In this Sunday Series, Marie Antoinette takes a break from her other wordly duties to guide mortals on their Earthly way. To send Marie your own question or dilemma, write to whatwouldmarieantoinettedo at gmail dot com.
My Dearest Queen,
Despite the fact that you have been dead for 200 years, your presence on our society is great, as you mentioned yourself with Herve Leger using you as a model for their 2011 design ideas. Now, with the modern ideas of being slim, and utterly gorgeous, how did you achieve this in your day? I mean, you told everyone to eat cake. If I ate anything that isn’t under 200 calories (per meal), then my friends would refuse to speak to me (sacre bleu!). It’s horrendous. But, how do you stay so slim, and down right fashionable? Did you walk your many dogs, or is there some secret weight loss secret that you have?
Body image was quite a different thing for young ladies in the 18th century. We did not have the magazines and advertisements retouching ladies figures to an inch of their life. We had paintings and sculptures and if someone captured one’s lesser features too carefully (my Hapsburg lip, for instance, or my too high forehead) one simply said the artist had no talent and carried on.
In truth, I was not a classic beauty. Some things could be fixed. I had terrible teeth which were fixed by a French oral surgeon before I left Austria. I had a mess of auburn curls I held off my face with a woolen band that tore at my hairline and accentuated that blasted forehead (a habit I replaced at 13 with a low upswept style that took the focus from my brow).
My appearance was at state importance and Louis XV would never have allowed the marriage to his grandson if he didn’t see me as a credit to his court. I didn’t become a different person overnight. I simply acted “as if” — as if I belonged amongst sniping courtiers who distrusted my country, as if I belonged to a society of rules and expectations I’d never really understand. I learned how to walk the Versailles glide (a expert movement where the feet never seem to touch the ground). I learned the importance of image and grace and made everyone think I was the most spectacular royal they’d ever seen.
As for my figure, I ate well (our childhood doctor prescribed fresh fruits and vegetables) but was no skinny Minnie in my later days. I had had 4 children and enjoyed myself. I didn’t exercise outside of walks and dancing. Corsets helped to hide my indiscretions but my dressmaker Rose Bertin still needed to expand the bust and waist in many of my gowns. By this time my reputation was set. I was not a frumpy matron running after her children. I was only ever the glamorous queen, even when I dressed as simply as a hag.
I’ve found that many girls are perceived as something they never are. Many short girls seem tall. Many pretty girls seem plain. The good news, if you are fabulous, being thin or heavy is of no real concern because people will only remember your fabulousness. (Even in your body-obsessed modern culture would you call Oprah overweight or a dynamo? Is Wendy Williams large or sassy? Will Elizabeth Taylor be considered anything but a beauty?). This is not to say not to dress for your shape or be fit or be healthy. The standard advice always stands. But it’s helpful to know that while your body will change how people perceive you (and how you perceive you) often doesn’t. I decided to be fabulous and that’s all anyone can remember (especially me).
(P.S.: I never did say, “Let them eat cake.” But if you remain fabulous, you certainly can have as much or as little as you want, with no consequence at all).