French Proverb

Informant: Il faut souffrir pour être belle

(french, « one must suffer to be beautiful »)

Collector: Who told you this?

Informant: My mother told me this often, like several times in a month all during my childhood. This proverb exists in many languages, but she always told me in French.

Collector: Why do you think she told you this proverb? In what context?

Informant: She was trying to tell me that things don’t come easily, and that you have to work hard to get results. I think that her own background of exile and having to begin a new life in America taught her that nothing comes easy. I think that in particular she wanted me to care for my outward appearance as this was very important to her. And I think that she told me in french instead of in English because women in France are known to place a high value on grooming.

Collector : And what did the proverb mean to you ?

Informant : For me, it represented superficiality, because I felt that what is inside a person is more important. I grew up in the 60s, and we were really rebelling against the idea that you have to ‘work hard for the man’.

In the few times I’ve heard this proverb, it was in a more wholesome manner. It was in the context akin to working for the place you wanted to be. Essentially, you should act as if you are where you want to be and your hard work will get you there. In the case of this informant, it’s in a more self-conscious and conforming mentality that could potentially have reprecussions on the informant. By being told one should do whatever it takes to be accepted, individuality and originality is undermined. Rather than accepting oneself and working to be happy on one’s own terms, it is suggested that they work to be accepted by others and make others happy.