Meeting with Julie Bourges

Can we know how to take care of ourselves when we don't listen to ourselves? 


We caught up with Julie Bourges, from the Instagram account Douze Février. Taking care of yourself means knowing how to listen to yourself and your body, knowing what it needs to feel good. Julie realized this the day her life turned upside down on February 12, 2013, when her carnival costume caught fire while smoking a cigarette. Today, she shares her story with us, and how resilience, self-confidence and self-acceptance enabled her to turn her accident and her difference into a strength for herself and others.

How are you?

I'm doing very well, I'm feeling better because I've been listening to myself a lot over the last few months. I left the Côte d'Azur, where I'm originally from, for the South-West of France. A place in France was calling me, a hard choice to make, but necessary for my well-being. I'm doing better with my work, I've managed to detach myself from what I can't control, I'm more in harmony now with what I share.

Can you tell me a little more about yourself, your story and the ordeal you've been through?

"I define myself as Julie Bourges, not Douze Février.

Perhaps this is the basis of our exchange. February 12, that date took up a lot of space in my life, much more than I imagined. I had an accident on that date in 2013. My carnival costume caught fire on me, smoking a cigarette as I was leaving high school. I spent 3 months in an induced coma, 5 months in hospital, and then followed a very long period of reconstruction, rehabilitation, as I lost a huge amount of weight. There were a lot of phases: getting used to the way people looked at me, going back to school, finding love again. You learn to rebuild yourself after an accident; it's really like starting a second life. In any case, that was the case for me. I like to call it a rebirth, more than an accident. Because that's really how I experience it. I started sharing this on the networks, and that's why I'm here today.


Is there a before and after? If so, which one?

I've long said on my networks that the accident changed me. It's a fact, but there's still a part of who I was before that remains. It didn't change me radically. I just became more aware of the reality of life between before and after. When I was a teenager, there was this carefree side, that nothing could happen to me. The accident turned all that upside down and made me face reality. Life isn't a long, quiet river, there can be highs and lows that are more complicated to overcome, but when you get there, there's a beautiful story behind it. It's a realization about the world around us and life in general. I also realized that if I wanted to feel fulfilled after this accident, I had to pass it on and help others. Maybe that's something that would have taken me a long time to understand if I hadn't had the accident. Fundamentally, I think being generous is part of who I am. So is passing it on, but the accident made me want to do it even more. In my life, to be happy, I need to give to people. I might have learned that at 40, but I learned it at 20, which is pretty good!

At what point did you turn your story into a strength?

Right from the start, I made it a strength. The day I realized I'd made it a strength, maybe that's different, was when I started doing a lot of interviews and when my story went beyond myself and inspired other people, and helped other people. That's when I knew I had a way of doing something different with it.

How do you like to take care of yourself?

After my accident, I had big problems taking care of my skin. For me, applying creams or beauty products was associated with my accident, with a rather medical gesture. It took me a long time to touch up my skin, to appreciate it and want to take care of it, to go beyond this medical procedure. My skin had suffered enough and it was nice to come and take care of it. Today, I'm learning and rediscovering a gesture. For the most part, there's sport too. Being able to express myself when I'm surfing is really my number 1 way of decompressing, sport in general.

 "I've learned to listen to myself. In the end, it's perhaps the best way to take care of yourself, because these days there's a lot of talk about personal development and yoga, and how essential it is to eat better. There are so many things that can be seen as opposites, when we could always learn to listen to ourselves. Can we know how to take care of ourselves when we don't listen to ourselves? I don't know!"

People recommend a lot of sport, a lot of yoga, but yoga isn't going to have the same effect on me as on someone else, for example.

"That's why the basis is to listen to ourselves and know what our body really needs to be well."

Has your story changed your view of femininity? What is your relationship with your body?

Totally! My grandmother is Spanish, and she's very attached to appearance. I kind of grew up with this vision of femininity, where being feminine meant being well-dressed, dressed up and so on. My accident was very hard, and perhaps more difficult than other people's, and I perhaps had a very marked vision of femininity in my reconstruction. Typically, I had no hair, so for me, I was no longer a woman, and it took me a long time to understand that my femininity wasn't all that, but rather what I did with it. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find a sweetheart or a job, and in the end, you can be 1,000 times more feminine without hair, but with a big smile!

