When people think of French girls, they think of effortless and low-maintenance beauty. These women seem to have an incredible laissez-faire attitude about appearance that only adds to their mystique. They pair their Breton stripes with a baguette, drink lots of red wine and eat rich meals, all while remaining slim and chic—at least that's the stereotype perpetuated by the rest of the world and fuelled by its love of icons like Jane Birkin and Brigitte Bardot.
But according to French author Gabrielle Deydier, real-life French girls are much more complex. They face the same pressures the rest of us do, struggling to fit the beauty ideal that others have placed upon them. Deydier is a self-described "fat" person who wrote a book about her experiences being shamed and ostracized while living in her native France. She recently opened up to The Guardian about her journey toward self-love despite the ever-present criticism of society.
Keep reading to find out why she says aspiring to the French beauty standard is unrealistic (and maybe even dangerous).
Deydier weighs 150 kilogrammes, or roughly 330 pounds, and she says that makes living in France difficult. "Frenchwomen pride themselves as being the most feminine in Europe," she says. "There is this feeling that women have to be perfect in every way." Because of this, those who don't fit this rigid body image ideal are punished, she writes. Deydier, for one, was told to lose weight by a fellow special-needs teacher. Her boss even threatened to fire her if she didn't lose weight in a designated time period.
"He said it was unfair on the children because they were now being doubly stigmatised – for their disabilities and because they'd be bullied for having a fat teacher," Deydier explained. She could have gone to court (since this discrimination is illegal in France), but she didn't know if she would be helped or believed. "The police were very good, but said: 'You have a right to make a complaint, but we advise against it because a tribunal won't be on your side.'"
Some French people go as far as to consider obesity a disability, which is why, according to The Guardian, around 80% of French women are on a diet at any given time. In the South of France, where people discard layers of clothing to soak in the Riviera's sunshine, gastric bypass surgery is super common, with 50,000 surgeries a year. As if that's not alarming enough, some women turn to certain diets to cover up eating disorders. These statistics, along with Deydier's personal experiences, show the toxic effects of the effortless beauty ideal that society pushes on French women.
Not only are women taught to hate their bodies if they don't conform, but they are pushed to take extreme measures to do so, Deydier explains: "I decided to write the book because I no longer want to apologise for existing. 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."
The book hasn't been published in English just yet, but so far, the response to the French book has been overwhelming. "One woman told me she had been bulimic for 20 years because she was scared if she put on weight she would lose her husband and job," Deydier said.
And the response hasn't only come from women. "Your book has made me realise I'm a total shit," a man wrote in a letter to Deydier. "For five years I worked with young people. If they were overweight, I humiliated them." It's quite literally changing the way French people (as well as foreigners) think. Moral of the story: Everyone has insecurities about they way they look, even the archetypal French girl. It's unrealistic and dangerous to enforce a single beauty standard, so let's give ourselves a break.