American Women, French Women: It's All About Perspective

By: Lorène Belotti, Guest Blogger

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Image from blog.womenshealth.com

 

It’s always super interesting to analyze the cultural differences between different countries. It often reveals a lot about our society’s weaknesses and allows us to question ourselves. Today, in a globalized world, differences are softened yet  each country bears its own beliefs, opinions, and values. What about women’s image?

I’m French, and I was born in this so-called “country of elegance.” French women are apparently considered as very feminine, classy, and self-assured. It’s weird and funny listening to foreign people talking about us. International newspapers talk about our perfect style, our refinement, and our capacity to remain “women” whatever the role we play (mother, worker, daughter etc.) I know a book called French Women Don’t Get Fat was a best-seller in the USA. It made me laugh so much.

Apparently there are common beliefs that French women are classier, more down-to-earth, meaning more natural and authentic, educated, less distant towards new people, and they fight for feminism without losing their femininity. Come on! So many stereotypes!

Of course, differences exists, but I think it’s deeper than women thinking they are fat or thin or viewed as feminine or less feminine. I guess it’s a question of history. I’ll take, for example, the concept of Puritanism that is one foundation of American beliefs. I know that in America , people can be easily scandalized by half-naked pop stars or other women dressed scantily on TV.

I once read that a family who sculpted a female snowman with a bust  in New Jersey had a police officer visit who asked them to cover the intimate part of this snowman. This is typically the kind of thing that would never happen in France. I’d even say that this police visit would be more shocking than a “busty” snowman!

In France, and generally in Western Europe, religion is less present than in America, and I guess the body is seen as something beautiful before being seen as something sinful. This is cultural: The Age of Enlightenment with its,Art--ou can admire so many sculptures of naked bodies in European museums that it doesn’t shock anyone--made it this way; even in Latin countries (Italy, Spain) that are known as more religious, nudity is not a problem. It’s kind of natural.

I guess we can be scandalized by nudity but not by the nakedness itself, just in the way people use it. Indecency is not exactly the same in these two countries. It is considered way more indecent to expose your very expensive brand new car (people will think you are showing off) than exposing your new art painting of a naked woman in your living room.

Our bigger tolerance to see “a larger area of skin ” doesn’t mean that we approve of using someone’s body to sell disks or movies. That is not shocking; it’s distressing. People think it’s just part of the globalization world “game.” This also relates to a kind of cynicism in France that we don’t find in America where people are more trustful and positive. French people are deeply Cartesian and see the world with very candid eyes, believing that many are naïve who are overly optimistic and do not share the same world view.

It doesn’t prevent women from having to fight for their rights and to allow my generation to be free.  In France, women got the right to vote in 1944 and the principle of absolute equality between men and women in 1946. From this point, we’ve got a strong feminine movement, which allowed us to gain a lot of social progress. However, despite the social benefits we have access to, we are now struggling with many of the same issues American girls struggle with. We’re not spared from the society’s pressure.  Summer is here and every magazine has a cover page about diet. We don’t talk about our pants size, being too ashamed of being bigger than our friend. I’ve seen a girl crying because she wasn’t tanned enough to go to a wedding ceremony!  Every girl compares herself to others and, poor us, some girls also stick Photoshop model pictures on the fridge to give them the courage not to eat anymore.  Most girls want to fit the mold and there are more and more young ladies struggling with eating disorders or wanting to have a plastic surgery to “be like” X or Y.

These terrible examples seem to be international issues and prove that despite our freedom, we still have battles to lead. 

So girls, let’s explode a myth: Yes, French girls do get fat; it’s just that being obese in my country is politically incorrect. Oh and no, we don’t wear only Haute couture outfits from Chanel or Dior, only rich women can afford it. Finally, yes, we’re just as insecure and frightened as you are about not being good enough, and not being beautiful and clever enough.

Both American and French girls still have work to do to change our image. We need to integrate the idea that we are great in our individuality. Awesome news: we’re lucky to be this super connected generation and we’re stronger together. Let’s do it.

 

About Lorene: Lorene is a French observer and learner of life. She’s been working as a salesperson and a marketing assistant for four years to learn the ropes of the business world. She used to be a sports journalist while doing her Master’s degree and she loves writing and telling stories about great people too much not to go back to her first love soon. She lives in the French Alps, and loves to try to solve the world’s problems while having a great meal with her loved ones. She is passionate about foreign languages, self-development books, American TV shows, and people. Oh, and she’s a total nerd of Academic studies (when she’ll win the lottery, she’ll go to Harvard).

 

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