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La Femme Fatale Française

Why French Women Are Still So Sexy

Why are French women so sexy?

My esteemed editor recently asked me this, believing that because I once lived in Paris, worked at a French rock ‘n roll magazine, have a major in French and spent the better part of my teens and early 20s as an utter Francophile, I would have, if not insight, then at least a strong opinion on, this eternal question.

And I do. Have an opinion, that is.

But first I must state that I am certain, unequivocally, that French women aren't any bit sexier than Italian — I mean, the First Lady of France, Carla Bruni, heralded as one of the most gorgeous women of anywhere, of all time, is Italian by heritage. Certainly the French aren't hotter than the Argentine, not to mention Jamaican, Japanese, German, Russian, Ethiopian and Pakistani.

And hold your head high, America, because we Yanks have got it goin' on, if I do say so myself. The point is, every single nationality produces its share of stone-cold foxes (as we used to say, way back when).

However.

I have to admit, the French do tend to posses something particular. Not so much sex appeal, but allure.

Let me back up — so many articles and books have been written about what it is French women have that the question can be considered one of the Mysteries of the Ages. Some speculation centers on their slimness. Many are slim, true, but then again my roommate in Paris was always au régime just like me, counting her calories and forever saying no to dessert. (But she wasn't a “real” Parisienne, she was actually from Marseille, so maybe that has something to do with it. ...)

Honestly, even with the slimness there's flab, as well, given that every French woman I know would rather smoke a cigarette than spend 10 minutes doing sit-ups (quelle horreur!). But she smokes that cigarette elegantly, bien entendu, without smudging her lipstick.

Which leads me to the next bit of speculation about what “it” is. There is much talk of this seemingly innate knowledge among les Françaises of how to tie a scarf. Wear the right heels with the right skirt. Choose the perfect accessory, the ideal lipstick. A quote from Coco Chanel is usually involved. There's the explanation that in the Gallic mentality, being pulled together on the outside is a metaphor for the intellectual cohesion on the inside — which is basically to say you're as smart as you look.

Again my experience tells me this is more myth than reality. I've ridden the Paris metro. I've been to Brest and Lyon and to parts of Normandy, and I can tell you our French counterparts are just as liable to pull a fashion "don't" as the rest of us. And, as for the looking-good-thinking-well equation? I can attest to many ignorant, ridiculous, asinine, flat-out dumb-ass comments made by women wearing Dior and Cartier.

There is also the theory that French women are more comfortable with (and expecting of) sex, usually followed by the statistic that they wear more and/or better lingerie than the rest of us. Which may be true. I used to get my groceries at the UniPrix — even there they sold cute panties and bras. (Almost made up for the goat-pen stench of the cheese section nearby. ...)

Then there is the point that French men seem to still find women attractive as they age, but even the iconic, lovely Catherine Deneuve reportedly has had cosmetic work, so let's not dwell too long on the implications.

Anyway, my point is allure. They have it. Here's my two cents on the heart of the reason why:

It has to do with language, and I'm not talking about the accent they have when they speak another language or the way they sound when they speak their own (which, just like any other language on the planet, can sound beautiful or boring or just plain ugly depending on who is speaking and what they are saying).

There's a theory in the study of linguistics that goes something like, in order to actually conceive of an experience, you have to have a word for it. The example often is the native Alaskans — evidently the cultures there had, I dunno, let's say 47 words for snow. I'm making up the exact number, but you get my drift. Because they have these specific words, they actually experience snow in infinitely more subtle ways than those of us who speak a language where the option is snow, or snow.

Which leads me back to La République. In French there exist a number of terms that are unique to their language and culture that have to do with beauty, a sense of one's self and the art of daily life in general. One of those terms is jolie laide, literally meaning pretty ugly — not “dude, that's pretty ugly,” but “although she has a big nose and bad skin and saddlebags, and her teeth maybe are a little crooked, there's something joyful and appealing about her; she's a woman you want to know.” It's linked to a sense of being bien dans sa peau, “good in your skin.”

I've heard that expression used in our country, but I have never seen it practiced to the extent it is in France. A certain unapologetic attitude. That unapologetic attitude is really annoying if you're at the post office and your mail is three weeks late, say, or if you're at a restaurant and would just like some service s'il vous plaît, but when it comes to who you are in the world, how you look, what you care about, that attitude is like the brightness of the flame moths kill themselves for.

Here, too often I hear women say — and have, I admit, at times said myself — that they will get a new job/start dating/start living when they lose weight, get Botox, get lipo, have a makeover, have money enough to buy nice clothes. The appeal of the French woman has to do with this. Insecurity, sure, they have it — they just don't usually make it some kind of a fetish the way so many of us seem to.

So tie your scarf, put your shoulders back, drink your glass of wine and don't apologize for any of it, and you'll have learned all the French you need.

À bientôt.

SHOP NOW: Failing Paris by Samantha Dunn, $13

  • French actress Marion Cotillard exudes sensuality.

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La Femme Fatale Française
Why French Women Are Still So Sexy
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