Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Evidence That French Women Do Get Fat...

...or else why did I see this?

Do you see what that sign says? CURVES. Yep, the very same sign that hangs in my little hometown hangs all over France. This photo was taken of a Curves in a tiny village about 20 minutes outside Toulouse. I assure you, these things are springing up everywhere over there!

Why is this touching a nerve? Well, first of all, let me preface this by saying I have not read all of Mireille Guiliano's book French Women Don't Get Fat. But I did see an interview of her on Oprah and something she said to Oprah has stuck in my head, waiting for my next trip to France to prove she was fabricating the lives of typical French women. She said that women in France do not go to gyms...and I am pretty darn positive she implied gyms don't even exist in France.

But I am here to reassure y'all that this is just not true. While I completely agree that there are many more fat people in America than in France, women in France are not as skinny as they used to be, in general. My French Friends also talk about weight and diet as much as my American friends. And can I just admit that at one dinner, I was the only person at the entire table to partake of the glorious cheese platter? Stunned, as the platter was passed to me last with a clean knife and un-cut cheeses, I asked why in the world was I the only one?! The women laughed and said, "Oh, we bought the cheese for you, ma cherie. We don't eat cheese anymore, because it is much too fattening!" Shocked, appalled and horrified, I took a slab of each of the 5 fromages. So impressed were my lovely dieting Frenchie friends, one of them sweetly said, "You are a real French girl, CC! Ok, I will have some cheese with you! You are so brave!"

Here is a quote from French Women Don't Get Fat that directly conflicts with all the real French women I know:
At the outset, let's state that French women simply do not suffer the terror of
kilos that afflicts so many of their American sisters. All the chatter about
diets I hear at cocktail parties in America would make any French woman cringe.
In France, we don't talk about "diets," certainly not with strangers. We may
eventually share a trick or two we've learned with a very close friend -- some
cunning refinement of an old French principle. But mainly we spend our social
time talking about what we enjoy: feelings, family, hobbies, philosophy,
politics, culture, and, yes, food, especially food (but never diets).
women take pleasure in staying thin by eating well, while Americans typically
see it as a conflict and obsess over it. French women don't skip meals or
substitute slimming shakes for them. They have two or three courses at lunch and
then another three (sometimes four) at dinner. And with wine, bien sûr. How do
they do it? Well, that's a story. That's the story. One hint: They eat with
their heads, and they do not leave the table feeling stuffed or guilty.

I asked my French Friends about their eating habits. The typical modern French family has either a heavy lunch or a heavy dinner. NOT BOTH. They call it "their main meal." I was asked several times by people when being invited for dinner, "Oh, will you have had your main meal at lunch? Or will dinner be your main meal?" so that they could decide if they should prepare something light or heavy.

I saw many more overweight people on this month in France, than I ever have. I such much more prepackaged and processed foods as well. And I also saw lots of dieting campaigns, calorie totals on packaging and diet food and drink.

In our town, Wal-Mart has a certain genre of customers. Pajama-wear is in at our Wal-Mart. Bras are not usually worn under PJs at home, so why would one put one on to go out? And you can't go out in PJ's without yer slippers. When we were in France, my dad kept saying "I don't see any Wal-Mart shoppers here!" Finally, I saw one at the Casino Marche' in Revel. In France, it's true that normally people dress up to faire les courses, or go grocery shopping. So this was a shock to see someone in giant sweats. But it's just another testament to me that French women can and do get fat, Mme Guiliano! And they also like their Curves!

Being someone who has struggled since I was a teen with "food issues", to put it in a nutshell, I really am disgusted by the notion from someone who has lived longer in America than in France (Ms. Guilliano said it herself) that there is a nation of women who just somehow "get it" and are perfect in form and mentally do not have the need or capacity to worry about their figures, nor what they put into their mouths. Though I don't wish anyone to have the relationship with food that I've had, I also am glad to see that women are women, no matter where they live.

We all worry about how we look, we worry about what we put in our mouths, and then there are times when we don't give a rip and we eat what we want and we just worry about it later.

French women aren't perfect and they come in all shapes and sizes. There, that makes me feel better. Ms. Guiliano needs to quit contributing to American women's complexes that are already there because of the media.

Now...anyone want to send me a box of macarons? I've got a bottle of Veuve Clicquot to wash them down with. :)

*Photo taken by moi, Cassoulet Cafe.


