The entire world envies the French woman’s je ne sais quoi: looking chic in an effortless way. Being slender without dieting. Being attractive regardless of whether she’s “pretty.” Being unapologetically self-assured. For living well, without gross excess. For enjoying great quality without over-consuming.
Yes, it’s unfair to generalize, and some of my friends would say they don’t see themselves in such a description. Yes, there are exceptions, as there are everywhere. But what I admire so much in our French friends — of all shapes and sizes — is their capacity for amour propre, self-love and self-respect.
So what happened when I finally started taking some of their cues? I became more confident. I looked more self-assured. I may never totally “look” French any more than I will miraculously lose my accent, despite decades of living in France. The point is that women who value themselves, take care of themselves and pick up that je ne sais quoi attitude become much more compelling. And life without excuses or quiet guilt about listening to one’s own needs and desires tends to — surprise! — make you happier in life.
Below, what I’ve learned about self-love, a la française:
1. Make the most of your assets.
If French women are well-known for their sense of style, it’s because they figure out what works for them and they stick with it, updating with small, seasonal touches (which is also more economical).
2. Practice pleasure rituals.
Feeling good is as important as looking good. Long baths, facials, massages, any type of treatment for the body are not luxuries, they're essentials — no matter how busy your life is.
3. Don’t punish your body.
The “no pain, no gain” school of thought never made it to these shores. The French generally operate according to the pleasure principle: if you’re doing something that makes you feel and look great, there will be a positive effect on your physique and overall well-being (obviously, this includes sex).
4. Accept your physical appearance.
Read any French women’s magazine and you’ll see that French women, too, fret about impossible norms. But back in the real world, they know that happiness does not depend on wearing a size 36 (American size 2 or 4). It depends on feeling “bien dans sa peau” (feeling good in your own skin).
5. Enjoy great food.
Great food is fundamental to French culture, so why deprive yourself? Enjoy a little of everything, and treats in moderation. No French woman I know eats bread, cheese and dessert every day.
6. Respect your body.
Overeating only leads to negative feelings. Love chocolate? Have some! But skip the cheese and extra glass of wine. Total deprivation has no place in the pleasure-based life.
7. Feel good AND look good.
French women don’t go out looking like an unmade bed. They may be in a hurry, but they are dressed and groomed (no sweatpants or unbrushed hair). Feeling good is also about looking good, and looking good shows respect for yourself and the world around you.
8. Be yourself!
Be daring, even if it’s subtle. An offbeat something — a groovy cocktail ring, funky shoes, an unmatched scarf — express individuality.
9. Work what you have, not what you want.
French women don't wait to lose five more pounds or grow out a bad haircut before they make an effort to look great. If you look and feel great, no one, including you, will really notice those five pounds.
10. Keep it natural.
Who wants to wear a mask? Minimal makeup, unfussy hair (which moves), a lipstick that suits, a signature scent. That’s it.
11. Don't let age stop you from living well.
In how many other countries are women of "a certain age" still considered seductive? French women know that age is no reason to give up on looking and feeling great. I can name a dozen French celebrities — Isabelle Hupert, Isabelle Adjani, Juliette Binoche, Ines de la Fressange, for starters — who are well past 40 and revered for their beauty and appeal.
12. Be grateful for small things.
A tiny but delicious éclair au chocolat, a new perfume, the beautiful smell of lavender, a perfectly aged cheese. French women appreciate that the small things in life are just as important as the big ones.
13. Enjoy life.
Find your passion, say “no” to anything that is a waste of time and keep on going. Focus on what you love. It’s irresistible!
Rebeca Plantier is a journalist and author of French School Lunch, a two-year research project on France’s public school lunch program promoting health and wellbeing in children. She writes about about healthy living, travel, parenting and the French lifestyle—and her work has appeared on various sites, such as Huffington Post, Business Insider, Salon, EatLocalGrown, travel site Matador Network and many others. Find her at rebecaplantier.com.