16 September 2018

Weighing in

Yesterday I happened to walk into my local butcher shop just as everyone was still reeling from the size of an American woman who had bought a chicken.

Knowing I am originally from the U.S. they asked me if it’s true that obesity in America has become epidemic, repeating something I’d heard from a group of French doctors I'd been training at The American Hospital of Paris: In Paris, as most hospitals don’t have scales to accommodate people of such proportions, they get sent to a veterinary clinic outside the city, in Asnières, where livestock gets weighed.
Obesity (not to be confused with being surpoids or overweight) in Paris, while it exists, is still a visual rarity, as noted with surprise over and over by Anglo visitors. In illustrations, French girls and women are often depicted as stick thin, which of course is not true nor is it the norm or even desired norm.

But fashion and beauty, synonymous with Paris, is a big part of French culture; most café terrace chairs face outwards so passersby can be seen - and appreciated. If one is to look up at the sky just about anywhere in Paris no electrical or telephone lines will be visible because, as a French architect friend explained, "It ruins the eye!”
I used to wonder if Mireille Guiliano's best-selling “French Women Don’t Get Fat” shouldn’t have been titled, “French Women Won’t Get Fat.” When I was growing up, my father, who never lost his French accent or sense of élégance, used to admonish all of us, “Take a little pride in your appearance!” This was in the U.S. where, later, because of small "French touches" to my wardrobe - a scarf here, a one-of-a-kind necklace there (I designed my own) - I unwittingly became a sort of "fashion trendsetter" on campus, particularly in grad school.

Concerning obesity, health is one consideration yes, but for now, at least, the French still like to quote Russian novelist and philosopher Fyodor Dostoevsky at dinner parties: "Beauty will save the world."  

La beauté has been an integral part of French culture for centuries: besides fashion we see it in French art, architecture, gastronomy, design, not to mention French savoir-faire drives the world's luxury market - and is highly valued. BPJ


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