La Belette Rouge said...

Corfu Cousin: I never bought that myth that French Women Don't Get Fat. The first reason being that I have seen fat French women with my own eyes. And, then there is Mirielle's suggestions such as a leek broth fast as some kind of elegant eating regime and not a diet is some extraordinary rationalizing. No, women wouldn't get fat on Mirielle's plan.

A book that said walk regularly, eat moderate amounts of food would not sell well. What is new in that message? However a book that offers promises of wine, cheese and croissants and then switches you to leek broth will make Mirielle's wallett very fat.

I do think that the real reason that there is less morbid obesity is because people in France do eat less processed foods and less fast food. Also, I would guess there is more walking done by the average French women than the average American women. As corn syrup, processed foods and fast foods sneak into the French diet it only correlates that there will be more fat French women and more Curves franchises.

Great post, CC, and I appreciate you sharing your own struggles with us. And, I am so happy you had a piece of each of the 5 cheeses. Yay, you!

b said...

I've not read Guiliano's book. Body image issues abound already in my daily life!! It is really disheartening to think of seeing Curves all throughout France. Those places just seem so American strip mall suburbs complete with the pajama wearing Wal-Mart shoppers passing by! :)

Thank God you partook of the cheese platter! I knew I liked you! :)

Fuji Mama said...

Great post. I'm so glad someone else had a problem with that book! A Japanese woman wrote a book playing on the title of that book, called "Japanese Women Don't Get Fat or Old"...but she talks about why the traditional Japanese diet works, and why the changes in the way the Japanese are eating today are causing a rise in obesity. It was a nice honest look at the way these people it (especially in contrast to the book you mentioned).

Samantha said...

That's funny you should post that - my friends are in charge of the franchising for Curves in France and I almost started working for them back in February!! It's really taking off here - they've sold a ton all over France since moving to Brittany a couple of years ago.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

LBR/Samos Sis: Like I said, I've only read bits and pieces of the book...but omg...a leek broth fast??? And she says French women only worry about eating well??? And never diet? ****sigh**** This lady really annoys me. You're's called a very fat wallet. And I totally agree with you about the French eating less processed foods being a factor of why there is less morbid obesity. As well, there definitely is a difference in the quality of food there. The quality of meat there makes ours look unfit for consumption, imo. Especially when it comes to ham, sausages, etc.
Sadly, the American way is quickly creeping in. MacDo is always jammed packed, they have their version of Super Sizing, and packaged foods have really made major inroads.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

B: Your comment cracked me up! And you KNOW what I'm talkin' about with the Walmart pj wearin' shopper, right? ;)
Oh yeah, I'll NEVER pass up a cheese platter. I didn't go all the way to the cheese capitol of the world to say "no thanks" to the best cheese ever! :)

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Fuji Mama: Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting! I'm glad too, that I'm not the only one who realized this lady is full of it. :)

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Thank you for backing me up with your statement :) I was suddenly feeling, after i posted, that maybe they could be just all over Toulouse area and I could be wrong about "all over France".
Funny about your friends being in charge of the franchising!

Jacqui said...

My Parisian friends don't cook. They use frozen food. That is unless they have company and then they do cook and present an excellent meal. I think you need to distinguish between French living in cities like Paris or Aix and the French living in the pays profond. Also it is true that the French do not eat a whole bag of potato chips during the apero; a tiny bowl of pistaches may be all there is for a room ful of people. And they don't snack between meals. So while I agree that the french do talk fo diets, there are so many differences keeping them from becoming obese. I AM distraught to read that there are French who go shopping in oversize sweats or their PJs. Ugh!

WendyB said...

I enjoyed this post. I was always rubbed the wrong way by the snotty tone of that book.

Anonymous said...

I love this post CC. Though, like you, I have not read that book, I think that weight issues are popping up all over the western world. Prepakage foods, gmo foods, hurried lives--it's everywhere.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Jacqui, thanks for taking the time to come by my blog and comment. I agree that there aren't as many obese there as here, definitely, but there are also a LOT of smokers in France...and yes, one could differentiate between the country folks and the Parisians...there is less need for someone in a city to drive, most walk everywhere or use public transport, thus helping to keep them more trim.
The people in the countryside are more into living a good, slow life, with good rich foods, then say the people of Paris. Hence,they may be a bit 'thicker' in the middle than your average Parisian.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

WendyB, nice to see you again! I'm glad you thought the book was snotty too! :)

FOT: Thank you for loving my post :) it's something I've thought about often and planned to post ever since we were in France this last time.

