As sexual politics hits the headlines in France, Lucy Wadham considers why the mystique of the French woman holds such enduring appealby Lucy Wadham / January 14, 2014 / Leave a comment
Trierweiler has checked into hospital to deal with emotional stress resulting from the French President François Hollande’s alleged affair ©PA
French Women Don’t Get Facelifts
by Mireille Guillano (Doubleday, £14.99)
For the past fortnight I have been suffering my way through a pile of books from a growing branch of the self-help tree, all inviting me to think, look, and generally be more like a French woman. La Française, I now know, has the answers to life’s problems. The titles alone should give a hint of what I’ve endured: Two Lipsticks and a Lover: Unlock Your Inner French Woman by Helena Frith Powell; Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl by Debra Ollivier; Bonjour, Happiness!: Secrets to Finding Your Joie De Vivre by Jamie Cat Callan; Chic & Slim: How Those Chic French Women Eat All That Rich Food and Still Stay Slim by Anne Barone; and by the same author, Chic and Slim Encore and Chic and Slim Toujours.
As I read these books, all published over the past decade, I imagined their British or American target audiences throwing out their greying underwear, their comfy tracksuit trousers and their tasty ready meals. I saw them giving up their boxsets, their cosy, confessional friendships, and their girls’ nights out. I pictured them investing in improving literature, a poodle, a new “capsule wardrobe” with requisite little black dress (petite robe noire) and cultivating the legendary mystique of the French woman. The idea left me feeling more than a little depressed.
This flourishing arm of the publishing industry, which sprung up at the beginning of the 21st century, has become sub-genre all of its own, complete with its absurdly long subtitles and its own visual language—curling typography, slender 1950s cartoons of chic French women trailing miniature poodles, pull-out lifestyle tips and unfeasible oyster and champagne-based recipes. The books all embrace a canon of unchallenged myths, clichés and stereotypes designed to target the chronically dissatisfied and/or overweight women of the English-speaking world. Mireille Guillano, one of the pioneers of the genre, published her latest offering in January, under the brazenly fallacious title French Women Don’t Get Facelifts.