The truth is that the French aren’t actually perfect all the time, but they do seem to have a definite advantage over Americans in the looks department.
For years people have tried to uncover their secrets; now as someone who has recently moved to the suburbs of Paris, I’ve had the opportunity to “study” their ways and try to adopt their methods. In all honesty I believe that the keys to French aesthetics can be boiled down to a few simple ideas. So over my next few articles, I will examine these tenets one by one.
Since I’m most definitely an American (ask any French person who’s heard me say the word “bonjour”), I’ll be approaching this study as a clumsy, English-speaking outsider. I’ll be talking about French methods, but I’ll be discussing them like an American, and my views are undoubtedly molded by the way North Americans see the world. But I believe my other-ness allows me to take what the French think of as ordinary and analyze it from another perspective.
What I mean is, if you want to know what a French person thinks, ask one of them. If you want to read about an American trying to navigate France and learn from a culture renowned for its fashion and beauty, then read on.
That being said, let’s start with the simplest and most obvious lesson:
1) French women are skinny. Why?
On average, the French are thinner than their American counterparts. This confuses Americans, especially since we picture French people munching on pastries, cheese and wine.
But the fact is that the French don’t just weigh less, it’s that they’re more fit. This is because they have to be—Paris and its environs are full of steep hills, tight, winding stairs and pedestrian passageways even the most minuscule French cars couldn’t fit through.
The French walk more than Americans in part because of culture, but mostly due to necessity. Cars here are smaller and less convenient than those in the US, and it’s especially difficult to maneuver them through narrow cobblestone streets. So people walk, bike or scooter to wherever they need to go simply because it makes the most sense.
It’s rare to find a down escalator in Paris (and sometimes you can’t even find one going up), which exemplifies the cultural pressure to be active. I wouldn’t necessarily say that Americans are lazier than the French, it’s just we have a different way of looking at transportation. We want things to be fast and easy, but this isn’t always the case for the French. They seem to prefer the world be better than more efficient, an attitude which indirectly results in the majority of people walking instead of driving to pick up their groceries.
With exercise built into your daily routine, you become more fit because you have to. (And as someone who’d rather be punched directly in the face than take a daily trip to the gym, I’ve realized that this is the only realistic way for me to stay in shape.) You move because otherwise you’d only sit at home and think about all the nice French things you could be seeing and doing.
So what can Americans learn from the French approach to exercise? Most of us wouldn’t mind being thinner, or even just getting in better shape, so what can we do?
Obviously, we can walk more, but it’s hard to stick to this plan when you have the option of taking the easy way out. So instead try making small adjustments to your everyday habits. For example, buy a bike. Take public transportation instead of driving—all the extra steps involved are bound to help you burn some calories. Maybe even try walking or biking to the train station or bus stop.
Of course there’s no magic solution, no button to press to turn yourself into a skinny French woman. But in general the idea is to incorporate more movement into your daily activities. This way you exercise without thinking about it. (And if you’re like me, thinking about exercise is almost worse than actually exercising.)
So give lesson one a try, and stayed tuned for the next article on Why do the French always look so good?