I, like everyone who has a passing interest in fashion, am obsessed with France and the never ending fascination with that Parisian woman. I read all the books. I read all the articles about how to emulate French style that come up on my pinterest feed. I also read all the articles about why it’s garbage and sometimes even agree with them. But this image of the French woman endures for a reason and I know that it endures with me for specific reasons.
“She doesn’t have a ring on each finger, or a big diamond on each ring.
She doesn’t wear a gold watch that costs as much as a fancy car.
In fact, she doesn’t own a fancy car.
She doesn’t carry an enormous designer bag.
But she might have a newspaper under her arm.
She might mention Sartre or Foucault in a conversation.
It’s her personality that sparkles and nothing else: the signs of intellectual wealth.”Anne Berest, How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style and Bad Habits ―
In my mind, my Parisian life is waking up and putting on nothing but a rich face cream and some red lipstick (Chanel, naturally), my underwear is matching of course and I open my closet to put on the perfect outfit that looks stylish but also says that I’m not trying to hard. I eat whatever I want but can’t be bothered with exercise, at least not more than the 10 minutes I do in the morning. I drink wine every night but somehow say no to the diet coke that always seems to tempt me at 4:00. I have scandalous affairs and sit in a café for hours ruminating about them, I smoke and have loud arguments with my lovers and friends on the phone. And when my heart is broken, it’s never broken for long. After all, why would it be, I know I won’t be alone for long. My house is always filled with fresh flowers and I can whip up a delicious dinner or rustic cake( my great grandmothers recipe of course!) in a few minutes. Of course my dishes are mismatched in a way that says I’m cultured and stylish, of course they are a combination of Supermarket own brands, flea market finds and hand me downs but in a chic way. My apartment is tastefully styled even though I’m not rich. Haha! I laugh gesturing at my coffee table “this old thing, I can’t remember now where I found it!” I don’t care about fashion but yes that’s an authentic designer bag why do you ask, it was a gift, I would never spend money on something so gauche as a bag with such a clear designer label! In the summer I head to the beach for a month, reading sophisticated books during the day and staying up late every night. I never seem harried or stress because at the end of the day, I take time for myself and am skilled at saying no to what I don’t want and yes to what I do want.
Of course, I’m being facetious. This image of the “French woman” suggests that all women are the same and doesn’t allow for loneliness, or failed recipes (even the French must have these!), or unhappiness with work or a myriad of other modern day struggles. I know, or suspect that this is not the reality of life for most French women and I don’t know that this view of the perfect woman isn’t a little bit sexist/classist/racist. I want to criticise it vehemently for encouraging the unattainable, that all women be perfect at everything at all times. But like many people, when I feel frustrated with my life I read self-help books. Instead of self-help though, I read French style books. And they’ve taught me that it’s okay to like buying flowers for myself because I can and want to. I like the idea that my time is important and it’s important to me, so if I sit down for 10 minutes and drink a glass of wine by myself that is valuable. Where I was growing up most of my female friends refused to talk about politics (of course, I’ve since made adult friends who do talk about politics) so I relished the idea of dinner parties or nights in the pub or afternoons in the cafe where we discussed politics and art and literature as well as celebrity gossip and our love lives. I like the idea that of course women can be fashionable and use moisturiser and STILL be educated and able to talk on a variety of topics. Meanwhile as a Canadian woman every time I put on make up I wring my hands and wonder if I’m a bad feminist. I like the idea of going to the corner pharmacy and buying the same face wash that I’ve always used and that my mother used instead of wondering if I can afford the latest cult beauty product. I believe in the idea of a women who never lets her relationship or children change how she defines herself. Ultimately the idea of the “Parisian woman” in these books and articles is about a woman who makes everything around her nice. Who does things for herself and her family. When we talk about having a nice home or nice clothes, or cooking dinner for friends and family, or being a gracious host, or taking time for ourselves it’s so often with the undercurrent that those things are frivolous, selfish and vain and to see them celebrated is meaningful to me. So yes, it’s a fantasy but it’s a fantasy that’s helped me to live life the way I want to and to be the kind of woman I want to be, that is someone who likes to cook for others and discuss politics, who enjoys the discussing any topic and red lipstick, who doesn’t mind sitting by herself for a while and drinking a coffee or a glass of wine, someone who lives life to the best of her ability and maybe that’s good enough.
Read next: What To Read if You Wish you Were in Paris