Friday, July 12, 2013

Not Some One's French Mother

Pictue of french chic from here
I wasn't thinking about clothing, or even about getting dressed, for that matter, when I stumbled on this article during my morning email reading/link clicking/ web-surfing, er I mean, my "pre-writing ritual." Yeah-- see, I do get ideas to write about during this "creative" morning period.  Just because I will not be posting about George Clooney's latest break-up (no surprise, she wanted to settle down?!) or Kim and Kanye's baby-naming antics (really, North West?  At least the poor little girl will have money for therapy and lawyers...) doesn't mean that I'm not revving up to write my next essay/rant/post. 

Anyway, the article outlines the differences between the ways typical American and French women dress, coming down firmly on the side of the tres chic French style.  Quelle Suprise!   I know it's silly, but I do pay attention to this kind of thing, and as you may know, there are whole books-- yeah books, plural-- comparing the cultural qualities of American and French womanhood, in clothing, attitude, diet and mothering skills, and they universally pronounce the French way superior.  I am always suckered  by these books and articles nevertheless, because they are almost always accompanied by a photo or illustration of a busy but chic thin woman looking fabulously put together, even though it is clear that she doesn't have to think about how she looks because really, she is just dropping off the tots at the ecole and picking up a baguette and some cheese for the evening meal, which she will whip together effortlessly by adding a bit of butter, something green, and an egg or two.  And she will never get fat (per this book), and she will never raise her voice to her children (per this book), because she has trained them since they were enfants, and an arched eyebrow or a raised palm will bring silence from the gallery d' peanut...

The truth is, I have looked approximately the same, dressed, since I had children.  I had my first at 18, so I guess  didn't look middle aged then, as I certainly do now, but I have looked like some one's mother since that first child was born.  Would it be better to look like some one's French mother?  Maybe, but even if I put on the trim jeans and the striped fisherman's tee, I won't look more put together, because something about me seems to be naturally rumpled.  
I could fit in with these gals...picture from here
It's not that I haven't experimented with different styles.  I went a year or so during grad school sporting the woman's academic look-- loose neutral or black layers, sensible European shoes and big Global jewelry, all topped off by wild, curly frizzy hair, or alternatively, close cropped angular hair-- The Eileen Fisher/ J Jill woman, comfy, yet brainy, with too much going on in her head to worry about being fashionable, yet too professional to actually teach class in her pajamas. 
This is kinda what I was going for
Picture found here
When I was going to lectures at universities in Boston, I tried out the academic preppy version, with the cords and scuffed leather boots and the big wool sweater with the tiny moth hole at the neckline to show that it was real wool, that my boyfriend had owned it since prep school, and that I was too intellectually preoccupied to do more than throw on some clean clothes and grab my books before heading out the door.  Still, no matter who I tried to be, I always looked like some one's mother. Possibly wearing a costume.   But I digress...

Back to the whole Franco-American thing.  First of all, I take issue with the notion of "typical" French and American women as they are usually portrayed, because we're actually comparing a pretty non-specific American mom demographic,  to some French group of women that aren't likely to be from the same slice of life.  Since I fall into a (lower) middle class (but way too over educated for my own good)  mom demographic, I have the feeling that  we are really dealing with some kind of cultural inferiority complex here.  This woman we aspire to be doesn't have to be French, but since so many people are extolling madam's virtues, we've got this idea stuck in our heads.*  I think we look to the French for examples because we-- and I really mean I, but come along with me here-- equate looking more put together, healthier, and like a calmer mommy, with being all of those things.  All of us-- and here I know I sometimes I totally forget, but stay with me-- know that isn't the case.  We all know a woman or two who seems to have everything together until we find out she doesn't.  I won't accuse the rest of you, but I know I'm always envious of the sleek, chill appearance and always more than a tiny bit glad when I find out her dark secret-- her kids get lice because she hasn't vacuumed in years, or her husband is leaving her for a slightly frumpier, but definitely warmer and younger version of herself. 

I guess what I'm getting to here is that I'm going to try to stop comparing myself to ideals, French or otherwise, and try to just be happy with my own rumpled self.  You'll see me at school drop off, or at the grocery store.  I'll be the one in the faded yoga pants and husband's college T-shirt with the washed and butterfly-clipped  hair.  I might be eating something fattening while I yell at my kids to stop whatever they are doing right this minute.  Say hi, because we ordinary moms need to stick together instead of trying to look like-- or feel bad that we aren't-- something else. 

*I have a theory that this goes back to at least Jackie Kennedy because her calm coolness somehow got conflated with her love of the French culture, but I don't teach cultural studies here on the blog, do I, so, really, who cares... 

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