Book Review: All You Need to be Impossibly French

Throughout my life, I’ve had a fascination with the French.  It was a fascination elevated by my mother {who reveled in explaining French customs & phrases} and spurned by my father {who often insists that he does not detest the French, just socialism}.  My father’s distaste for the French way of life did not deter this fascination–once in the fourth grade I checked out a giant biography of Marie Antoinette from the public library.  When the librarian hesitated, “There are lots of French words in there, dear,” I flippantly replied that my mama would help me with any difficulties I encountered, but I probably wouldn’t have any trouble.

Have I ever mentioned that I was quite fille précoce?  My father called me a pistol and I’m sure my mother {bless her heart} just rolled her eyes.

Perhaps the thing that most fascinated me about the French culture was not the food or the wine or the perfume:  it was the women.  It took Julia Child years to adjust to the women in France.  Even as a young child I knew that ladies from France were quite fashionable and terribly chic.  I adored Sabrina and Funny Face, not because Audrey Hepburn was utter perfection in both films, but because the women roaming in the backgrounds were French and therefore, perfect.

It was a natural fit to add Helena Frith Powell’s cheeky look at the allure of the French woman to my Christmas list.  My mother delighted in gifting me the manual and I completed it from start to finish in two days.  Here are the main lessons that I walked away with:

1.  French women adore maximum effect for minimum effort.  Staying thin is essential to women in France, but they detest exercising and dieting.  Minimum effort {small portions of rich food in restaurants, only dieting in the privacy of their kitchens, exercises to produce lean muscles} for maximum effect {thin, supple, lean bodies which are perfect for draping the latest fashions}.

2.  French women only wear tennis shoes if they are exercising.  They do not wear tennis shoes with jeans, they do not wear tennis shoes to work, and they certainly don’t wear tennis shoes around the house.

3.  French women do not wear lounge clothes at home {or out in public}.

4.  French women feel that your underwear is just as important as your outerwear.

5.  French mothers are fanatical about the health of their children, but they refuse to breastfeed.

While there are many other lessons to be gleaned from the witty prose, as an American and a southern woman, the five targets listed above were the most pertinent to me.

1.  I tend to agree with the French on this one.  I hate dieting and exercise, but I’m forced to watch what I eat and partake in cardio exercises because I’m quite petite.  I recently began using ballet as a means of exercise–ten minutes a day and my muscles are screaming {and quite lithe and lean}.  I’ll take ten minutes of Debussy and stretching over miles of sweat any day.

2.  I only own one pair of tennis shoes and I rarely wear them, however, I am quite guilty of schlepping about in my Chacos with no regard for the outfit I’m wearing.  My Chacos are not any more comfortable than my patent leather flats, so I’ve no excuse for my laziness.

3.  In the land of the South, sororities and fraternities reign supreme.  The current fashion du jour of sorority girls is quite lazy:  Nike shorts, oversized t-shirts, and Uggs or tennis shoes.  While I’m not guilty of falling into that particular trap, I’m quite bad about wearing yoga pants or tights with oversized shirts or sweaters out in public.  It drives my mother crazy which is partially why I do it {again,  fille précoce}, but I also dress down because I’m lazy.

4.  My underwear drawer would make French women grimace.  I have a tendency to make do with whatever is leftover from high school and college, because treating myself to underwear seems frivolous.  Powell makes a good point:  when your underthings are nice, you don’t want to cover them up with lazy things like Nike shorts and t-shirts.  While I do not have the means to deck myself out in French lingerie, I plan to make some investments in the panty & bra department by throwing out anything more than five years old, getting rid of Victoria’s Secret Underwear with words written across the bum, and burning any bras with protruding underwires.  It’s a start!

*Mother & Daddy, I’m terribly sorry for discussing underwear in such a public forum.  

5.  While I agree with the way French parents raise their children, it blows my mind that as a whole, French women are decidedly against breastfeeding.  Powell describes French mothers as almost the European answer to China’s Tiger Mother.  With the slightest rustle of leaves, babies are wrapped up in several layers and children never eat things like chips or the dreaded chicken nugget.  Powell described one mother who cooked three separate dinners for each of her children, a meal to suit each child’s tastebuds!  It seems ludicrous that a woman would choose vanity over health, but I suppose it’s the differences in our cultures that make the world go ’round.

While I would certainly never take all of the cheeky advice given by Powell, I plan to apply the lessons listed above.  Just this morning I pulled on a nice pair of jeans, a chunky sweater, earrings, wellies {it’s raining in Raleigh}, and a scarf for brunch.  My natural inclination was to reach for tights and my husband’s baggy Atlanta Hawks t-shirt, but I fought the urge, put on a bit of blush & mascara, and smarted my hair up with a topknot and bobby pins.  It took me all of ten minutes to get ready this morning, and I found I was able to fully relax at brunch because I wasn’t self-conscious about my appearance.  It was a nice change and certainly something I can implement, even on lazy Sundays and rainy Saturdays.

As I prepare my resolutions for 2013, I know that many of the targets discussed above will come into play.  French women have a purpose behind each action, something that I desperately need.  I would highly recommend Powell’s manual to any woman looking for the motivation to look good, feel good, and live purposefully.  You can purchase Powell’s book here and the Kindle version is available here.


2 thoughts on “Book Review: All You Need to be Impossibly French

  1. Ma chère fille, écrit à propos des sous-vêtements n’est pas tout à fait approprié. Toutefois, si cela vous fait de cesser de porter des pantalons collants, puis vivre la belle vie!

  2. Pingback: What I’m Reading « Callicutt

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