French women defy stereotypes

The Observer

Shock news: French women do get fat, they have brattish, fussy-eater children, chipped nails, they sometimes sleep on their own wearing big cotton knickers and they do mind if their husband is enjoying “cinq-a-sept” trysts with his mistress.

President Francois Hollande’s split from his “official” partner, Valerie Trierweiler, has revived some hoary old stereotypes concerning the French female.

Until now, “les francaises” were seen as effortlessly stylish, enviably slim and usually able to treat their partner’s dalliances with impressive sang-froid, and have been the subject of a host of self-help books.

In a recent article debunking the whole “French women are perfect” myth, daily newspaper Le Figaro wrote: “We could maintain the mystery, feed the myth; but French women are known for being frank, they don’t mince their words, so it’s time to re-establish a few truths. It could be called: ‘The Truth about French Women written by a French woman who is far from perfect and very much representative of her kind.’ ” The following is a series of short interviews that show how French women have the same problems, hopes and desires as the rest of us.

Faiza Allalou, 38: a saleswoman in a women’s clothes store in Paris; married with two children aged 10 and 5

“Keeping in shape is a struggle. I’ve been on diets, and was on the high-protein Dukan diet and lost weight, so I’m careful what I eat. I smoke, as I find it helps in coping with stress. Because of my work I have to be presentable, so I spend what I need to. But cosmetics cost money, and we’re being squeezed like lemons. As for raising my children, I’m fairly firm with them.”

Veronique Lambert, 52: a tax inspector in Lyon, divorced with three children; twin daughters, 21, and one son, 16

When I was younger, I bought into being a kind of superwoman, having perfect children and a toned body, but now I’m more relaxed about my image. I don’t spend much on makeup or read women’s magazines. How did I bring up my children? As a working single mother, it wasn’t easy. Children need to know who’s in charge. I learned that communication is important, particularly with girls.”

Francine Desnos, 50: a regional union rep from Angers; lives with her partner and has a daughter, 28, and son, 25

“Is it effortless to be a Frenchwoman? I exercise by going ballroom dancing with my partner, because we enjoy it, and sometimes go to the swimming pool. I don’t go on diets. I’m careful about my appearance, and set aside a budget for makeup. I’m lucky because we have two salaries coming in, but we need to be careful.”

Estelle Roux, 37: a saleswoman in a bathroom store in Brest, Brittany; separated, one son, 13

“What do I think about the idealized British view of the French woman? Here’s my answer: the book I’m reading is called “The Perfect Woman is a Silly Cow.”