‘French Women Don’t Get Fat,’ ‘Fatale: How French Women Do It,’ ‘French Women For All Seasons,’ and ‘French Women Don’t Get FaceLifts’. From fat to fatale to fashion, are we not all a little sick of reading about French women as if they’re some eternal mythical, mysterious creatures for all women (and indeed men) to study and idolize from a far? As a non-French woman living and working in Paris for over six years, I don’t find anything about them particularly mysterious other than the fact that every morning they somehow manage to wriggle their way into the one metro seat I’ve been eyeing for many stops! Merde !
Now however, there’s a new book that demystifies and debunks many of these ‘French women myths’ with honesty and humour, divulging the ‘real secrets’ about beauty, aging, health, life and happiness. It’s called ‘How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are. Love, Style And Bad Habits.’ And even if you never wanted or want to be a Parisian, (what’s wrong with you?!) it’s the ‘Bad Habits’ in the title that tells you it’s a fresh and tongue-in-cheek take on the subject.
Written not by one but four French women, writer Anne Berest, journalist and screenwriter Audrey Diwan, movie producer Sophie Mas and the only one I’ve heard of, former model/style icon, Caroline Maigret (I like her hair !) it’s a well balanced with lots of insights and advice that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret, Sophia Mas, Anne Berest
But before I get into the contents, take look at our lovely authors (see above). These are no ordinary Parisiennes struggling to own a Lancel or a Burberry one day. They’re all beautiful, rich, stylish, successful, well-established women with the contacts and confidence to write a book about living by their own rules in their home city of Paris. ‘Boho’ or ‘bourgeois’ backgrounds aside, there’s lots of entertainment in here. For example, they reveal what you won’t find in a Parisian woman’s closet and why. Here’s the list.
• Three-inch heels. Why live life halfway? (perfect for those who don’t have to run down the metro steps)
• Logos: You’re not a billboard (love that!)
• Nylon, polyester, viscose and vinyl will make you sweaty, smelly and shiny
• Sweatpants. No man should ever see you in those. Except your gym teacher – and even then.
• Leggings will be tolerated.
• Blingy jeans with embroidery and holes in them. They belong to Bollywood.
• UGG boots. Say no more.
• A skimpy top…you’re not 15 anymore.
• A fake designer bag. Like fake breasts, you can’t fix your insecurities through forgery.
(They also add that nothing is as cool as cleverness, what ever Parisian ‘cleverness’ is of course…that’ll be their next book.)
Caroline de Maigret
I have to admit, I particularly like what they say about ‘hair’ and ‘aging’. They seem to have a very healthy take on both topics as they believe ‘au natural’ is what you should always aim for. They give a few hard facts. Parisian women don’t do blowouts. That explains why a great one only costs 20€ here. And that rockstar ‘just got out of bed’ hair is really a carefully ‘organized chaos.’ They recommend never blowdrying your hair and instead offer delightful organic styling tips like taking advantage of the summer fresh air or toweldrying in winter, and even falling asleep with damp hair (not recommended for anyone with rheumatism) for an original shape in the morning! Most importantly, never ever dye your hair another colour. Keep the colour Mother Nature gave you, just highlight it and cover up those greys. Parfait! There‘s one line I really love that says, ‘as your face gets messier with age, your hair can get a little neater for balance’. That means I’m safe with my ‘don’t comb my hair’ look! (YAY ! I’m so Parisienne!)
Which brings me to the French perception of aging and anti-aging. In France, and Paris in particular, women don’t resort to plastic surgery at the sight of their first wrinkle. They take their time to réflechi (think about it), literally. As the ladies admit, of course Parisian women have ‘work done’ they just do it their way. They stick to certain rules. And just like their diet, it’s all about moderation. Here’s how. First choose the one part of your body that bothers you the most (e.g., nose, eyes, breasts). Next, put off taking action for as long as possible. Don’t even think about getting any work done for at least 10 years. Then after the age of 50 you can contemplate those premliminary procedures, the little jobs on eyelids, injections, fillers, etc. And after 60? Maybe a ‘mini lift.’ Surgery should always be undetectable. Something hardly noticed and of course never talked about.
The book is really all about how to take care of yourself without looking like you take care of yourself. The art of beauty the Parisian way. By debunking the old ‘French women myths’ these Parisians create new ones, new rules, their rules, in revealing how they do things. And as if recognizing what they’re doing, they also laugh at themselves, their insecurities and contradictions. Like when they suggest that, ‘A Parisienne never hires a babysitter who is too pretty, always finding the less attractive one to be far more competent.’ Mon Dieu!
What becomes clear is that these four French women are fundamentally like all women everywhere. Like all of us they struggle to be the best moms with successful careers, with beautiful hair and having always to look sexy (even buying a baguette). So I guess that’s make all of us a little Parisian! Mon Dieu, give me a cigarette. Bof !
How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits, is currently available in all bookstores in Paris. If you can’t find it in the US, check out http://www.amazon.com