We’re going on our fifth week in quarantine here in France, so naturally I’m consuming my body weight in pretzels to help the time pass. A very American habit the dreaded snacking. Highly doubtful my French neighbours are up to the same no good shenanigans. Which got me thinking about the pretty big stereotype in the USA that “French Women Don’t Get Fat.” So I decided this was the perfect time to make a video and write an article about this HUGE stereotype surrounding the uber chic, crazy thin, French woman. I’m not just going to demystify the idea surrounding the thin French woman, but I’m also going to talk about how weight is perceived in France versus the US because that’s pretty different. And I’m also going to share 4 key eating habits that French people live by because no matter what you percieve weight, the French are generally considered wayyyyy healthier than Americans and the rest of the world. So we could pick up a few tips from our friends across the pond!
DO FRENCH WOMEN GET FAT?
First off, the dreaded stereotype that French women don’t get fat. Who started this? Of course they do people! As chic and tiny as some of them may be, the French are humans like the rest of us. 40% of women worldwide were overweight in 2019, so it’s only natural that there are French women (and men) who are also overweight. Actually 46% of the French female population was overweight in 2019. That is almost EVERY OTHER French woman. *Gasp* However, if you compare to the US, the numbers are much higher. 68% of American women were considered overweight in 2019.
Now, I think overweight statistics are a little bit unclear for me, because you can absolutely be a healthy fit individual and be classified as “overweight.” We don’t know how overweight you really are in the huge pool of percentages. But if we look into obesity rates, which are a bit more clear since we have a better idea of how overweight that is, in 2017, 15% of French women were obese compared to 38% in the US. So that’s 2.5 times more obese people in the US than in France and our population is almost 5 times bigger than France! So if we break if down for those of you that hate math like me, that means 5 million women were obese in France in 2017, versus around 60 million American women.
So “the stats don’t lie” as number people love to say. And they definitely show us that there are more overweight/obese Americans than French. So there must be something different going on in the Land of Cheese that we’ll get into next. BUT to spread the stereotype that all French women are skinny minnie, Parisian models, IS NOT TRUE and I think it gives a lot of you who haven’t ever traveled/lived in France, a false expectation of all French women. French women are absolutely as fabulous as you imagine them to be. But they are fabulous for being direct, intelligent, culturally informed, strong, beautiful women. Not because the entire population looks like airbrushed models out sports illustrated, people. So learn to love the numbers and keep in mind the stats I’m throwing at you the next time someone says all French women are teeny tiny!
HOW DO THE FRENCH PERCEIVE BEING OVERWEIGHT
Before we get into the French eating habits, which I think is really a big difference between France and the US, we have to talk about how French people perceive being overweight.
In the US, weight is a pretty taboo subject, so small tip here, don’t ask any American how much they weigh. Weight is super linked to beauty and the smaller the number, the more “beautiful” the woman is. American women these days are so tired of these unattainable beauty standards because as we can see thanks to the stats, most American women aren’t slim and therefore, most women struggle to like themselves the way they are. We have a huge movement in the States, or at least we are trying too, about learning to accept your body the way it is and appreciating yourself no matter what your size is. So we tend not to address the weight topic a lot because it’s sensitive and it’s personal.
In France, weight is very linked to health. Of course there is a beauty aspect too, but it doesn’t seem as prominent as health. When someone is overweight, the questions aren’t linked to beauty, but more: are you taking care of yourself, are you active, are you eating well? So it seems to me, that the social pressure to be within a normal weight range in France is actually higher than the US. French society as a whole, doesn’t embrace the idea of a larger, curvier woman, since it seems to them that it’s like embracing being unhealthy. Therefore, weight just seems to be generally less of a sensitive subject due to the medically related cloud surrounding it.
For example, My husband’s weight fluctuates based on how many baguettes he’s currently consuming daily and my mother in law is not shy about saying, “honey looks like you’ve put on some weight since I saw you last, are you taking care of yourself?” And we’re talking about 5 pounds max people. I gained the freshman 25 when I went to college, it was never addressed by anyone in my family. I lost it at some point, not a peep. I gained it again when I first arrived in France because “hello croissants,” and it wasn’t mentioned when I went home for Christmas that year. It’s just not usually an easy topic to bring up because it’s almost calling someone out for being “ugly.”
In 2018, Self magazine in the US, which is a beauty, health, fitness magazine featured plus sized model, author and fat positivity activist, Tess Holliday on the cover. The headline of the magazine was “My health isn’t any of your Business.” It was definitely a controversy in the US to feature a plus sized model on a fitness magazine, but a huge majority of people supported and loved this! I just don’t think that anyone would attempt this is France because the way they approach being overweight as a society is very different.
FRENCH EATING HABITS
Now, no matter how you consider weight, there is no denying that the French are generally a healthier population than the US, but it’s not because they don’t enjoy food! They just have some different rules when it comes to eating. I go into all the rules in this article if you want to check it out, but here are my top 4 French eating habits to keep in mind.
1. Food is Pleasure
They have a phrase in French called “un bon vivant.” This is someone who lives life to its fullest, by eating well and enjoying wine. Above all the French adore eating and it’s not just broccoli and carrots, it’s lamb, pork, beef, cheese, cakes, etc.. The French sit down for a long meal to eat and it’s not rushed. Two hours at the table with family is completely normal. So say goodbye to 20 minute American lunches, eating in your car, or on the go. And say a big bonjour to 5 course meals with cheese and dessert
The French don’t eat a cheeseburger and then run to the gym to work it off like Americans. They eat a cheeseburger and then balance it out with a fish the next, day, then a salad the day after and maybe a nice peach for dessert instead of the juicy cake. It’s all about balance. Dieting by counting calories and eliminating food groups just doesn’t happen for the average French woman. France is the 2nd largest market for McDonalds, so don’t think the French never treat and indulge. They do, but it needs to be balanced out with healthy food too.
3. No Snacking
Meal times are kind of like a national thing in France. Depending on work or personal things, there are meals at 8 am, 1 pm, and 8 pm. Snack is at 4 pm, but strictly reserved for the kiddos. Adult snacking? Doesn’t exist. If they do, its like some fruit at 4 pm. But otherwise, pretzels, chips, 100 calories packs, nuts, nowhere to be found. Enjoy the food you need to fuel yourself until the next meal at mealtime and cut that snackin.
Guys the French loves H2O. Soda isn’t that popular and definitely not in huge quantities. The French spice up water with a bit syrup flavoring if you wanna go crazy or maybe some sparkling water, but soda, juices and carbonated drinks are not a huge part of their diet like Americans. A woman literally got stopped during quarantine for going out to only by coke because the French police were like “m’am that’s not essential items.” Check out the video here. Not sure this would happen state side.
Alright! I hope you all enjoyed the article. I thought it was important to pick apart some of the mystery surrounding the stereotype that “French Women Don’t Get Fat!” Let me know what you guys think in the comments below. Don’t forget to check out the video version if you’ve got some extra time! ♥