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Self-help books in US take on a French accent

By AFP - Jan 22,2014 - Last updated at Jan 22,2014

WASHINGTON — Forever thin, effortlessly chic, a culinary goddess with well-behaved children raised on broccoli — a certain image of French women thrives in the United States, or at least in its bookstores.

“French Women Don’t Get Facelifts” is the latest addition to an ever-growing list of self-help books that lay bare the secrets of the sophisticated French mademoiselle to her awkward American sister.

For American women, “France has always been a country of chic, fashion, seduction, savoir-faire and charm,” said the author, Mireille Guiliano, whose previous book “French Women Don’t Get Fat” was a best-seller in 2004.

“I don’t want to give the impression of saying that we’re better or superior,” added Guiliano, 67, a former chief executive of Veuve Clicquot champagne who is married to an American and lives in New York, Paris and the south of France.

“It’s not a matter of who’s right or wrong,” she told AFP. “I just try to say that there are other options. I make suggestions. The American woman is curious to know how to make something better or different.”

Guiliano is something of a pioneer in the genre of self-help books with a French accent, having built on the success of “French Women Don’t Get Fat” with cookbooks and lifestyle guides for Americans forever wrestling with their work-life balance.

From other writers, the past year has seen such titles as “French Twist Cupcakes: 32 Recipes for that Ooh La La Experience” by Lyon-based baker Lucinda Segneri, “How to be Chic and Elegant: Tips from a French Woman” by Marie-Anne Lecoeur, and “Forever Chic: Frenchwomen’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style and Substance” by Tish Jett.

Last year, American author Pamela Druckerman touched off something of a minor national debate when she came out with “Bringing Up Bébé”, which celebrated the upbringing of French children who, she argued, learned how to say hello and eat vegetables.

‘Look for simplicity’

“We aren’t envious, but curious,” said Jennifer Scott, whose 2012 book “Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris” was inspired by her stint as an exchange student in the French capital.

French women, Scott said, “don’t appear to be worried about trends or what other people think of them. In fact, with regard to style, living and ageing, they don’t appear to be worried at all. I think that’s something we can all admire.”

Jean Beaman, a sociologist at Duke University, said it’s true that many American women perceive their French counterparts to be “fashionable and stylish (and) beautiful in an sort of effortless way”.

By way of example, she cited photographs of former French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who was born in Italy but grew up in France from the age of seven.

But Beaman, who studies immigrants who settle in France, added: “As an American, it’s sometimes a little bit frustrating that these books sort of paint a very idealised version of France to Americans, and don’t necessarily reflect the multi-ethnic diversity that exists in France.”

Indeed, the kind of French woman who informs these self-help books is typically Parisian and living in the capital’s better neighborhoods.

“Of course, there are French women who are fat and who undergo cosmetic surgery,” said Guiliano, “but not to the scale that’s seen among American women — far from it.”

Guiliano is known as “the high priestess of French lady wisdom” and her latest book — which comes as American baby boomers settle into middle age — is subtitled “The secret of ageing with style and attitude.”

She’s horrified by the notion of Botox (“I say ‘non’ to the needle”) and proposes in its place robust skin moisturising, daily exercise and an “anti-ageing food prescription” that includes beet mille-feuille, tartare of cucumber and tomatoes, and chocolate souffles with piment d’Esplette.

Most of all, she tells American women, just shift your attitude, stop living in extremes, and start accepting yourself for who you are.

“My advice is first of all to look for simplicity,” she said. “The older you get, the more you appreciate that less is better.”

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