Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 27th 2013 Contents B9
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For decades, the image of the
slender and chic Parisian
woman has been setting the
standard as the epitome of style
and making some other women
in France feel uncomfortably
Isabelle, a 50-year-old director
of a fashionable Paris art gallery,
says: "C est simple. Chic plus
mince egale succes. (It s simple.
Chic plus slim equals success.)"
She is talking about French
women and their figures.
"It s how it works for women
here," Isabelle explains. "If you
are fat, you will not get that job.
But if you have the silhouette---
chic, ultra-slim, elegant---you are
more or less made."
Isabelle is an all-too-rare
exception to the rule---she is
actually quite fat---but, being self-
employed, she can get away with
it, she says. Isabelle likes being
overweight in a society that is
so obsessed with thinness and
"Being fat makes me feel free,
even though I can never find
anything to wear in the Paris
shops. I remember vividly the
last time I tried, the look of hor-
ror on the shop assistant s face.
" Madam, we certainly have
nothing for you here, she cried."
It is said that every French
woman feels she needs to lose
at least 4.4 lbs and the slimming
business in France is huge.
Pharmacies are filled with mir-
acle-claiming diet products and
women s magazines run endless
columns of slimming advice.
Most of the pressure French
women feel to be thin comes
The perils of being fat, female and French
from other French women and a soci-
ety that has zero-tolerance for fat.
"Fat" is a dirty word, an offensive
insult. It is difficult to come right out
and say it. Thankfully, there is an
array of flattering euphemisms to
One is not fat, one is ronde,
robuste, forte, solide, dodue, ron-
delette---round, robust, strong, solid,
plump, chubby, or even enrobee---
enrobed---an adjective otherwise used
to describe a mouth-watering coating,
usually of thick chocolate, on sweets
and cakes but in this case it refers a
woman richly-coated in her own body
There is an idea put about in what
the French call the "Anglo-Saxon"
press that French women do not grow
fat.They simply follow a set of mystic
rules, handed down from mother to
daughter, that govern their personal
grooming, comportment and, most
of all, their eating habits.
A sensible, balanced diet. Plenty
of fresh produce. Three meals a day.
Absolutely no snacking. Regular, rea-
sonable exercise. Nothing to excess.
It is what any educated Western
woman would teach her children---
male as well as female---whatever
Though many women do follow
this regime and maintain healthy,
reasonably slim figures, to have that
wafer-thin silhouette many need to
almost starve themselves.
There are plenty of Parisian mid-
dle-class families who will sit down
to a frugal meal of steamed vegetables
and a cup of herbal tea in the evening
to avoid weight gain.
"There is simply no mystery about
it. Of course French women grow fat,"
says Sonia Feertchak, editor-in-chief
of L Encyclo des Filles, a popular
guide to health and beauty for teenage
"But the fact is they daren t, and
some will even starve themselves
because in this society to be a fat
female is to be a failure."
"Fat women are seen as stupid.
Their lives must be out-of-control,
they are judged ugly, weird losers,"
"Women have come so far in
France---we have a political voice,
good childcare, access to work---but
instead of being more confident, we
are increasingly obsessed with our
weight and shape.
"Coco Chanel freed us from the
corset more than 80 years ago---but
we have fallen for a mental one
instead---a silhouette of supposed
perfection that is unattainable and
leads to eating disorders and misery,"
Everywhere one looks in Paris she
is there, that idealised French female,
pouting glamorously from buses, bill-
boards and metro stations; petite,
fragile and very slim; advertising any-
thing from lingerie and lipstick to
discount car-insurance, even food---
ice-cream parfait, perhaps, or a rich
French cheese poised tantalisingly
just beyond the reach of her gorgeous,
"It is an absolute tyranny," says
Marjorie, a 49-year-old business
executive, herself pencil slim.
"The tyranny of the silhouette, we
call it---but it is also a kind of dream
because it represents total success.
"It is not like in the UK where TV
shows have women of all shapes and
sizes doing all kinds of things. I love
that---chubby 55-year-olds kissing
men full on the mouth. You would
never see that here."
Marjorie works near the Paris sub-
urb of Saint Denis where there is a
large immigrant population from the
She is inspired by these women
with their full, rounded, curvaceous
figures and the way they walk tall.
"They are so much more feminine
than our Parisian chic," she says, "but
the sad truth is that if they want
careers in this society they are going
to have to get skinny to get ahead."
Fat French euphemisms
We have fallen for a
silhouette of supposed
perfection that is
---Sonia Feertchak, Editor,
L'Encyclo des Filles
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