What explains the mystique of French womanhood? A flexible attitude to the truth, says Lucy Wadham
Isabelle Adjani as a “moping nymphomaniac” in One Deadly Summer: “there’s been little movement in France towards equality in the bedroom”
© Sunset Boulevard/Corbis
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 readymeals. 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 feel…