What is it about French women? Or French men, for that matter? Why does the appeal seem so timeless – and does it have a basis in anything resembling “fact” whatsoever?
There is no corner on the market when it comes to confidence – and no necessity to hold a passport from any particular part of the world. Yet I believe self-confidence is the secret weapon in so many successful dealings in life, and certainly, the hallmark of the French women I have known.
Could carrying off whatever you try to accomplish – personally or professionally – be as simple as awareness of who you are? Could beauty and style be enhanced that much by ease with oneself?
Yes, this is enfin Lesson 5 in the French Fashion series. Where were we? Strolling the Riviera? Shopping on Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré?
The Lesson Plan:
- Lesson 1 (Find Your Style)
- Lesson 2 (Perfume)
- Lesson 3 (The French scarf)
- Lesson 4 (The Signature accessory)
- Extra! Extra! (Chaussures)
- Lesson 5 (Confidence)
And before we get going, may I remind you encore une fois that the guru-of-all-things-good-taste-and-French is none other than A Femme d’un certain age, the lovely and witty Tish? My ruminations on French style pale next to her daily tips and keen commentary – so do stop by her blog on a regular basis. You’ll love it!
So what exactly is confidence, anyway?
This definition puts it succinctly:
belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance; assurance
Can you honestly say that constant self-deprecation and insecurity are attractive? Were a man to incessantly whine “I hate my thighs” – would you find that appealing?
When you believe in yourself, you attract others to you. The French have an expression – Je suis bien dans ma peau – which quite literally means “I am good in my skin.” And what this recognizes is the importance of being comfortable with your face, your body, your movements, your speech, your manner, your humor, your playfulness, your intelligence and yes, your look – not just who you present to the world, but who you are.
Confidence is not arrogance
Let’s make an important distinction. When self-confidence steps over the line, it sets a firm foot in the land of arrogance, and there is nothing particularly attractive about that in a man or a woman.
Arrogance is defined as:
an offensive display of superiority or self-importance; overbearing pride
So you see, it’s a matter of degree. Self-confidence doesn’t preclude feeling vulnerable or even fragile; nor does it prevent you from focusing on others and their needs. It is knowledge of your own worth, and authentic comfort with yourself.
No small task, you say?
Life, with its bumps and bruises
Who doesn’t lose confidence when a lover leaves, when a marriage ends, when a job is lost? Who doesn’t find their self-worth eroded when a few great dates don’t pan out into a relationship?
As we age, even when we care for ourselves, life may have other ideas. Accident and illness as well as the natural process of maturing may take their toll on our vigor, our appearance and of course, self confidence.
So why is it that certain women nonetheless hold their own – carrying on despite the odds – in terms of relationships and profession? Why are some of the most charismatic men and women not “classically” beautiful? Is it really as simple as confidence?
I have no representative sample – only life experience, and my periods of living in France where it is my impression that men and women take more time to know and appreciate each other, and the “full package” which an individual brings to a relationship. I believe that personal style requires the confidence of knowing what you are capable of – including giving, listening, engaging fully, disagreeing, speaking up, and being yourself.
Life will knock us down. We need time to heal, and the determination to get back up. And to get back up… stronger.
Gaining confidence – real life women
So how do we “real life women” gain confidence if it is lacking? What about our hectic schedules, our tight budgets, our obsessions over everything we eat – or don’t? What about being too damn tired to work on ourselves in any capacity? What mother doesn’t know what it’s like to be at the bottom of the priority list? Her own priority list?
How do real life women come to accept a given body type, or any perceived shortcoming? How do we combat seeds of poor self-esteem that may have been planted in childhood, and flowering in adulthood?
Self-confidence doesn’t mean preoccupation with yourself 24/7, but nor can you remain at the bottom of the list day in and day out. American women often feel guilty for the smallest amount of pampering – especially mothers. This isn’t the case for the French women I know.
The courage to make changes
When there are significant changes to be made – emotionally or physically – there are few shortcuts. There is hard work, with reasonable expectations. And recognition when we make progress. The confidence that comes in taking action, and equally, in the maturity to know that some things are out of our hands.
Confidence doesn’t appear overnight. It comes with giving your goals a shot, and possibly failing. It comes with trying again. It comes with taking those easy icebreakers – and yourself – into a social environment when you’ve been out of circulation, and working the room. It comes with the courage to make yourself vulnerable, and listening to friends who extol your virtues, who know you and love you, and who just may see you more clearly than you see yourself.
In my life, confidence has not come easily or quickly, but it has come from giving love and equally, from accepting it.
My icons? Those of us who never stop growing. Helped along un tout petit peu – by discovering our personal style, tweaking it whenever we choose, and working toward being able to say, in all honesty, Je suis bien dans ma peau.
Image of Marion Cotillard, Wikimedia, Creative Commons 3.0.
Image of Ines de la Fressange, Wikimedia, attribution Georges Biard, Creative Commons 3.0.
You May Also Enjoy