I read “French women don’t get fat” by Mireille Guiliano and since I’m a French woman who’s been living in different countries in the past few years I thought I could share my opinion about the book on my fitness blog. I thought that the majority of the book was plain old common sense. Last time I read my second grade workbook, I found some similar principles like “I should behave at the dinner table and eat slowly.” That’s what our schoolteacher made us write in our workbook as a lesson when I was 7. Many of the book’s principles are not particularly French but exist in other cultures where food comes with an etiquette and a set of rules. The book is well-written but I found the way these common sense principles were presented as if they were some exclusive pieces of information or some witty “Parisian women’s secrets” a bit annoying.
I think there are 3 points worth mentioning when talking about the way French women look:
#1 Many French women are genetically skinny: their body type won’t make them look very fat
Contrary to a country like the US where the majority of the population originally came from many different places, there is less genetical diversity in older countries like France. The same body types are more frequent among the population. French women have been living for generations in a country where the climate is not very harsh (never extremely cold nor hot) and where vegetables and fruits are easily accessible. I’d say that about 60% of French women have an ectomorph body type: they’re not very tall, not very muscular, have small to medium bone structures. They don’t need to eat a whole lot to feel full because they’re petite and have small stomachs.
French women don’t look fat even if they don’t specifically eat healthy. They tend to put weight on the butt and thighs but it’s rare for them to get fat in the face and arms. Saying “French women don’t get fat” is about the same as saying “Japanese women don’t get fat”: of course the majority of Japanese women follow a balanced diet ; but their body types would never allow them to look overweight anyway. By the way: when compared to the rest of the developed world, Japanese adult obesity rate (3%) seem virtually non-existent by French standards (11%). I think I should read the book “Japanse women don’t get old or fat“!: www.japanesewomendontgetoldorfat.com
#2 French women don’t let themselves get fat because getting fat is something you just shouldn’t do as a woman in French society
The way I understand the title of the book is not that “French women don’t get fat” because some of them do get fat. There is a reason why the Dukan diet was ‘born’ in France: French people do get fat. Furthermore, the French version of the book “French women don’t get fat” was translated “Ces francaises qui ne grossissent pas… Comment font-elles?” which means “Those French women who don’t get fat… How do they do it?”.
In my view, the real meaning behind the book title is “French women don’t let themselves get fat because it’s just something French women shouldn’t do”. French women are not ‘allowed’ to get fat. Letting yourself get fat is just something you shouldn’t do as a woman, whereas it’s okay for French men to get a belly as they age (like actor Gerard Depardieu). Having a belly is viewed as a sign that men are “living the good life”, enjoying food and wine, whereas French women should not ‘let themselves go’ at any age: these are just the typical French double standards. Being fat is considered less feminine and not many French men appreciate heavy curves. Being over-sized isn’t easy in France. Cars are small, metro is small and crowded, plus size clothings are almost inexistent. Being fat would just make your life very difficult if you’re a woman living in France. That’s why French women don’t get fat.
#3 Many French women are skinny fat
Many French women look skinny but have little muscle mass and high body fat levels. They are slim and fat at the same time. Despite appearing to be a healthy weight, they’ve got extra body fat and tucked-away jiggle areas. They do take the time to do some kind of moderate exercise (walking) but they never do any kind of strength training. They look flabby in a bikini.
So in conclusion and in my view, the book can be helpful for people whose food culture may be too ‘flexible’ like in America, the land of plenty (I’ve only been in the US twice but food was one of the things that always impressed me the most as a tourist there) because it gives people a set of rules. However, in my opinion, it is not the best book about how to live a healthy lifestyle.