You've probably already read one of those catchy headlines: ‘10 secrets to dressing like a French woman’, 'A French woman's secret to staying slim?', ‘8 reasons why French women don’t age’…or maybe ‘Learn how to flirt like a French woman’.
Everywhere on the planet, many females seem to be intrigued by the French (woman’s) way of life and want to learn all the secrets of this internationally acclaimed ‘femme française’. Indeed, in the eye of many, French women have it all: they know how to enjoy the pleasures of life whilst still fitting into a size 8. They age gracefully and are savvy fashionistas regardless of their age!
On the surface, all this publicity about French women looks pretty flattering. Being a French woman myself, hearing all those praises should make me feel empowered and self-confident. Indeed, I am supposed to know all those life-changing secrets that other women crave to discover. But do I? And do most French women? Well...probably not.
The perception of the effortlessly elegant and eternally chic French woman is in reality a double-edged sword for many French ladies. We have no right to be overweight and no room for any fashion ‘faux pas’ – oh quelle horreur! Are we even allowed to be single coming from the ‘so called’ country of love? The expectations of how a French woman acts, looks and behaves are dauntingly high. Faced with the pressure of living up to this impossible standard of perfection, French women in reality must endure the embarrassment of failing to live up to these fantastical perceptions. What happens to French women who don’t dress or look like Parisian fashionistas? Is their ‘Frenchness’ questioned? Are they seen to be the exception to the rule when they are in reality… The rule?
So Frenchy…so chic–ish…
No one is denying that the French can be chic but often this attribute seems to be associated with the wearer of expensive brands. Interestingly, the amount of money spent in a year by French ladies on clothes is inferior to the amount spent by their female counterparts from the richest EU countries (1).The myth of the French ladies wearing Chanel dresses all year long doesn’t quite fit with the reality of their wallet.
Also when the French are asked about their top favorite brands, luxury brands such as Dior or Louis Vuitton are nowhere to be seen. The top brand is Amazon, Au bon Coin (equivalent of Gumtree) ranks number 6, Galerie Lafayette only ranks number 17.(2)
The truth about the French oh-la la body
That's a fact, the average size of French women is more petite than the Australians (the most common size amongst French women being a size 10 (20.6%) followed by a size 12 (16,66%) (1) when the average size of Australian women is between 14 and 16 (3), but that being said, the slimmer women (size 6/8), far from representing the majority ‘des francaises’ seem to be the one capturing all the attention.
In France, one woman out of three has difficulties finding clothes that fit them (1), as if retailers were also struggling accepting French women real body image. Only 17% of French women see their body as a glamorous asset and when asked what makes them feel good about their body image, 59% of French women answered that it is simply to be able to close their jeans buttons without any struggle. (66% amongst women aged 65 and +).(1)
In reality, both French and Australian women are fighting the same battle: the battle against extra kilos. In France, 7 women out of 10 declared they want to lose weight. 30% of women have already been on a diet and 9% have already dieted more than 10 times. This obsession with weight seems to start at a very early age as many women have confessed having starting their diet at age 10.(1) If you still think that French women are effortlessly slim...you might be interested to know that every second, French people spend 96 euros on fad diets or nearly 3 billion euros a year.(4) A chic method for staying slim!
An innate sense of style?
34% of French women wish they had stylist skills to be able to feel beautiful in all circumstances. This figure reaches 46% amongst women under 35.(1) Styling does not seem to come naturally to every French women even though they are praised for their look.
Like every nation, France is full of diversity. French women come in different sizes, styles and colours. Yes, French women are beautiful, with or without a Louis Vuitton bag, being a size 8 or 16. Loving France and its culture is also being curious enough to find out what the French are really about, so let’s keep going beyond clichés!
France + love = la vie en rose?
France is in the eye of many the ultimate romantic destination. Our iconic monuments, our beautiful paved streets seem to create the mood for anyone to fall in love. That being said, happy love does not happen for everyone...even in France. 14 million people live alone in the country of love and so for various reasons (single, separated, divorced,widows).(1) The markets of love coaching along with dating websites are booming as the French loneliness is becoming a central focus in the media.
The findings presented suggest that the “real” French woman is not dissimilar to any other woman in the world – they stress about not having the perfect body, adore a good bargain, don’t always pull together the most chic ensembles, find great love...lose love.....and can indulge by eating not just “une petite part de gâteau mais tout le gâteau “ (a little slice, but the whole cake!!). Along the same line, all women, being French or not, can find in themselves this intriguing and so attractive 'je ne sais quoi'!
(1) Francoscopie 2013
(2) L'étude OC&C Strategy Consultants 2013
(3) The Australian
(4) Centre d’information de la dietetique et de la minceur
Cosmopoli'French is an exciting new concept language school based in Melbourne.