Thursday, July 15, 2010

In defense of the French-women-age-well article, up against the NYT commentariat (will the NY-Paris comparisons never end?)

-Yes, it's annoying, especially if you are French or study France, that The French are forever conflated with a) French women (are there men in France?), b) Parisian women, c) wealthy Parisian women living in a few neighborhoods, and d) Catherine friggin Deneuve. But seriously. This is a NYT Styles article! There's an implicit comparison being made between Parisian women in the 16th and 7th Arrondissements and their equivalents on the Upper East Side. It's an act of great inclusiveness for an article in that section to go beyond the lives of wealthy NY women. And save the outrage: the neighborhood my grad-student stipend allows me to live in is roughly a pre-trendy Prospect Heights, and virtually no one is obese or in sweats. Paris is, for better or worse, a more aesthetically-minded city than NY, across class and racial lines. The author might have mentioned this, but at any rate, that it wasn't in the article doesn't mean, as it happens, that the article only applies to women of immense privilege.

-Yes, it's a shame that women are so judged on the basis of looks, and I wish that men were judged a bit more and women more than a bit less in that regard. And the fact that people tend to look their age (says this Madame) should not be understood as some kind of disaster that half of humanity must battle. But if women are going to be judged on the basis of beauty, aren't the sort of good looks that can be achieved through overpaying for skin creams and accessories better than that which results from continuous exercise plus liposuction? It's a tough line to draw, but female beautification rituals can be divided between the miserable and the guilty-pleasurable. As in, shoes and neon nail polish, fun, elliptical machine and fat-free yogurt, not so fun. Yes, it's oppressive from a gender-norms standpoint that these women are expected to be ultra-feminine, but their American equivalents are expected to shun The Frilly, The Fancy, and The Schmancy, yet have flawlessly toned upper thighs. I'll take peer pressure to buy a scarf over the sort that would have me surgically deschnozzified. The comparison, then, is between older women feeling they have to look 16, and older women feeling they will always have to care about looking chic. There's an obvious answer to this question, even from a feminist, lesser-of-two-evils, perspective. Regardless, the issue isn't and shouldn't be framed as "natural" versus "artificial," because it's all artifice.

-If it were really true that Frenchwomen ate only subatomic particles of fromage, that would be a problem, but people here strike me as being more not-fat than what would, on the Upper East Side for example, count as "thin." Aside from Paris's fashion models, who for reasons and by mechanisms I don't understand are half the width of their NY equivalents, the intentionally emaciated are few and far between. There's absolutely without a doubt more social pressure on the average Frenchwoman to be thin than on the average American woman. But if we're talking snooty urbanites, the never-thin-enough attitude of the community I grew up in does not seem to be mirrored here.


Anonymous said...

Your rant is all over the place. American women eat too much. Everybody is judged by their appearance . If youre intelligent , a homely face shouldnt hold you back. Ive lived in Paris for 15 years and comparing eating habits of French to Americans, its obvious why the French are slimmer. Moderation.

Anonymous said...

Look at your photo eating a desert. That speaks volumes and allows us to understand your relationship with food.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Gosh, what is linking to this post?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Oh nevermind, it's one troll. I can't tell if I'm being called obese or just neurotic, but I sure enjoyed that desert. The Sahara, the whole thing.