French women are renowned the world over for their chic, but it's more comforting to think of them as scrawny, neurotic smokers. Well, they should be, what with having French men and our cultural stereotyping to deal with.
Their reputation as slim, self-disciplined coquettes endures because a goodly percentage of them do indeed make more of an effort with their appearance than is the global norm.
Yes, yes, there are overweight crones in France and terrifically stylish women in Auckland, but would a self-help book entitled New Zealand Women Don't Get Fat have become an international best-seller? (I'm wondering, though, if there might be a local market for Secrets to Shaving off Centimetres from our Dairy-fed Thighs.)
Mireille Guiliano, the author of the book that helped popularise the French ideal - and the notion that Frenchwomen might be a tad smug - is here promoting her latest title next month. It's called French Women Don't Get Facelifts and you can bet when the 67-year-old former champagne company chief executive stands up in front of audiences in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch she will be scrutinised from head to toe.
Given that she preaches the age-defying advantages of a good haircut and colour and the sound style investment of being well-shod, she probably won't be found wanting.
The book is hardly revelatory but its commonsense guiding premise about being bien dans sa peau (comfortable in one's skin) sure beats yo-yo dieting and cosmetic surgery as a cure all. I'm heading along to hear her speak and, I admit, am curious to find out if she comes across in person as inspiring or self-satisfied. She may well consider the latter a birthright, having presumably been trained from an early age to savour and find sufficient the smallest piece of dark chocolate.
I'm not sure what amounts to a Kiwi birthright these days. We have a reputation for being sturdily practical so being bien dans sa peau should serve as a good guiding maxim for us, too.
* Mireille Guiliano's Auckland appearance is a fundraiser for the Look Good Feel Better cancer charity. It will be held at Villa Maria Wine Estate on Monday, February 3, from 6pm to 8pm. Tickets cost $35 (plus booking fee), buy here.