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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Chic & Slim Techniques

That's the title of one of Anne Barone's books.  Ms. Barone, now a femme d'un certain age, tells a story about growing up as an overweight teenager in the United States, then traveling to France in her mid-20s, discovering those mysterious, chic, and slim French women, learning their secrets, dropping 55 pounds, and returning back to the States to lead a new life.  Although mystery, chicness, and slimness appear to be highly European attributes, cattiness is universal, so upon her return home, young Anne, who's gone from size 18 to size 5, was greeted by a family friend who looked her up and down and exclaimed:  "Hello, Anne, I see your face still breaks out."

Here are the techniques from Ms. Barone's books, with my comments.  I'd like to note, again, that a lot of these techniques are applicable to all European women, but again, to the rest of the world, the French seem to have monopolized the entire reputation.

The 10 Techniques to Make You Chic & Slim a la Francaise.

  1. The Sabrina Technique.  The reference here is to the 1954 movie, where the main character, Sabrina, is played by Audrey Hepburn.  Sabrina is a daughter of a chauffeur employed by a wealthy family.  She travels to Paris to take a cooking course and returns back home a vision of sophistication and elegance, quickly putting her employer-brothers under the spell of her charms.  "I have learned how to live.  How to be in the world, and of the world.  And not just to stand aside and watch," says Sabrina of her transformation.  How often do we stand aside and watch?  Every time we are not living our life to the fullest or dimming our light so not to offend others or not presenting ourselves in the best light to the world.  Ms. Barone suggests picking a French alias for yourself with the idea that perhaps someone named Bobbie Jo is just the kind of woman to eat a full dinner, then chase it down with a pizza, wash it down with a Big Gulp , and spend her evening watching reruns on TV.   But a Marie-Jeanne would never!  In essence, this is the "fake it until you make" technique.  Behave as if you already possess all of the qualities you want to see in yourself and eventually they will become your true nature.
  2. The Classique Technique, or Using the Men-As-Inspiration Technique.  So, maybe you would wear sweatpants, have unbrushed hair, and eat peanut butter out of a jar with a spatula, standing over the sink.  But would you do it if your dream man was watching you?   Exactly.  So, imagine that He is watching you, put down the spatula, put a mask on your face, coconut oil in your hair, take a bath, style your hair, get dressed in something that makes you look beautiful and see how you feel then.  Looking at American magazines, you'd think women here were by and large obsessed with looking good at all times, but unscientific observations at American supermarkets, streets, and schools tell a different story.   I'll never forget how, as a new immigrant and newly in law school (my first and only foray into American education), I saw one morning, to my horror, a fellow female student roll into class in pajamas, and then another.  I spent five years as an undergraduate student in Kiev, where something like this would be completely unheard of.  The girls came to class in makeup, heels, and in outfits that made them look their most attractive.  Perhaps one of the differences is that in Europe these efforts are rewarded by the open admiration of the men, which is not culturally acceptable in the States.  Something tells me though, that American men are no different than the men in Europe and they do notice the effort, but have to admire in silence.   This technique would work better in Europe, where male feedback is vocalized and immediate, but put your best foot forward, anyway, even if just for the silent admiration, if that helps you.   (And, by the way, in my deep conviction, this is a beginner technique.  The goal is to get to a stage where you are your own inspiration and you are well groomed for yourself.  Because it makes you feel good.  And every day you are alive, your main goal should be to feel good about yourself.)
  3. The Partout Technique.  Ms. Barone talks about the difficulties of shopping to find just the right chic clothes, purses, and shoes and how French women see shopping as serious business rather than a fun day out at the mall.   While I agree that finding just the right clothes takes time and commitment, and that the magazines these days are not helpful (unless you are 16 years old and at least 6 feet tall), I still think that shopping can and should be fun.  As I wrote in my last post, I think the seriousness of the shopping experience in Europe comes from sky-high prices (compared to the prices for clothes in the U.S.), small closet space, and traditionally small wardrobes.  As Ms. Barone points out, if you are out shopping in Paris and reach for a garment at the same time as a French woman in serious shopping mode, you better let go of the hanger or you won't come out a winner.  Yes, all true.  Same applied for shopping in Kiev, when I lived there.  I, actually, adore American shopping, where it is a fun and light-hearted activity.  I adore my large American closet, 75% off sales every season, "surprise" deep sales here and there, and that if I like a skirt, but the store doesn't have my size, the saleswoman will get on the phone, call other stores in the chain, find me that skirt in my size and have it shipped to my home at no fee for the service.  I don't want to return to the seriousness of European shopping.  Viva America!
