The Mystique Of French Women

The Mystique Of French Women

Last week, I attended an Alliance Française de Melbourne dinner and workshop on the topic of Exceptional Women.

Unsurprisingly, all of the women featured in the lecture were French (or spent a great deal of their lives in France) and included names like Joan of Arc, Coco Chanel, Marie Curie, Brigitte Bardot and Edith Piaf.

All in all, it was a thought provoking evening, with great food and I was lucky enough to meet some very interesting people.

But the whole event got me considering – yet again – the mythical French woman.

You see, I was struck by the fact that society’s fascination with French women started a long way back. It is not the recent phenomenon that a casual internet search (or trip to your local bookshop) might have you believe.

The realist in me understands that French women come with varying intellects and bank balances, in all shapes and sizes and that not all of them are classic beauties.  And although I certainly don’t envy the pressure French women must feel to live up the world’s lofty expectations of them, I can’t help but think that the mystique that surrounds French women must have a grain of truth to it.

Now, this doesn’t mean that women from all over the world can’t lead exceptional lives – it is just that I find it interesting that over a great many years, French women seem to pop up again and again with that certain something, that ‘je ne sais quoi’.

Given today’s global society, I’m not sure I subscribe to the school of thought that the mysteriousness of the French woman is passed on entirely via the genes.

So where does it come from? Here’s what I came up with:

  1. When I considered the women highlighted in last week’s lecture, one thing that stood out was the fact that they all had a touch of the rebel in them. They knew their purpose in life and went after it with single minded conviction. None of them seemed to care what others thought. They knew what they needed to do and just got on with it. I see similar traits in the women I encounter in France today. Focussed, business like and quietly self assured in their own abilities and with who they are, what they are doing and how they look.
  2. French society appreciates women of all ages. They refer to their country as female and their emblems are also female. This must send a message to girls as they are growing up as to their own place in the world. To my mind, confidence is a natural outcome of this upbringing. It also gives women permission to appreciate themselves, and this is born out in the way French women care for their skin, hair and bodies.
  3. The French are disciplined in so many areas of their lives. And they couple that discipline with a commitment to both quality and moderation. For example, they eat less food but it is better quality. They buy fewer clothes but what do they do buy can be considered investment pieces. The small spaces they live in demand discipline – or else they would be swamped with clutter. All this discipline and quality leads to focussed a life…and the lack of shopping means more time for museums, family and parks.

Have you ever considered the mystique of French women? Do you have any thoughts on why they are held in such high regard? If so, I’d love for you to share in the comments section below.

And until next time – au revoir.

About Janelle

I believe that everyone can bring French elegance and inspiration to their life, no matter where they happen to live in the world. They only need to learn a secret or two to be on their way. When you join the Distant Francophile community, you’ll have access to the secrets that allow you to bring the best of the French lifestyle into your everyday life. I’m talking about things like style advice, recipes and book reviews. And you’ll also receive regular doses of French inspiration, as well as travel and packing tips galore.

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3 thoughts on “The Mystique Of French Women

  • Taste of France

    They have a way of being put together even when they are doing something unglamorous. I ran into someone today–she and her husband were cleaning an apartment they own to rent it to a new tenant. She was dressed simply, for cleaning, but still looked fantastic. And she must be in her 50s, so it wasn’t just the glow of youth.
    The women at the gym likewise are well-coiffed and dressed in decent workout clothes. No Flashdance ripped T shirts. I grew up with the philosophy that the better you dressed to work out the less serious you were. Not in France.
    I think it comes out of self-respect. They do it for themselves and they do it because they don’t want to feel uncomfortable if they run into someone and aren’t “correct.” Maybe this is part of the discipline you mention.

  • Jan Leishman

    What you have come up with is totally correct, but I feel that your second point holds the crux of it. It is their self-confidence – created in childhood with an appreciation of the feminine and the feeling that they CAN achieve their dreams. It seems to matter even more than getting the vote (Aussie women could vote decades before the French). They also had wonderful examples of influential women like Eleanor of Aquitaine – from medieval times. They can hold their own in wide-ranging discussions, thanks to an education system that includes the arts and philosophy. And even though they may not have achieved full equality of opportunity, they act as though they have.