‘In France, vanity is not a vice’ ….. Almost French  (2002)- the author of this book, Sarah Turnbull, then goes on to write ‘Rigorous self-maintenance is imbued from birth – it’s a mark of self-pride.’

When I think back to 1999 when I first arrived in France, some things did strike me as being a little high maintenance (at least compared to Australia at the time). For example there were: the perfectly shiny shoes and lack of sports shoes being worn in the street….a lack of sports clothes, in general, being worn in public, neat hair (which could be explained by a large number of hairdressers) and a low percentage of overweight citizens.

There is an expression in French: ‘Etre bien dans sa peau’ (‘to be well in one’s skin‘) which might best be translated by ‘to feel good about oneself’. It is interesting and perhaps revealing that a physical rather than an emotional reference is used to express a sense of well-being.

One memorable example of ‘rigorous self-maintenance’ that I came across was uncovered during a discussion amongst some of my husband’s old school friends after one of them had just given birth to her first child. One of the very first questions for the new mother was ‘Have you returned to your pre-pregnancy weight yet?’ And not the expected: ‘How’s the baby?’ ‘How are you sleeping?’ ‘Do you need some help?’ or something along those lines. I was shocked but the mother didn’t appear to be and happily engaged in conversation about her physique.

Nevertheless, France has not been spared the worldwide trend of increasing rates of obesity  (interesting OECD report 2017). The rate over the past few years in France has apparently been more rapid than was predicted.

‘What it means to be fat in France is for the first time up for discussion with the release of the book late last year You’re Not Born Fat’- by Gabrielle Deydier who has been the victim of fatphobia (grossophobia) for much of her life.  “Frenchwomen,” says Gabrielle, “pride themselves as being the most feminine in Europe. There is this feeling that women have to be perfect in every way.” “ Yes obesity has doubled in the past 10 years, that’s much too much. But it does not mean we discriminate against the obese in telling them they can’t work and insulting them.”

Her account of her poor treatment is really very disturbing. I really hope that her book has sparked more discussion and reflection around diversity – and not only in the physical realm, but in learning difficulties, mental illness, sexual orientation etc….

Vanity IS one of the 7 deadly sins after all is it not? (n’est pas?)