French Design, Georges Barbier

A Threat to the Social Order of Body Image in France

French culture faces a dilemma. Paris has long held a global reputation for its fashion. And along the way, a preoccupation with thinness became part of that culture. It came to define a social order of body image in France. Thin privilege. But earlier this year, Gabrielle Deydier exposed the ugly side of that social order with her sensational book, On Ne Naît Pas Grosse

On Friday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo opened a day of action to stop fat phobia.

Falling Short on Progressive Ideals

The Paris campaign to stop “grossophobia” comes as part of an annual week spent raising awareness about strict anti-discrimination laws. The French constitution is explicit about equality. “France is an indivisible, secular, democratic and social republic that assures equality in front of the law for all citizens, regardless of origins, race or religion.”

But Deydier is compelling the country to take a hard look at itself. She describes a huge gap between French ideals and the reality of size discrimination:

We say we are politically correct, but in fact we are not at all. The biggest problem is that people generally do not consider fat phobia to be on the same level as other discriminations because they think that if someone is fat, it’s their fault and that they should change.

Challenging the Social Order

Activist Anne-Sophie Joly represents 47 patient groups in France. She recently described how the social order in France discriminates:

Society is very harsh with women. Women face the most demands: She must be beautiful, but not too much; she must be thin, but not too thin; she must be intelligent, but not too much because you mustn’t put the man in the shadows.

“We see fat people as ugly and even stupid, lacking hygiene and in bad health,” said Helene Bidard on Friday. Bidard leads anti-discrimination efforts for Paris. She developed the Grossophobia Stop! campaign after receiving weight-based insults and noting how weight discrimination goes unnoticed.

Paris has long led the world in style and fashion. Can it lead in reshaping the social order of body image?

Click here, here, here, here, and here for more on these developments in France

French Design, Georges Barbier; illustration from MCAD Library / flickr

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December 17, 2017