Was Simone de Beauvoir beautiful? Francine Gray once described her look as “bleakly emancipated,” which sounds something like being ugly while wearing comfortable shoes. “De Beauvoir was remarkably unconcerned about her appearance and spent little time bothering with it,” says Hazel Rowley, the author of “Tête à Tête: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.” “She was a tough, athletic woman. She used to tramp through the hills around Marseilles wearing espadrilles and old, tattered clothing.” Insouciant is too dainty a word — she just didn’t care. Not if her overcoat was dumpy and too big, not if her native prints were too loud, not if her hair was swept up into a crazy-colored turban long after World War II ended and Parisian women could get their hair done again.
“She lived in an incredibly sexist society. Still, she was extremely critical of the woman who sees herself in the eyes of others as an object and doesn’t manage to rise above that,” says Rowley. “On the other hand, she writes in ‘The Second Sex,’ how difficult it is for a woman not to be an object.