Lavender Honey said...

I've seen lots of obese women here in France. I just couldn't photograph them lest they get angry or insulted.

our juicy life said...

this post is such a bummer....we were just talking the other day about how most people think everyone in LA is thin and fit and it's so untrue. There are many people who are not fit and trim....its the food, the hormones, the garbage that you eat, the portions...the portions did i say...that's so key.

I still had hope that the french didnt eat the crap tht we do...that with all the farm raised stuff, buying local, going to the market each day to make your meal is still going strong, but i'm sure with the younger people it's too hard to do that. We will do that when we are there...I don't eat that way here and don't plan on changing while I'm living in France. So sorry Curves but I will not be a client.

Cris in Oregon said...

Great Post CC. I read some of that book and put it down thinking the same thing about that broth. bleh
You start adding all the fast food crud Americans eat here over there and you start having the same problems. We need to slow down and enjoy GOOD food not rush thru fast food places just to fill our stomachs with fat artery clogging junk that is infiltrating Europe.
We need to think more about what we put in our mouths and get out and walk more. and Smoking does keep them slim in Paris too. Not a good vise for health even IF thin. I so agree with you about our Walmart here. Thought I was the only one who thought that way coming from SO CA and all. :)But I will tell you that this dismal cold rainy weather we have been having going on and on is enough to drive me to an eating bing. :(

Cassoulet Cafe said...

LH-Yes, I wanted to photograph them as well, but I didn't want to cause an international incident ;)

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Juicy: Sorry this post bummed you out. Yes, going to the market each day is still going strong, but that doesn't mean people don't choose fattening things when they go. Especially in the countryside in the South of France, there are lots of rich, full fat foods. So portion size will definitely determine one's girth ;)
But there are so many prepackaged foods now, which mean convenience, and in this day and age more and more people are about convenience.
Fresh markets abound, hormones are not in the meat there (or so I'm told) so that helps.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Juicy: PS. I forgot to add that untraveled French people tend to think that all Americans are gorgeous, movie star material, with no flaws and great designer clothes.
They get the E! channel over there, so I can see where they get that line of thinking.
I try to explain that not even the stars are THAT glamorous in every day life, or without makeup ;)

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Cris: I agree with your comment! Especially the nasty weather part. I might need to start taking some anti-depressants if it doesn't change soon ;)
But I'll definitely avoid Walmart until the sun comes out hahahaha
Nasty weather can only encourage PJs in Public.
Ahhhhh...French cheese. Wish I had some!

our juicy life said...

CC - pre-packaged food....yuck! When we went to Paris 3 years ago for a month it was so crazy, people asked "are you american"...yes we said, we are from Los Angeles. I thought I said "i am angelina and this is my man brad"...they were so star struck with us. "Oh, you live in LooooSSSS ANNNNGGGEELLLEESSS". We tried to tell them that stars, models and agents are not walking around everywhere and that it's just a city, but they thought we lived in a movie. Pretty funny what they think LA is all about. I said to them "yes, but you live in Paris!"

I'm sure as long as I continue with my portions and healthy eating I'll be fine. In fact, when we were in the Southwest last September I actually lost weight I'm sure it helped to be biking everywhere.

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Juicy: That is so funny! :) It's all relative, isn't it? We think of people in Paris as glamorous, chic, etc, etc. And here they have a stereotype in their mind as well.....that's what I love about traveling, seeing the differences AND at the same time, realizing we are all the same.
I have no doubt you'll be fine there as far as food/weight, etc....there is definitely more choices there and it is much easier to eat healthy there than here. And you'll embrace the traditional French way of eating (no prepackaged food)....oh how I'm missing all that now! :)
When we moved there, I got the thinnest I've ever been, but we also did not own a car over there. We walked EVERYWHERE. And I did eat a chocolatine (pain au choc) each and every morning, and never passed up a cheese ;)

Caffienated Cowgirl said...

Curves?! LOL...

Can I say that I was actually pleased while on our recent trip to Paris to see "normal" sized in they weren't fat, nor were they stick thin. But what I did see were plenty of them running in the they do work at it :)