For years the women of the west have admired the French for their seemingly effortless style, their natural beauty, and their ability to stay thin while eating croissants. When you think about the quintessential French woman, some version of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel comes to mind...thin, wearing mostly black, and possessed of an easy grace.
Often I'm rather disappointed in the clothing thats worn in public these days...almost as if we didn't care to make an effort to look good or that we made an effort beyond getting out of bed in the morning. But its easy to confuse the "effortless" French chic with what it actually is.
Only now are Parisian women speaking out about just what its like to be female and French and the work that it takes to maintain that "Parisian chic." One Parisian Art Gallery Director, Isabelle aged 50, spoke to the BBC, "C'est simple. Chic plus mince egale succes. (It's simple. Chic plus slim equals success). It's how it works for women here," Isabelle explained. "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."
Its been said that every French woman feels as though she needs to lose 4.5 lbs and diet industry has made a killing off of women's insecurities. It is one of the worst insults that a French woman can say to another. The pressure that French women feel to be thin is in fact coming from other women and their society which has a zero-tolerance for fat.
There isn't something in French water that enables the women in their quest for thinness. Though they maintain a strict diet and exercise regularly, many need to starve themselves to maintain their wafer-thin physique.
"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 girls. "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," explained Sonia to the BBC.
Sonia calls it the corset of the mind and the tyranny of the silhouette...the belief that the fragile and slim figure represents total success. There are is no room for women of all shapes and sizes on French tv as there is in the UK and the US. What's even worse is that according to Sonia, if women want careers in French society they are going to have to get skinny to get ahead.
Whether it is women degrading other women or society at large, it is clear that the French ideal of the perfect woman is hurting women. Almost half of French women smoke in an effort to suppress their appetite. What is worse? Not having the vote and ability to have a say in government? Or having to maintain a thin body, sometimes starving yourself to do it, in a bid to get anywhere in life?