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January 14, 2009

Are French Women Really Sexier Than American Women?

The French Kiss-Off

catherine deneuve

Photo Credit: Allied Artists/Fotos International/Getty Images

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We have a bone to pick with Mireille Guiliano, author of 2004's French Women Don't Get Fat. Ever since her cheery commodification of femme-hood perched itself — in a Chanel skirt, legs crossed — at number one on the New York Times best-seller list, our local Barnes & Noble has offered a parade of galling Gallic self-improvement tomes, including Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl, French Women Don't Sleep Alone, and eight more editions of Guiliano's book — whose film rights have been snatched up by Hilary Swank. Each volume variously targets American women's tormented battle with food, hatred of men, clumsiness with a scarf, prudishness in bed, thick waists, feast-or-famine attitude toward booze, inability to cultivate mystery, and preference for pants of the non-cigarette variety. As a result, countless numbers of our peers have come to accept as a foregone conclusion their own inferiority, senselessly buying into this masochistic Francophilia. Look, we love a Birkin bag as much as the next gal, but it's time for these writers — many of them self-hating expats — to put a cork in the Veuve Clicquot. First of all, not every Frenchwoman is a chic sylph — one recent study found that France is on track to match U.S. obesity levels by 2020. And second, we all know the slender Frenchie's real secret: le smoking! We'll take a little extra around the middle over a gruesome death from emphysema any day. Finally, not every American woman spends Friday night hovering over the all-you-can-eat pasta bar at Olive Garden. Some of us really can tie a flourish-y square knot — and not because we're trying to be more French, but because it looks great with our American Apparel tee, Levi's jeans, and Frye boots. Yee-haw!

Our French Intern Responds:
I’ll tell you the secret of the French sexy way of being: Everybody thinks that we are. We call it an idée recue, an accepted notion. No matter if we are blonde, brown, tall, or small, from the moment we start to speak with the accent, we become the natural daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Coco Chanel. We aren’t. Really. (Besides, Catherine Deneuve is not sexy to us; she was beautiful and cold, but that was 30 years ago.)

Yes, French women had our era. Yes, the world of fashion was revolutionized by French men and women, and filmmaking, too. But it was decades ago. For us younger French girls, that time is gone. To me a woman is not sexy because she is French, American, or Italian. She is sexy because of how she feels about her femininity and because she knows how to draw others’ focus to what is beautiful about herself.

French and Americans have different views about what sexy means because we have different cultures. Little example: In France you can find a good hairdresser on every corner. In New York you won’t, but there are nail salons everywhere. We just don’t pay attention to the same things — that’s all!

As we say in France, everything is better in the neighbor’s garden. To us, American women are very sexy. Seriously! You are the country of Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, and Victoria’s Secret! And I won’t mention the dozens of magnificent modern American actresses who make French women feel like chubby, awkward Bridget Joneses — even if we are sexier than the English.

—Barbara Bing

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