The “French paradox” that isn’t

April 21, 2008 at 12:18 pm | Posted in books, food, vie quotidienne | 12 Comments
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If you follow French food and culture at all, you’ve probably heard of a delightfully regressive text called French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure. The basic gist is that French women eat pastries, fatty cheeses, five course meals, and buckets of wine, yet remain perpetually slender and never waste a minute worrying about their figures. The book further promises to show sad, dumpy, body-image obsessed Americans how a little bit of joie de vivre can make them thin, thin, thin!

Well, I’m about to let you in on a dirty little secret:

Why French women don't get fat

This is the current window display of the pharmacy down the street from me. Please note that, other than the makeup ad in the corner, every single image is an ad for some kind of dubious “diet aid” (actually, the one bottom left is an ad for control-top stockings, but same idea).

Why don’t French women get fat? Apparently, it’s the same mixture of dieting, disordered eating, and self-loathing that afflicts most western women.



  1. The extremely thin women at my gym (ie. all the women at my gym) are always drinking some kind of diet stuff they mix with water. I think that’s their evening meal.

  2. Wow, really? Considering that I *think* those diet drinks are mostly diuretics, that seems… not very healthy.

  3. You might be happy? to know that body dysmorphia and disordered eating is not just for women anymore.

    Men are joining this exclusive club like never before.


  4. DR, you’re absolutely right, and no — it’s not the kind of equality I was hoping for. 😉

    Still, that window display makes it pretty clear that, in France at least, the marketing of these products is still largely directed toward women.

  5. Obviously, the authors of that phrase have never ventured out of Paris where one sees more than their fair share of overweight people of both sexes. Admittedly, one sees few within the city limits.

  6. Yeah, Bob, that’s a point I was thinking, too — I don’t have any statistics on the issue, but it seems to me that French people aren’t as overwhelmingly thin (nor Americans as fat) as the press repeatedly tells us.

  7. I’m convinced it has more to do with the lack of preservatives and additives in the food in most European countries (versus the abundance of them in our food in the US). I’ve traveled in Europe and lived in Paris for a month, always eating like a horse while LOSING weight. (I heard the reverse from someone from Argentina who was working in the states for a few months, eating her typical diet, maintaining her normal routines, yet gaining weight.) Maybe the rise in popularity of diet aids in Europe is the result of our supermarket/chemically-engineered foodlike substances gaining popularity as well. Eh, just a theory.

  8. Nice one.

    Gawker ran a funny bit a while back naming that champagne-guzzling author as one of New York’s worst bosses. It seems that “she would routinely write out “diet plans” for girls in the office who got “too fat, like more than 125 lbs.”

  9. Meg, OMG.

  10. ‘draineur / express 7 jours’ is probably the worst one there! just the word ‘draineur’, visually, is terrifying and unappealing, even without knowing the french meaning. an anglo face-value reading without a dictionary handy makes it ‘draining’. who wants to be drained?

  11. I was pretty taken aback to discover that diet pills are advertised on pills and diet drinks and meal supplements and even more ridiculous creams to make you lose weight! Sad, sad, sad.

  12. Don’t you think it’s because they all smoke? My daughter was the only one in her lycee class (33+ kids) who didn’t. At least that’s what she told me.

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