Living in France for almost six months, I’ve been able to appreciate the charm that all French women seem to have.
They are sophisticated and charming and mysterious all at once, and at times (most of the time) I feel a little out of place. They are the envy of women around the world and influence beauty standards from the no-makeup makeup look to the notion they never get fat.
I’m not alone in regarding French women as the epitome of femininity and after a quick check of the top performing searches on Google when it comes to French women and some of the most searched questions were:
- Why French women don’t get fat?
- How do French women stay skinny?
- How do French dress?
- How do French women dress in summer?
- Why are French women so beautiful?
Instead of focusing on my daily struggle to pull off the I woke up like this appearance and wondering how many days do I need to stop eating to look like them (let’s be serious, I love food too much), I thought I’d dispel the myth and interview three French women about what it’s like being a woman in France.
Meet Soleyne, Lucile and Marisol- all incredibly clever, successful and friendly French women who I’m lucky to call friends- and for Marisol, family!
I loved learning about the depth of the French woman beyond the superficial the rest of the world focuses on and I hope you enjoy expanding your own perception of the French female.
I particularly loved Marisol’s insight into the French’s attitude towards food at the end of the post, and I think you will, too!
To you, what does it mean to be a French woman?
Soleyne: It means having a strong history that builds up your identity from your childhood. Being French is having these strong roots and hearing stories of incredibly brave women. Being French is caring about the past everywhere and trying to live up to the challenge.
Lucile: I think I focus more on being a woman in France than being a French woman, if that makes sense. Being a woman in France has its challenges, and some of them stem from being a French woman and the “aura” that has been built around it. For example, famous French women publishing an article calling the Me Too movement “censorship” (note: you can find articles about it easily, just type Catherine Deneuve Feminism on google) fits the idea that the French are a “passionate people”, and that interactions are driven by the will to seduce. To me and a lot of other women, the article reflected more that the notions of passion and harassment are still way too linked.
Marisol: Being a French woman is mainly being a strong woman. In our History, there have been a lot of wars (civil wars, and great wars too), and women had a very important part to play. We had to motivate men, and to do their jobs while they were fighting. So I guess we had no choice but to be fiercely independent, strong but at the same time stay attractive as French men are sensitive to women’s charms. If you wanted to achieve something which depends on a man’s decision, you had to share his bed first (and could then decide for him). Then I guess being a French woman is to be the brain of a nation and to seduce it.
Do you feel pressure to live up to unrealistic standards? If yes, what are they and if no, why?
Soleyne: The only time I’ve felt that type of pressure is when I lived or travelled abroad. There is this idea about what French women should be. I should like my coffee black, smoke a lot, wear little black dresses everyday, be skinny and uptight. When I lived abroad, I heard so many times the sentence “You’re so French” and at those times, I knew I was living up to their imagination without even realising it.
Lucile: I don’t really feel pressure in that regard. I do things that are considered “so French” – or so I’ve been told – but mostly it comes down to personal preferences. I am not even aware of the “very French” things that I may do. A lot of it has to do with the way I dress apparently. When older women tell me the standards that they were brought up under, I am grateful to have a lot more freedom. My grandmother did not own a pair of pants until she was in her late 70s ! Personally, I don’t feel the need to put on a show if I am with foreigners. When meeting new people abroad, I am reminded that these standards exist more than I think about them myself.
Marisol: I definitely wouldn’t say that. As I told you, French women had no choice but to be strong independant and charming. That is how it has always worked. Then it is the natural way to live. No effort. Plus I think living in a latin’s world makes women feel glamorous and pretty, so being well dressed and wearing make-up is a pleasure. Then, not an effort, but a pleasure.
Do you think there is a certain charm to French women that is different to other cultures?
Soleyne: The french charm is all about nuances and I do think there is something special about it. The French woman’s emotions are raw and untamed. She can hate and love in the same sentence, she barely wears makeup but has an amazing handbag, she is deeply feminine but rejects patriarchy.
Lucile: I don’t. I do think that French women are taught from a young age to be very self-aware and to manage the effect they have on their surroundings, but I would describe that as limiting/frustrating. I realise this happens in a lot of cultures and is not singular to France.
Marisol: Probably yes, since it is directly linked to our history and culture.
What frustrates you the most about being a woman in France?
Soleyne: I’m often super impressed by the elegance of French women- their way of looking incredible without an inch of makeup. And sometimes I feel a bit pressured. Like I would never go outside wearing my gym gear in Paris like i used to in Sydney. This is just not happening.
Lucile: The list is long ! You got all your classics: pay gap, safety, street harassment…. Where do I begin? These are probably my top three though, because they are the ones that affect me the most in my day-to-day.
