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'd bought a chicken.

Knowing I am from the U.S. they asked if it’s true that obesity in America has become epidemic, and brought up something I’d once heard from a small 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, remains a visual rarity, as noted with surprise over and over by visitors from the U.S. When severe obesity is spotted ("Mais c'est pas possible!"), usually it's in areas that are magnets for tourists, and it is assumed that they definitely are not French.
Illustrations often depict French girls and women as stick thin, which of course is not the norm nor is it the 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. One has but to look up at the sky just about anywhere inside the city limits and no electrical or telephone lines are 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 sense of style (or his French accent), used to admonish us to "take a little pride" in our appearance. Getting fat was not an option; obesity was associated with letting oneself go and lower socioeconomic groups and, as recent studies show, still is today.
In Paris, so far, beauty remains in the eye of each beholder. We won't be bullied into changing our tastes to suit PC outsiders. When it comes to obesity, health is one consideration yes, but for now, at least, the French will sometimes quote Fyodor Dostoevsky at dinner parties: "Beauty will save the world."


Adapted from:

Eating French: Why French Women Won't Get Fat 
a.k.a. A French Paradox: The French Non Diet and The Art of Eating for Pleasure

Special thanks:

Treize au Jardin
5 rue de Médicis 75006
4/2020 - Covid-19
"According to the first number from a national record released by Le Monde, 83% of patients in intensive care in France are people overweight or obese, the most often suffering from high blood pressure or diabetes."
3/2021 - Covid-19
"CDC study finds that about 78% of people hospitalized for Covid were overweight or obese."
9/2021 - Covid-19 
"Children and teens gained weight at an alarming rate" in U.S. [since start of the pandemic] says CDC.

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