  4. The Mystique Technique.  This is the same sentiment as the "mystique" lesson from Madame Chic in Jennifer L. Scott's book.  Don't talk that much about yourself, don't spill your guts to perfect strangers who happen to be trapped next to you on a plane, don't answer your husband's question "how was your day, dear?" with a thirty-minute monologue (he's just interested in the beginning and the end, skip the middle).
  5. The Elegance Technique or The No Snacking Technique.  Ms. Barone's technique actually allows for more than three traditional meals a day and includes an afternoon tea.  This is much closer to my idea of eating, because, as I've said before, I believe in a structured snack here or there (once a day only, timed depending on your schedule and level of hunger).  The key here is that it's a structured (conscious and mindful) event.   Don't grab something as you pass by the kitchen or the assistant's desk.  Chewing outside of an actual meal time is not chic.  Neither is eating raw ingredients when you are cooking.   Seriously, don't do that.   Who wants to sit down to a dinner, when you are already full?   If your answer is that you never eat raw ingredients because your dinner comes from a fast-food place and the employees there just want let you snack on lettuce before they hand you your burger, you need to rethink your dinners.  Start cooking for yourself.  All European women do.
  6. The Music Technique.   Have music in your life and use it often.  It will calm or energize you, depending on what you need and what music you choose.  It will also set a stage for a nice, relaxing dinner after a stressful day.  A little Mozart can even turn your kids into geniuses.  Music is a great background to life.
  7. The Resistance Technique or The Sugar Reduction Technique.   Elegance is refusal, just say, No!   Say no anything that is not in your best interests and that doesn't lead to better health, physical and mental.  Everything you consume has an effect on you and either builds you up or takes you down.  There are no neutral substances.  Choose yours wisely.   And do lay off the sugar.  American sweets are sickeningly sweet.  But if that's all you've ever eaten you won't know it.  Go without sugar for a month and try a traditional dessert.  Once you get to a point where it feels like you've just placed a spoonful of straight sugar in your mouth, that's when you know your taste buds have been recalibrated.  And don't forget, fancy cheese makes great dessert.
  8. The Reality Technique.   Don't hide from the truth.  It will find you.   When I first moved to the U.S., an overweight member of my new family told me about the list of "negative-calorie" foods that was circulating the e-mail at that time.  I've never heard of those at home, but to my surprise she (and some of her friends) believed that eating celery sticks will burn more calories than what those celery sticks provide, resulting in massive weight loss.   Insane, no?  You have to face the reality about food and exercise.  And yes, European women do watch their food and they do what they can to stay active.   What they won't do is admit that they are doing it.  They won't let you see them sweat.  They want you to think that it comes to them effortlessly.  You know those interviews that models give to magazines and say things like - oh, I eat what I want, and I don't workout.  That's usually the story you will get from a European woman (if you will be so brave as to ask her how she stays in shape).  And, yes, we are back to the mystery technique - European woman hold themselves in a way that doesn't encourage nosiness.   But, anyway, don't kid yourself.  It takes work to be in shape.  It takes work to have an organized house.  It takes work to have your kids on the honor roll.  Nothing worth having is easy or free.  (At least that's what I tell myself when I wake up at 5:45 am to meet my trainer at the gym.)
  9. The Femininity Technique.  Again, as we discussed last time, this is something that's embraced in Europe, but I do question it's viability in most of the United States.  Thanks in large part to the advanced women's movement (which is not so advanced in Europe, where women are still seen first and foremost as women, rather than co-workers, co-students, captains of the soccer teams), femininity is largely a lost art here.  It's impractical and archaic and quite a bit out of place.  It can also be taken too far.  It is one thing to wear a bright pink trench coat to the office, it is quite another to manage to carry yourself in a feminine way that doesn't raise eyebrows.  Yes, that's a difficult one.
  10. The Chic & Slim Always Technique.   This one is about the repeatability of the processes by which you groom and put yourself together.   There is a law that says you can do something 99% of the time and not do it 1% of the time and that that 1% of the time will be the only time that will matter.  You can always have perfectly manicured nails, but the day you are running around crazy trying to get everything done, yet never making your way to the nail polish remover, will be the day when your chipped nail polish will be seen by a client.  Or, worse yet, an ex-boyfriend.   You can always eat seated (even if at your desk in front of your computer), but that one day when you pop a cracker in your mouth and decide to take three steps outside your office door to the printer to pick up your paper, will be the day when your boss will run into you and ask you a question about the project.  She will then watch you chew and swallow your cracker before you can get out an answer.   Anyway, not that a government agency is coming with an inspection, but, seriously, try to have it together all the time.
Ms. Barone's book offers great detail and insight into the mysteries of what makes French women chic and slim.  Quite an enjoyable read and great food for thought.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great book. I read it several months ago. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on it!