Marisol: What I was the most stunned about when I came to Australia was definitely the way you girls can wear whatever they want. On my first night out, I joined a French friend of mine and we were the only girls in jeans. Let me tell you that was the only time. I really enjoyed being able to wear really short dresses without having to deal with men’s bad reactions. As I told you, we live in a latin country, and men think that a girl with a short skirt is a whore- and thinks he can tell her so. I guess that’s why women in France are supposed to be more “chic”. You cannot wear coarse outfits unless you want to be called a prostitute. Or worse, being sexually assaulted. Did you know that in 2020 42% of French think that the responsibility of a sexual aggressor is less if the victim’s attitude is “provocative” and 27% believe that a rapist is less responsible if the victim wears a miniskirt. Then you have no choice but to wear longer skirts, which may seem classier. I really love the freedom of wearing whatever you want in Australia without being harassed. At the same time, I do believe that wearing too short skirts/dresses or showing too much of our body is definitely not the most attractive way to dress. Who would want to discover what’s under the outfit if you’ve already seen it all ?
Do you believe in the myth of the Parisienne?
Soleyne: Yes, 100%. And a lot of people would hate me from saying it. But the Parisienne grows up in a busy and elegant city where everything is about culture. She is surrounded by beauty and art and learns from a very young age how to master their codes.
Lucile: I definitely describe women as “parisienne” sometimes. To me, that means “dressed well but looks like the process was effortless”. That is what it means in my “circle”, but it may mean something else to people from different groups/cities/countries. A lot of people add a personality layer to it (rude, standoff-ish, poised) that my friends and I do not.
Marisol: I guess so. The Parisienne is usually wealthy (quite an expensive city to live in) then she has really nice outfits – plus, there are a lot of other girls to compare then the more you have, the more you want. In addition, the Parisienne works and has to work double to be as comparable as a man. So I guess she is more independent and strong. Which means for a French woman that she has to have a strong opinion and to defend it, to drink like a man and (well that’s less and less true) to smoke. Just like men.
Do you dislike the notion that to be a French woman, all one must do is follow a simple instruction guide, eg. the book Why French women don’t get fat?
Soleyne: Even though I feel flattered when I read them, cliches are never good and they imprison people’s mind. Every woman should be true to her inner self and never try to imitate someone else.
Lucile: Very much so. Concepts like “French women don’t get fat” are outrageous to me. Giving advice as a non-professional is bad enough, no need to mix the idea of the “French woman” in there. These types of articles/books use the “French woman” myth as a selling point, and that makes me reject them in bulk because of it.
Marisol: Of course. how could you adopt a culture old of several centuries just reading a list ?
Plus, as I told you, there is a very wrong side of French culture which has led to the way french women live.
We may dress in a more classy way than abroad but we are not free to wear anything we want.
We do stand for our opinions but at the same time I know that in France men lead the country and the companies and that if you really want to succeed you have to be seductive. I don’t think Angela Merkel could have been elected in France (which is a shame because I think she is really smart and competent). In France, nobody would have listened to her, but everybody would have made jokes about the way she looks and what she wears.
As for the slimness of French women, this one is pretty easy. As you’ve seen there are markets everywhere in France and God knows how food is important for French. I would say food is a reason to wake up. We are lucky to have excellent products in France and food has always been an important part of French culture. We take a two-hour lunch break, and every good meal is accompanied with other good meals, souvenirs or future joy. When you have two hours to eat, you take your time, you chew and surprise, that’s the best way to digest and to not take any weight! Plus, we love to cook, and to cook fresh products. I am always amazed by how many prepared meals are sold abroad (the worst to gain weight, too salty, full of chemicals…) When you take your time to cook fresh products, it is a pleasure, a nice way to chill out after a long day: a win-win !
I’ve always been very surprised when I hear in an American movie that a girl is very proud of herself because she’s been a good girl and made a sandwich for her boyfriend. A sandwich. Seriously? A SANDWICH? Has he cheated on her? Has he punched her mother? Who the hell would do something like this as a REWARD??? Sandwiches are the worst! That’s what you swallow on a painful day full of work! That’s definitely not a feelgood food. If you want to be nice and cook something for your significant other (even if he/she has two hands too duh…) but have no time, just cook a bloody omelette! It takes no time but it is way better than a sandwich !
Here is the secret of slimness: always consider EVERY meal as a fiesta. Take time to cook fresh products, take time to enjoy it, thinking of what you eat, not looking at your computer while taking it or thinking of the laundry that waits for you. All of that can wait. eating is one of the greatest joys in life and – lucky us – it happens three times a day! Let’s celebrate that as much as you can!
With fresh products, you can eat as much as you want, taking time to appreciate it, you won’t gain a pound. I read that you felt guilty about having a croissant everyday- don’t! It is made of fresh good butter (butter in spray ? Who invented that? And why ? And for god’s sake, what the hell do they put inside to make it work???)
Italians, Greeks, Spanish- they eat as many “fatty” products as we do. And they are as slim as us. Why? Because they enjoy their meals as much as we do !