I'll never forget the time I took a bite out of a flaky, butter-filled croissant one morning while walking down the streets of Paris, only to have a French girl sneer at me with the utmost disdain. "Are you enjoying that?" She said scathingly, shaking her head. My mouth was too full to tell her that, yes, in fact, I was.
Eating in public was something I've done—and continue to do—countless times in New York City, where pedestrians are committing far worse etiquette crimes on a regular basis. But in France, this is an affront. Having only been in the country a few weeks, I didn't yet understand these strict codes of conduct, from food to fashion to friendships. But, as evidenced by my breakfast blunder, I would soon learn that the French have a very specific way of doing things, and that it was in my best interest to do them, too.
Such is the root of the "French girl myth," which has captured the imaginations of fashion publications, brands, and popular culture writ large ever since the days of Coco Chanel, and maybe even as far back as Marie Antoinette. We find ourselves wanting to do everything "like a French girl," simply because there is a way in which French girls do things. That is to say: there is arguably no unified sense of taste for American girls, which is, of course, ultimately what makes America the place that it is.
The grass is always greener, though, and thanks to celebrated French fashion icons like Brigitte Bardot and Françoise Hardy; movies like An American In Paris and Amélie; and books like A Moveable Feast and French Women Don't Get Fat, American women entertain the idea that French woman have the innate ability to possess superior style, smaller waists, clearer skin, more complex neckties, cooler social lives, and richer romance than the rest of us—and all while putting in little to no effort.
It sounds impossible because it is. Lest we forget that French women are human beings, too. But it's close enough to reality for us to indulge it, and where there is demand, there is also supply. As Racked highlighted this summer, the French girl fantasy has become a billion-dollar industry, from beauty to fashion to lifestyle. Today, for example, rather than British actress and honorary French girl Jane Birkin, we have an Instagram influencer like Jeanne Damas, who can consistently be seen wearing espadrilles and red lipstick on social media, and who also just launched her own label of French girl essentials, Rouge.
The myth of the French girl remains the same; what's different is that it's never been easier to both achieve it, and profit from it, whether you're French or not. And so, as long as there are French girls, we will find ways to be like them.
While the "like a French girl" trope produces more eye-rolls each time it's used, and may feel like it has reached its saturation point, it's never going away simply because we don't want it to. As free as Americans think we are do to as we please, we still crave being told how to dress and what to eat. In 2017, we also want to believe there's a better way of doing things.
The French girl myth isn't so much about them as it is about us and our desire for fantasy. To use a French word: it's the most delicious cliché there is, like eating a croissant in Paris. Don't fight it.
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