When I was about sixteen, I started reading Cosmopolitan magazine and believed it demonstrated my outstanding sophistication and maturity.

I can look back now and see I was clearly deluded.

Having said that there were certain articles and ideas I picked up which did make a real impact.

I recall back in the day reading for the first time that French phrase, bien dans sa peau. Which kind of translates to ‘well, or happy in your skin’. Even as a gauche teenager I distinctly remember identifying with the idea, if not the reality. It seemed obvious that this effect, this outlook on life, would be a far more attractive trait than any amount of physical beauty or intelligence. It struck me that it is not only something that would draw people to you, but that acquiring it would enable you to live a potentially happier life.

The expression can be hard to define as there is no proper English equivalent. Although in some regards, being bien dans sa peau is aligned to having confidence, it is not as simple as that. I know many confident people who I would not describe as happy within their skin. Confidence can easily slide on into arrogance, but more often confidence is a learned ‘skill’, something we maybe act out and is therefore not always authentic.

Parisien woman

I think authenticity may be the key to being happy in your skin. I have met a few people who I believe have this quality, and have tried to work out what it is about them that gives them this remarkable air.
The Urban dictionary defines it as;

“To be content, fulfilled, comfortable and at ease with oneself; assuming one’s personality and body. The skin is considered as a sort of envelop in which the personality is contained. Thus, the expression evokes harmony between mind and body”

Is it something that certain people are just born with? Is it something that can be attained? And does the very act of trying to become bien dans sa peau immediately preclude you from it? Or perhaps, as opposed to being born with it and having this fortunate characteristic in your DNA, it might just develop naturally. Possibly, with maturity and life experience, there are some people who authentically become very very comfortable with who they are. Without believing they are flawless, or better than anyone else, they come to a realisation that as we are only here on this earth for a short time, it’s pointless to waste a moment feeling awkward or self-conscious or to be too critical of oneself.

I also wondered if it is a wider, cultural attribute. I read recently that the French most often use this phrase in the negative; often referring to teenage angst or depression, phrases such as;

“ Je ne sais pas pourquoi, mais je suis mal dans ma peau ce matin.” (I don’t know why, I just don’t feel like myself this morning).

Which makes me think it is cultural as it is almost implied that the normal mode for the French person is to naturally feel well within their skin, therefore it is only remarked upon when this feeling is absent.

I asked one of my favourite bloggers and founder of The French Chic Academy, Marie-Anne Lecoeur, for her views on this intriguing virtue.

In France, we place a real importance in this feeling good in your own skin. We accept that we may not be or look perfect or beautiful, and that’s ok. We put emphasis on our great qualities, the person we are, our intellect etc.
We are taught from a young age to dress well and to make an effort on our appearance, without going over the top. We learn how to make the most of our best features and conceal other areas we like least. This raises our confidence, as French people are more likely to comment on a wrong outfit than whether a person is ugly.

We accept our flaws and sometimes even use them to our advantage. Feeling good in your skin may result from that.

Of course, ‘être, ou se sentir, bien dans sa peau’ can of course be a natural thing for any person, anywhere. But in France, we are accepting of everybody’s ‘imperfections’ as if they are just not there. We actually have a term, which is ‘jolie-laide’ for women who might be considered plain at best, or even ugly in other countries, but have something undeniable about themselves that makes them look pretty or beautiful for us French.

I usually hear about this term only in the positive and as a good descriptive of a confident and happy person.

Confident Woman

I love the idea of using your imperfections to your advantage. I also love how Marie-Anne emphasises that it is about the personal qualities one possesses rather than great beauty and expensive clothing.

Do you feel as if you are comfortable in your own skin? Have you ever wished that you could worry less about how others see you in instead be proud of who you are?

© 2016 Linny Bartlett/Karma’s Footsteps


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