"I think femininity is very much about self-confidence. Femininity is just accepting who you are and defining yourself in so many ways. There's no defined vision of femininity in my opinion."

Sport is a big part of your life. You practice surfing, yoga and meditation. How does this help you in your daily well-being?

Resilience will always be part of it. A real notion of well-being, of letting go, of refocusing on myself with all the benefits that sport has to offer. Beyond that, sport saved my life. Without this muscle memory, I might simply not be alive. Gymnastics helped me a lot in my reconstruction after the coma. When you have an athletic body, reconstruction and healing take place much more quickly. I did 12 hours of artistic gymnastics a week. The mind also plays a big part. This spirit of competition with oneself got me out of this rather long rehabilitation much more quickly. But beyond all that, when I do sport, there's a very conscious part of me that remembers when I couldn't do it. I'm grateful to be able to move, to be alive. Not everyone is so lucky. I'm lucky to have my 4 limbs. In my accident, in my misfortune, I was extremely lucky to be able to practice as I used to. I don't have any after-effects that prevent me from doing what I want to do.

I understand that the ocean holds a special place in your heart. At Panier des Sens, we work every day to limit plastic consumption. If you had one word to say on this subject, for the sake of future generations, what would it be?

I was less aware of the consequences of plastic pollution before I moved next to the ocean. Here, with the tides, when they recede they leave behind a lot of plastic waste, especially microplastic. In summer, when the tractors clean the beaches, they bury most of the waste. We're less aware of it in summer. We're more aware in winter. Tractors don't go by. This is our home. I've moved to the region of my dreams. It's impossible to see this. I was sure it would never happen. What I want to pass on, for example, is that it's easy to go to the beach with a plastic bag, it doesn't cost anything, it's great. To go further, we can limit our consumption of fish, and check where it comes from. Opt for zero waste.

"Just a reminder that we can all change things on our own scale. We won't change the world on our small scale, but we all can. Even if our trash isn't ours, we can still pick it up."


Following you on social networks, one could say you're sucking the life out of it. What do you think?

When I had my accident, the firemen put out the fire that was on me, but unfortunately the fire that burns inside me can never be extinguished. This love of life, this fire that burns within me, this positivity that I can't hide, today I'm burning with life, with envy. I could live 1,000 lives if I had to. Life is worth living, and that's how I operate.

What makes you happiest?

I celebrated my birthday with my family. We have a bit of a dream life, we earn a good living. That can make you lose your sanity. For me, what keeps me grounded and what I'm sincerely grateful for is my family. They know my dark moments, what I've been through, but my greatest happiness is my loved ones. To have them with me in good health. I celebrated my 26th birthday with my 4 grandparents. You know that life has its frailties and you know that anything can happen very, very quickly. You learn to be grateful for the simplest moments. I'm a big believer in what's going to be left at the end, it's the simple moments, more than anything else. That's what makes me happy!

If you were to talk to the Julie of 10 years ago, what would you say?

For the Julie who's just had her accident, I'll tell her that if she doesn't feel represented by society, she can represent herself, because in the end, that's what I've done. Even if she can't see it yet, there's a real meaning to this accident. In fact, I say that, but I don't know if the Julie of 10 years ago didn't know it deep down, because when I see the photos, I smile. I'd tell her not to lose hope. There's an aftermath to the accident, and life doesn't end with the way she thinks she looks, that she'll get back even more than she thinks she's lost.

Just for last words: you were able to try out our Fleur d'Oranger collection. What did you think of it?

I'm originally from the South East. I was brought up on Orange Blossom. Scents and naturalness are very important to me. That's really what I found at Panier des Sens. I really feel like I'm with my mom, it's my childhood, it's a way of reminding me where I come from too. I knew the brand very well. Why Panier des Sens ? I take pleasure in scents when I take care of my skin and Panier des Sens for that.

 The collection at Orange Blossom

BODY CARE Orange Blossom