When thinking of French women we generally tend to imagine: slim physiques, effortless style, just a touch of mascara, a red lip and a stripy top, a cigarette and a cappuccino for lunch…I think it’s fair to say that the media loves to perpetuate this idea of “the French woman” or “the Parisian woman” and what it means to be French.
I lived just outside of Paris for ten years, and I was there between the ages of 5 and 15, so I really consider Paris to be where I grew up and essentially where I’m from. Since leaving France, I have always been perplexed by how French women are perceived by the rest of the world, especially how the media and bloggers aspire to Parisian style. There seems to be this infatuation with French women that does not exist for any other culture. I have never read an article entitled: “How to get ready like an Ethiopian woman”, “The Barcelonan 3 step skin care routine” or “The New Zealander guide to perfect skin”. So, where does this obsession with French women come from and why is it so problematic?
First of all, cinematic idols such as Brigitte Bardot represent a type of French woman that is pure fiction. The media is still obsessed with Bardot’s look but society is so ill informed about the woman herself. The French woman mystique is pure myth. The media chooses to portray French woman as: all being Parisian (ew, who would want to be from Biarritz or Bordeaux, am I right?), all being slim white women, and as just being a shell. Does anyone care about Brigitte Bardot aside from what she looked like? Just a side note: Bardot is seen as a highly controversial figure in France due to her problematic views on immigration and her adverse comments on homosexuals and Muslims. The point is, if you go to Paris or anywhere in France, you’re going to see women who aren’t “effortlessly chic” and you’re going to meet women with different types of personalities. There is no one type of Parisian or French woman.
Another issue with this representation of French women, is the fact that people tend to idolize women from the past, for example from the 60s and 70s. As time goes on, women are beginning to become more liberated, and so idolizing women from the 60s and 70s who were more often than not loved for their looks is really problematic if you want to portray women in a more progressive manner. There is nothing wrong with admiring women’s beauty, because my god women are beautiful, but why can’t we admire more women from today? And admire women for who they are, rather than simply what they look like.
Then comes the issue of race. It’s like to be a Parisian woman, you have to be Caucasian and then you can be considered as a Parisian style idol. Like everywhere, France is more diverse than that. There are Basque women. There are women from African descent. There are French Asian women. Heck, there are French women who aren’t a size 8.
Yes, lets appreciate different cultures and women from all over the world, but this fixation on Parisian beauty which is totally misrepresented by the media is harmful and stuck in the past. France is a beautiful country with beautiful people and it’s great that we appreciate their culture, but there is simply no reason to view French women as superior to other women in any way. The truth is, there is no secret to being French. The only way to be French is to actually be French, as in be a French citizen or have a French passport. It has nothing to do with having a minimal skincare routine, how often you go to the gym or how good you look in stripes.
So I argue, instead of putting women from a specific geographical location on a pedestal, how about we appreciate women across the globe, as the diverse group of people that we are? And how about we stop portraying French women as being a completely homogeneous group of women with no diverse features? Just some food for thought, non?
Written by Annie Morgan