When I was in high school, I went through a phase where I pretended to be French.
This was as strange as it sounds.
See, before Mireille Guiliano’s bestseller “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” there was another book series about learning the eating secrets of French women. The series was called “Chic and Slim.” It was a series of thin little black books, and it changed my life. Notably, it marked the beginning of my descent into the “no eating” zone. Still, whenever I eat large or gross meals, my mom and I will joke that it was not a “chic and slim” move. Now you’re in on the secret. That’s where that comes from.
The basic premise of the book was that French women are so concerned with looking sexy and being dainty that they’re too busy to deal with fat American things like diet soda and gross “diet” crap. No, they would rather have un petit peu of something rich and decadent than a host of bloating, lethargy-inducing fibrous diet faux-foods, because, obviously, they’re busy having sex with their choice of handsome rich French men.
Unlike American diet books, which focus on food (go figure!) most of what these diet books focused on was how chic and sexy French women are. They focused on their refined wardrobes, impeccable homes, and seductive, elusive ways with men. They focused on how French women are immensely private and immensely… well.. perfect. It makes sense that I was so attracted to the promises of these books, because, in all seriousness, French women are pretty much my opposite. I still hate wearing tight, fitted clothes. My hair is usually messy. I keep a clean house, but I’m far more bohemian and practical – with my stacks of books and articles – than I am Martha Stuart. I’m Russian and Italian, which means I’m a lot of things that I’ve very proud of, but hunny – I’m not dainty. So, in high school, as I was in the midst of this obsession, I then went to spend a few months in France, and learned first-hand what I had been reading so much about – primarily, that those women are fucking thin. I remember going to Paris at the peak of my eating issues, a mere 80-something pounds, and leaving feeling that I really needed to get on a diet once I got home. Those women are waif-ish.
When I came home, I dove deeper into French culture. I learned about how French women are more likely to accept that their husband may have a mistress or two, because this is just how men are. As time wore on and I learned to love my body, weight and all, and with my oh-so-American love of diet mountain dew, I slowly gave up bringing 2” long baguette and pate sandwiches to school for lunch, and no longer saw a cup of soup as a solid meal. As time continued to go on, I began to see my body and sexuality as things that were intertwined – things that thrived the more I loved, fed, and appreciated them. I no longer saw nourishing one appetite at the expense of the other to be a dainty and sexy thing to do, and I no longer found it so cute and European to be cheated on. Yes, I was becoming more American. I wanted a body, a sex life, a business, a house, and a partnership. I wanted it all. I wanted to be attractive, and I never wanted to be (nor am I) large, but I gave up “wispy” as the “be all, end all” to my self-definition. Maybe I became an American, but in my heart I became a woman.
So, it gave me an interesting mix of emotions when I read in Time magazine that it appears the feminist movement is making waves in my dear old France.
According to Francoise Gaspard, a prominent sociologist and former politician who has studied gender and power in France for decades, explained to Time that this “is a turning point. People are saying things that were unthinkable 10 or 15 years ago. This is completely new.”
Spurred by allegations against former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn for supposedly sexually assaulting and attempting rape upon a housekeeper in a New York City hotel, French women have come out in droves protesting against the “daily wave of misogynous commentary coming from public figures.” The public rally opened the door for women to share their own stories. The rally wasn’t given huge levels of attention, but, to its credit, it wasn’t mocked – it was taken seriously (wow!). Apparently, these are huge steps for French women speaking up for desired “equal” status. According to Time, “women reporters started sharing their own stories of harassment and even assault by powerful men. Soon there was talk that feminist issues – things like sexual violence, unequal pay and the ubiquity of ‘everyday sexism’.. could figure prominently in the 2012 presidential campaign.”
Wait, hold your fucking horses. They may be skinny, but they’re hoping that things like “equal pay” will start to factor into the election topics? Girlfriends. Let’s think about this. We’re not starving, but I have yet to hear my boyfriend tell me he’d rather feel some hipbones than boobs. Still, we can go out into the world, and demand rights like 1) not getting felt up at work, or 2) getting paid the same amount as a man that’s doing the same job. Hmmm. Yeah. For someone that wished for so long I had been born European, I’m thinking go fucking America.
But this is the part of the Time article that really did me in:
“For French women, this could be the end of an era in which talking too forcefully about inequities between men and women has been rejected as too old-school, too angry, too American.”
Well, when talking about “equality” becomes “too American,” then I go from caring about being chic and slim to being really proud to be an American. Diet mountain dew, Target sweatpants, and all.