Why French women don’t get fat

June 6, 2010 § 2 Comments

Why don’t French women get fat? This question bodes so much discussion, so much speculation and so much literary fanfare. Some theories include the trend of small breakfast/dinner, large lunch so the body can burn the energy through the afternoon. I’ve also heard the excuse – albeit from one larger Australian woman –  that France has no escalators or elevators so French women climb hundreds of steps everyday. Best-selling author Mireille Guiliano has made a small fortune from her book, French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, in which she recommends bread, Champagne, chocolate and romance as key ingredients to a balanced diet and lifestyle. While this may capture the heart and minds of dieters around the globe – don’t we all want to infuse our lives with a bit of joie de vivre? –  I think the real reason behind the petite is a little more sinister.

An overwhelming response to the recent issue of Elle magazine, which used of a plus-sized model on its cover, has shown how the French female population collectively suffer from negative body image. Indeed, at 173cm and 56 kg I would be considered ronde, (large) in France, although this weight is already below recommended Body Mass Index.

European journalist, Janine de Giovanni, responded to the Elle shoot by asserting that French women will never accept big because they adhere to a diet of air – one bite of foie gras and one glass of champagne should suffice for dinner, right? – and the thin obsession will remain embedded in the country’s culture.

I think it’s funny that we glorify the French diet considering that our own editors are supposed to be turning away from the skinny cover model and, ironically, our society still conforms to the equally unhealthy American notion of supersize me.

Whatever Elle’s editor, Valerie Toranian, had set out to achieve with the shoot I think it reinforced the stigma in French society that skinny is better. It’s a pity when there’s so much joy to be found in eating.

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