Thursday, February 28, 2008

French women and their bodies

Before it all becomes a distant memory I wanted to write something about French women and pregnancy.

By the time that Tanya was four months pregnant we began to notice what can only be described as peculiarly French attitude towards her bump. Women who barely knew us came up and rested their hands proprietarily on our growing baby. To begin with we assumed that this was just the natural motherly urge exerting itself, the type of thing that could happen anywhere.

Then the inquisition began.

“You’re still very slim,”

“Did your mother put on weight when she had you?”

“Bien, bien, nothing at all on your legs.”

The statements, come questions, were complimentary, but there was an almost forensic level of interest in the changes that pregnancy had on the female form. The size and shape of Tanya’s bump was closely monitored by the women of the village but it was only after the birth that I began to appreciate their perspective. They spent an obligatory minute or so cooing over our new baby and then they turned to Tanya. Hands were pressed against her stomach, and appraising glances cast upon her silhouette as she walked.

As much as French women love babies there is one thing that they love more - their bodies, and as much as they made out they’d been monitoring the development of our baby, subconsciously at least they’d been keeping a keen eye on Tanya’s body.

What effect would pregnancy have? Would she permanently put on weight? And when Tanya did quickly regain her shape, there was no element of jealousy, rather a sense of mutual celebration, that the spectre of weight gain after pregnancy had been banished and that the sense of order in the world had been restored - French women could sit down to their three course meals, drink their wine and retain their reputation as some of the slimmest in the world, and nothing not even pregnancy could disturb this eternal truth.

Sipping my early evening beer in the village this week, I noticed the same pageant of clucking, touching and appraising. One of the village women was pregnant and the quest for reassurance was beginning again.