French Women Don’t Get Fat

French Women Don’t Get Fat is both a truism and the eponymous title of Mireille Guiliano’s lifestyle tome, which catapulted to number one on The New York Times bestseller list, has been translated into 40 languages, and sold over three million copies worldwide. Her book is but one of innumerable examples of a global fascination with the French woman’s way. How she embodies a deeply feminine essence, ages regally while maintaining an ageless luminosity, and upholds an unassailable fashion sensibility is a subject worth probing. This week’s Sex by Numbers offers a topical exploration of six signature elements that distinguish French women and their je ne sais quoi.

Don’t get fat. Given America’s hyper-sensitivity to identity politics, a statement of this sort could engender censure as a fat-phobic epithet. French women, however, are leagues apart from their American female counterparts, especially in their utter unfamiliarity with the concept of dieting to shed chubbiness. A Parisian woman has never had to learn how to lose weight, because she would never allow herself to gain even one kilo in the first place. Attribute it to the French Paradox lifestyle and the city girl’s penchant for strutting down the sidewalk in heels for hours on end as she attends to her daily errands.

Feasts and fêtes. French women eat well and drink well. Whereas in the United States, AA meetings and DARE programs school us that if you drink every day, then you must be an alcoholic. France, apparently, is full of them, but not in their own estimation. They instead regard spirits as another food group, pairing eating and drinking with one another as a daily ritual, rather than consuming to excess on a weekend binger. Wine has as much a place on the kitchen table as the water carafe and salt-and-pepper shakers. This aspect of integration and balance is key. Take as another example crème brûlée and crêpes. These decadent dishes are richest and most pleasure providing for the first three bites, ones that French women appreciate slowly and with intention. French women share a single dessert with their companion or dining party, and have learned since they were little girls to hone their sensory organs to relish in the physical now. And, once pleasured, they put down their forks.

Simulate the catwalk. Parisian women are proud of their city, a veritable playground of wondrous architecture, luscious gardens, and a feast of fashion. At every turn, women are dressed to the nines. Their makeup is never garish, but rather minimal and effective. Their hair is coiffed and styled. Their clothes – blazers, cigarette pants, scarves tied at the throat, all manner of stripes, backless crocheted tops, full-length skirts – are a product of rigorous cultural styling and thoroughgoing care. These ladies never leave the house without paying attention to their belts and earrings, and their commitment to putting their best self forward, as healthy, sensual, active creatures.

Haute on foot. Whereas sports and physical wellness are often propped-up as a hallmark of weight loss in American culture, French women wouldn’t be caught dead at the gym. Elliptical machines and kickboxing? Non, merci. They might do yoga a few times a week or take a dip in the Riviera during the summer, but their primary mode of physical activity is stalking the promenade dressed to make your jaw drop. From the bakery for a baguette, to the vegetable market for produce for the evening’s dinner, to a post-prandial stroll with their children and husband in tow, these ladies have gams and slim hips that testify to a lifestyle that celebrates bipedal motion.

Prioritize beauty. The French woman’s maxim – minimal effort and maximal pleasure – encompasses tending to her body. Upkeep comes once a week (think every Sunday evening). On this day, she ritualizes the maintenance of the small, womanly things that keep her mod: spending an hour with an oil treatment on her hair, wearing a clay face mask, entertaining a pedicure, and otherwise addressing one’s corporeal self for a few moments before resuming life.

Savor the good life. The cliche exists for a reason. French women drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, sip espresso mid-afternoon, eat dessert with every dinner, and generally approach day to day life with ease and joy. Every occasion, no matter how quotidian, warrants celebration of existence. French femmes savor the sweetness of the moment, extracting the breadth and depth of experiences with their children, friends, lovers, and family. It is this continual commitment to the good life, a constancy of pleasure, that permits the aforementioned indulgences that Americans might regard as taboo. When self-restraint and moderation provide the context for seeking enjoyment, happiness and satiety are the beating heart of a long and beautiful life, inside and out.

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5 thoughts on “French Women Don’t Get Fat

    1. True, they do enjoy cigarettes, but the abiding ethos of modest consumption also applies to their smoking! I think balance is the fundament of a lovely and healthy life–you do your yoga, you drink a glass of champagne, you eat your salad, you smoke a cigarette, you ride your bicycle, you eat a (vegan!) cupcake…..to me, it’s all fine so long as it’s holistic and sane! No extremes, bitte 🙂

  1. I enjoyed this post! Having been a Francophile since the age of nine (always with the Berlitz French dictionary in hand) I tried over and over since I was a teen to eat French in order to look more like Juliette Greco and Jeanne Moreau. What that meant to this small town, West Texan was the simple sophistication of peasant meals (in peasant portions). So for years I ate the cheeses and yummy breads, fruits and veggies (haricots verts from a market only) and hearty soups for lunch, with a shameless dinner of say Poulet Saute a’la Boderlaise (chicken, artichoke hearts,shallots and loads of butter). However, the svelte French figure did not follow, despite my pilates, until I had to do away with all gluten foods {triste}. I was never overweight, only never svelte. It was only when I gave up gluten that the pounds and inches came off over night (no exercising) and I found myself more in line with Mireille Guiliano’s book. Makes me wonder if more of us entertained the entire scope of grains and flours that are available, perhaps it would be easier to achieve a Frenchier lifestyle, bypass gyms? It seems that in the US, even modest consumption of carbs is still way too much wheat.

    1. You just made me fall in love with you. Seriously–I love the West Texan gumption (I’m a Lone Star State girl, myself, and damn proud of it) coupled with the studied French flair. Not to mention that I. adore. Pilates. I’ve been doing it myself since I was in my early twenties and there’s no better way to keep your core in check. Now, I combine Pilates a few times a week with 5-6 days of yoga (mostly home practice, although I hit-up a hard-core Ashtanga studio in Berlin’s Mitte district for higher-level training and education) and long, rollicking, absolutely pleasurable walks in the park 3-5 days a week (usually for an hour or two, listening to intelligent electronic music, and right now my park of choice is Volkspark Friedrichshain). Ok, that said…yes, triste….a day without gluten is a sad one indeed. Every morning, I have a fantastic fruchtbröchten from the biobakerei up the street–unlike most wheat consumption in the Western world, Germans have a healthy relationship with a myriad of whole grains, keeping intact the germ and bran. The result? Dark brown bread decadence that is rich with complete amino acid chains, B-complex vitamins, good omega fats, and hell of fiber. In the evenings, I’ll typically keep it to lentils and brown rice, however. I think the idea of moderation–a croissant once a month, chocolate cake at a birthday party, a waffle cone with a nice ice cream in the park–really works. But, definitely, a baguette a day is a recipe for, well, wobbly bits. I don’t know how else to put it. Mireille Guiliano is a dream, non? Have you read her book about women in the workforce? It’s next on my list? Hey, thanks for writing and sharing! So rad to hear from you, Tera! xx, abs

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