Ask the Queen: How a queen gets noticed

Each week, the former queen of France moderates an advice column on this site, doling out wisdom based on her wide experience. to have the queen field your question, email whatwouldmarieantoinettedo at gmail dot com.

Your majesty,

I am short and young and have a hard time getting people to listen to me. What can I do to get people to take me seriously?

-Little young thing

Ma Petite,
You’ll find being small and young more privilege than burden soon enough, but I understand your frustration since I faced it too. My solution was to act “as if.”

As a dauphine, I needed three things: to get in Louis XV’s good graces (my grandpapa-in-law), to establish myself at court, and to have a little fun. I conquered all three with horseback riding, the pastime of men and kings.

Like most of my early successes, this started out as scandal. Riding was a shocking pastime for any woman, never mind a royal. Riding often involves straddling which was completely undignified for a woman. Even in a side saddle, the mere bounce of a trot or a canter was believed too strenuous on a delicate female body and could destroy a girl’s ability to reproduce (so they thought at the time).

There might have been a third reason – horseback riding is damn empowering. Anyone who’s ever sat in a saddle knows the sense of confidence controlling such a massive animal can bring. And to ride at a fast clip, without anyone driving you, without the baggage of a carriage or attendants, was probably a thrill like I had never known. The same kind of drug that makes teenagers drag race cars with the windows open to feel the wind tear at their faces. Regardless, freedom of any type was not the sort of thing a proper future queen sought out. Queens were known by their deference, not their defiance. Louis XV might have liked the spunky version of myself. He helped me graduate from donkey rides to full-grown horses and was delighted to spend time with me at his hunts.

A happy byproduct of horseback riding – one I realized straight away – is that riders can’t help looking regal. Any King or Emperor worth painting has been painted sitting astride a horse. Even doughy, nearsighted Louis XVI (my husband who I do love dearly) looked like a monarch when mounted for the hunt. I soon was painted in a riding outfit modeled off the male costume — one with breeches. I discarded the sidesaddle and mounted her horse like a man. In this way, I exhibited the power that Louis XVI and Louis XV before her had who showed their power with images of them on horseback. Such an image was shocking as women didn’t dress in men’s breeches even when disguised as men at costume parties.  Like Louis XIV and the Caesars copied from, I created an image that was strong, transcendent and legendary.

Those outfits – and that image – showed me as strong for first challenges at Versailles. When the Ambassador who’d facilitated my marriage had been dismissed, it didn’t harm me. I seemed strong, untouchable. When I quarreled with Madame Du Barry, I was in power. I was the one to decide to speak or not to speak. Later, I’d return to my equestrian garb at Petite Trianon, my palace escape that  symbolized my love of freedom and independence.

Find a natural way to show people you’re the person you know you are. Take a project to show you can lead. Watch the smartest most respected people you know and how they dress and act and borrow from them. Soon people will hear your words first and notice your youth and stature second if ever again.

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