Living up to the stereotypical French woman in the US
So much has been said about French women. The French woman has become a stereotype for elegance, style, beauty, health, domestic accomplishments, seduction and even great parenting skills thanks to the bestseller of Pamela Druckerman: ‘Bringing up Bébé’.
Their supposed secrets are permanently scrutinized. Just imagine the expectations if you are actually a French woman living abroad in a country that loves everything French. Will you manage to embody so many perfections and live up to that ideal stereotype? Should you even try to embody the image of this ideal French woman?
As a French expat who has been living in the United States of America for over eight years, I must admit that when I moved to the States I was neither aware of my ‘Frenchness’ nor of the expectations that would come with it. But I soon noticed that there was a pattern when people would realize that I was French. Here are some of the most common remarks that I’d hear.
You’re French… you must be a great cook
Of course, every French woman is supposed to love cooking and nothing should make her happier than to prepare a typical French dinner for 12. Julia Child is probably responsible for this cliché since she introduced Americans to French cooking in her acclaimed recipe book entitled ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’.
Although it is true that most French (including French women) cook on a daily basis, not all of them are real cordons bleus. As far as I am concerned I consider myself an average cook, I even had to join a cooking club to expand my culinary repertoire beyond quiches, crêpes and boeuf bourguignon.
I still struggle to replicate some of the dishes that my parents used to make when I was growing up. I must admit that I really feel the pressure when American friends join us for dinner. It is as if I have to cook perfectly to honor the great tradition of French gastronomy. So stressful!
You’re French… that’s why your children are so well-behaved
Read the book ‘Bringing up Bébé’ of Pamela Druckerman and ‘French Kids Eat Everything’ by Karen Le Billon, for this new expectation. I blame both of them for adding to the long list of perfections that French women are supposed to embody. In addition to being effortlessly elegant and thin, we are also supposed to be great educators.
Well I must respectfully disagree, not all French children are sages comme des images (little angels) and eat everything. My children can be adorable, we work on manners daily and we try to eat a varied diet but they are all too able to throw a tantrum and don’t enjoy eating most vegetables.
Probably what makes us French is that snacking is limited and our family sticks to the three meals and one snack a day that I grew up with. Eating seated at the table as a family is probably another requirement that sets us apart from many Americans. Family dinners constitute essential rituals of French life. I could not do without them.
Many articles and studies today try to promote family dinners in the USA as an effective way to boost academic results, lower the risk of teen depression and fight obesity. Let’s ‘Frenchify’ our lives by promoting family dinners, but don’t expect every French child to be well-behaved all the time and a great eater, nor should you expect every French mother to be a model of parental wisdom.
You’re French… I love your dress / top / scarf (whatever). It’s from France, isn’t it?
Well, chances are that it’s actually an American brand. I’ve been living in the States for so long that it’s more convenient to shop there for me. In France, I devote most of my time to visiting my family or sightseeing, not shopping. Now, do I have the famous je ne sais quoi? Well, je ne sais pas!
I don’t consider myself a fashionista and I like to keep things simple. Many French women can’t compare to the fabulous fashion icons that have defined or define chic nowadays. I find that many of my American friends are more elegant and sophisticated than I am.
You’re French…that’s why you are so thin
Well, for starters I’m not really thin by French standards. I’m still a size 38 in France which is supposed to be a size 8, and somehow ends up being a size 2, because retailers use vanity sizing as a marketing tool. Despite the common myth popularized by the book ‘French Women don’t Get Fat’ by Mireille Guiliano, not all French women are thin. Far from it!
Unfortunately, obesity is catching up with France with 16% of the population now considered obese. When I came to the US, I was actually bigger than I am today and I kept gaining weight for a couple of years due to many changes in my life, so, French women can and do get fat.
Even today, I still consider myself French. Weight does not determine your national identity. On the other hand, I have to agree to some extent with Mireille Guiliano, indeed, French women do their best to stay slim. Social pressure remains very high and being slim is highly regarded. This is why French women font attention (are careful about what they eat) even when they are not dieting. Many of them just do their best to not become fat. It’s an everyday endeavor and we struggle as much as women from other countries.
You’re French… I love French women. By the way, I used to date one
OK, you see where I’m going here. Is that guy hitting on me? French women are somehow supposed to be femmes légères. Perpetuating this cliché seems both unfair and even dangerous as it can encourage unsolicited sexual advances. On average French women lose their virginity around 17, and French women will have four sexual partners in a lifetime, which compares to statistics in the USA.
Regarding infidelity, statistics can be deceiving depending on the definition of infidelity and survey methods. If France remains in the top ten nations in terms of infidelity, we (France) ‘only’ rank fifth after Germans, Italians, Danish and Thai people who rank ‘number 1’ in the latest study from Match.com. That being said, one has to acknowledge that infidelity exists in France, but it is far from being normal or well-tolerated and many other nations are plagued by infidelity – see the recent Madison scandal.
So let’s keep debunking stereotypes and clichés and let’s celebrate the diversity of French women and if we go further, their imperfections. We might even conclude with the magazine Madame Figaro that the French woman is an American Dream.
Is there another cliché that you would like to debunk? Let us know about it. Ask Sophie in the comments below.
1. ‘Brigitte Bardot’, RV1864 via Flickr
2. ‘Retro housewife family cooking’, Artsybee/2061 images via Pixabay
3. ‘Fête d’Hendaye – enfant rouge’, Office de Tourisme de Hendaye via Flickr
4. ‘So Cannes #6’, Franck Michel via Flickr
5. ‘Healthy diet’, stock.tookapic via Pexels