Replete after Sunday lunch, I read of a survey which has found that French women are the thinnest in Europe and worry most about their weight. This seems to bear out the findings of a book proclaiming that French women have the secret of staying thin, though the author of the book admits that her findings only relate to upper middle class women and above in the towns.
Boy, she can say that again! Moving to rural France was an empowering experience for me...I actually looked slim if I stood alongside my female neighbours! I did not and do not mix in what passes for high society locally but I did begin to notice at concerts, etc., that the well dressed women accompanied by men in suits were thin in comparison to the rest of us, and as I watched French TV I noticed that all the female newscasters and presentors were cast in the same mould. This must be another manifestation of the two Frances.....one, the France of ordinary people, the other, the France in control of the ordinary people.
What strikes me is that all demonstrations of status depend on societal forces. In the middle ages, sumptuary laws reserved cloth of gold and jewels for the royal family and the aristocracy, so that you could see who was who at a glance. Later, when access to these luxuries spread down the social scale, access to adequate food became the marker... from Rubens' fat women to the opulent beauties of the pre First World War era. Look at the ladies of Marie Antoinette's court compared with the fishwives marching to destroy them....the shortage of bread tells its' own story.
In the inter war period, access to the freedoms previously only enjoyed by men...such as working outside the home...shifts the aspect again. Women with any access to liberation become boyish in figure, cut their hair and lift their skirts. Their servants are dumpy...access to adequate food...but no liberation.
These days, it appears that to have status, you have to appear as if you do not even need to eat and have the time it takes to present yourself as a perfectly turned out doll, so what is this telling us about society? It's telling us that women who achieved liberation a generation ago pulled up the drawbridge behind themselves and let their fellow women return to achieving status only by attaching themselves to a man.
Food now is so plentiful that status is gained by despising it. Mothers can tell their daughters to stop eating while they are still hungry in the interests of training them for the marriage...or concubinage...market. A far cry from the days of shortages during the second World War when in the U.K. a well thought out system of rationing produced a generation of healthy children with their own teeth..who knew it was wrong not to clear your plate because merchant service sailors were dying to bring food to Britain. A far cry from the food shortages in occupied France, when the townspeople sallied out into the countryside to buy black market meat and dairy products, dodging the gendarmerie and fearful of being denounced.
Out here, in the one horse dorps of rural France, people still celebrate with food. They know that they have no power, thus the frequently heard phrase when discussing what is wrong with modern politics,
Nous sommes pour rien.
We count for nothing.
However, the pleasure in preparing your own special recipe for guests who know it and look forward to it with relish is a pleasure that, as yet, the State cannot mar.
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