way to prove they are equal to a man is by sleeping with him. Um . . . Go ahead, that’ll teach me. And they won’t even ruin your night’s sleep by staying over as their personal trainer is coming to their place at 6.30 the next morning. American women are generally more grasping than British women socially and financially so I suppose that it makes sense that they are more striving aesthetically, too. Their obsession with their looks, however, can be unattractive and can even turn unpleasant. My American friends wouldn’t reveal, for example, their annual expenditure on botox, liposuction, Restylane, tummy tucks, boob jobs, collagen fillers, chemical peels, or any other procedures that involve scalpels, anaesthetics, lasers and needles. When I asked if they dabbled in such areas, they just shook their wrinkle-free, tight-as-a-drum, shiny, expressionless faces. It’s not healthy to have one’s cosmetic surgeons on speed dial. (Then again, an English girl I recently and briefly went out with had four drug dealers on her speed dial, which is not especially healthy either.) Nobody’s perfect. Certainly not the men who get to take out these women. British women are, without a doubt, the best to have a pint and a laugh with. They are the most self-reliant, uncomplicated and unflap-pable. That they are neither obsessed with their looks, nor insecurely competitive, are wonderful qualities. And their self-depreca-tion is incredibly endearing. But when it comes to making the all-important first impression, do you really want it to be, “I’ll bet she was really hot ten years ago”? —The author is a screenwriter (single) who divides his time between London and Los Angeles

1 Comment
  1. If you go out into the “heartland of America” (where I am)–you won’t find a bunch of glamorous gals. I doubt we would meet this guy’s approval either. This guy needs to learn that New York and Los Angeles DO NOT equal the whole of the USA. Not for nothing is there a popular T-shirt that proclaims: Smash bicoastal arrogance!
    But of course, you can’t buy it in New York or California! 🙂

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