Are French women perfect? Judging by the piles of American and British books attempting to nail their je ne sais quoi, it would appear that the rest of us are filled with a mix of envy and insecurity when contemplating France’s glamorous fair sex.
The way they walk, the way they dress, the way they do their hair, and the way they raise their families. It has all been put under the microscope in books ranging from French Women don’t get Fat by Mireille Guiliano to Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing up bébé. Le Figaro decided to get to the bottom of the French feminine mystique and came up with a startling conclusion – it’s all a lie. Or “an American dream”.
The journalist Peggy Frey set about exploding the myths, one by one, starting with the “natural beauty” of the French woman.
Her trim figure? Don’t believe the myth that French women never diet, says Le Figaro. It’s true that they never talk about dieting, just “being careful”. If you consider that almost half of French women smoke it’s hardly surprising that their appetites are suppressed.
Her sexy appearance? The paper quotes from a recent study showing that French women spend €97 on lingerie – or only a fifth of what American women spend. As for her “natural” blonde highlights, they come straight out of a bottle, except that the French woman is likely to have spent months finding the right hairdresser and will never give you the address.
Forget the image of a French cook slaving over a hot stove, preparing dishes whose recipes were handed down from generation to generation. The modern French woman spends two minutes 30 seconds heating up dishes in the microwave.
Her exquisite innate fashion tastes? Don’t be duped. Not everyone has the wherewithal of a TV presenter like Laurence Ferrari – who comes as close as anyone to the stereotypical “perfect” French woman – and most people make do with “putting on a bit of everything and any old thing … in any old way”.
According to the paper, the secret of French women is “to do everything falsely: [they are] falsely coiffed, falsely dressed, falsely fatal”.
To sum up, the French woman is a wizard of pretence. “What she does is to apply the motto: less is more – in almost every domain. A talent which apparently not everyone has!” the paper concludes.
France itself has been so in thrall to its image of women that a real woman is used as the model for the Marianne national emblem whose bust stands in every town hall. The models for past Mariannes include actresses such as Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve. But even the French seem to be doubting the strength of their own myth: this year, the Marianne on the nation’s stamps was inspired by a Femen activist from Ukraine.